Susan Hiller (born 1940) is one of the most influential artists of her generation. This major survey exhibition at Tate Britain will provide a timely focus on a selection of her key works, including many of the pioneering mixed-media installations and video projections for which she is best known. It will be the largest presentation of her work to date, providing a unique opportunity to follow her exploration of dreams, memories and supernatural phenomena across a career of almost four decades.
Emerging as an artist in the early 1970s, Hiller’s output has taken many different forms. Her works however often derive from a similar process of collecting, cataloguing and restaging cultural artefacts and experiences. This exhibition will bring together key examples of this practice, with which the artist highlights the subjectivity of perception and imagination. Enquiries/Inquiries 1973-5, for example, exposes the inconsistencies found in comparing an American and a British encyclopaedia, while Magic Lantern 1987 uses converging projections of coloured light to create after-images in the mind’s eye. On other occasions, Hiller’s work excavates hidden layers of cultural history, whether as recordings of extinct languages or as collections of British seaside postcards. In the mixed-media installation Monument 1980-1, the viewer is invited to sit on a park bench and listen to a tape of the artist’s voice, while looking at photographs of a neglected Victorian memorial. In bringing together these diverse works, the exhibition will allow visitors to survey the many ways Hiller’s unique approach has been used to explore meaning, memory and perception.
The exhibition will also focus on Hiller’s interest in the subconscious or unconscious mind. From early in her career, she explored these themes by collecting the memories of dreams and by using ‘automatic writing’, performed as a continuous stream of consciousness. This investigation into the undercurrent of human thought or vision was later expressed in installations such as Belshazzar’s Feast / The Writing on the Wall 1983-4. Sitting at the heart of the exhibition, it takes the form of a living room environment, in which a glowing TV screen shows images of a burning fire, accompanied by a mysterious, hypnotic soundtrack. More recent work continues this interest in visionary and supernatural experiences, such as Psi Girls 1999, a five-screen projection featuring clips from Hollywood movies about young women with telekinetic powers, and the compelling audio-sculpture Witness 2000, in which a cloud of hanging audio speakers offers the visitor hundreds of accounts of extraterrestrial encounters.
Susan Hiller was born in Florida, USA in 1940. She studied in Massachusetts and New Orleans, receiving a PhD in anthropology before becoming disillusioned with academia. She moved to London in 1969 and began her career as an artist, first exhibiting her work in 1973. She continues to live and work in Britain and has been the subject of many exhibitions, including at the ICA, London in 1986; Tate Liverpool in 1996; and BALTIC, Gateshead in 2004.
The exhibition is curated by Ann Gallagher, Head of Collections (British Art), Tate, with Sofia Karamani, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain. The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue published by Tate Publishing.