Psi Girls is a video installation composed of five scenes from feature films depicting girls or young women manipulating telekinetic powers to move or destroy household objects. Hiller selected short excerpts from The Fury (1978) directed by Brian de Palma, The Craft (1996) by Andrew Fleming, Matilda (1996) by Danny De Vito, Firestarter (1984) by Mark Lester, and Stalker (1979) by Andrei Tarkovsky. Each excerpt has been enlarged, tinted with a different colour, and heavily edited by Hiller. Certain scenes have been slowed down and others spliced and looped so that each clip has an identical running time of two minutes. The only footage presented in its entirety is that taken from Tarkovsky’s film Stalker. The scenes are synchronised and play simultaneously along a single wall. Psi Girls was commissioned by the Delfina Foundation, London, in 1999. The word ‘Psi’ in the title refers to paranormal or psychic faculties and alludes to Greek-named American college sororities.
The original dialogue from each film has been removed and the projections are accompanied by a recorded soundtrack of handclaps and non-verbal singing, performed by the Gospel Choir of Canon’s Cathedral, Charlotte, North Carolina. The repetitive rhythmic beat unites the five depictions of paranormal occurrences and emphasises the psychic power of each ‘psi girl’.
The scene from The Craft is edited to highlight the intense gaze of a girl observing a pencil moving independently. Art critic Chris Turner notes that this image recalls Hiller’s description of her own experiences with automatic writing while making Sisters of Menon 1972–9: the artist recalled that ‘the pencil seemed to have a mind of its own. It was intriguing and somewhat eerie to step aside so completely’ (Hiller cited in Site Gallery 1999, p.9). Hiller’s longstanding interest in paranormal activity is evident elsewhere in her work. Psi Girls was inspired by a passage on ‘poltergeist girls’ in Wild Talents (1932), a book by the American writer Charles Fort which details incidences of unexplained paranormal phenomena. Hiller had used the title of Fort’s book for her multimedia installation Wild Talents in 1997, in which edited scenes of telekinetic children from a variety of European and American feature films are projected in a similar way to Psi Girls, accompanied by a small television playing an unfinished documentary about apparently visionary children in former Yugoslavia and a wire ‘halo’ trimmed with light bulbs.
Like much of Hiller’s work, Psi Girls examines the relationship between the everyday and the extraordinary, and the creative potency of the youthful female imagination. It is informed by her early training as an anthropologist, which appears to have influenced the work’s play with the variable meanings and paranormal potential of everyday objects. In an interview with curator Matthew Higgs, Hiller emphasised that Psi Girls and Wild Talents have
nothing to do with my own belief or disbelief in the realm of the supernatural ... I consider that definitions of reality are always provisional ... that we are all involved collectively in creating our notions of ‘the real’ ... anything which is ‘super’ or ‘extra’ is just a way of throwing up a debate around the kind of experiences that people have all the time.
(Hiller cited in Site Gallery 1999, p.45.)
Psi Girls: Susan Hiller, exhibition catalogue, Site Gallery, Sheffield 1999.
Ann Gallagher (ed.), Susan Hiller, Tate Britain, London 2011, pp.96–7.