John Hilliard

‘Facade’ and ‘Flight of Happiness’


Not on display

John Hilliard born 1945
Photograph, colour, on paper and board
Image: 407 × 699 mm
image: 178 × 470 mm
image: 165 × 470 mm
Purchased 1984

Catalogue entry

John Hilliard born 1945

P77030 ‘Façade' and ‘Flight of Happiness' 1982

Two framed cibachrome photographs mounted on museum board with framed printed text; ‘Façade' 179 x 471 (7 x 18 1/2) in framed mount 436 x 727 (17 1/8 x 28 5/8); ‘Flight of Happiness' 167 x 472 (6 9/16 x 18 9/16) in framed mount 432 x 723 (17 6/16 x 28 3/8); framed printed text 432 x 725 (17 x 28 1/2); overall size as installed variable; printed and published by Editions Média Neuchâtel in an edition of 90
‘Façade' inscribed ‘JOHN HILLIARD 1982' below image on mount b.l., ‘70/90' below image on mount b.r.; printed inscription ‘Façade' b.r. of image and black Japanese stamp on mount b.r.; ‘Flight of Happiness' inscribed ‘JOHN HILLIARD 1982 below image on mount b.l., ‘70/90' below image on mount b.r.; printed inscription ‘Flight of Happiness' b.r. of image and red Japanese stamp on mount b.r.; printed text not inscribed
Purchased from Editions Média, Neuchâtel(Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Lit: Jean Fisher, ‘John Hilliard' in John Hilliard, exh. cat., Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne 1983 [p.40] (original version of ‘Flight of Happiness' listed 30, repr. [p.19] in col.). Also repr: John Hilliard, New works 1981-1983, exh. cat., Kettle's Yard Gallery, Cambridge 1984, original version of ‘Façade' [p.11] in col.

John Hilliard has used photography as his first medium since 1969 and began to make cibachrome colour photographs in 1981. P77030 is a three-part work published by Editions MédiaNeuchâtelin an edition of 90, in 1982. It consists of two framed editioned cibachrome photographs and a third section which is a framed text. The text is a typeset transcription of an interview Hilliard made with the critic Jean Fisher in November 1982. The text was published in October 1983 after the photographs (Hilliard told the compiler that it was not decided to incorporate the printed section until later). The originals of the two photographs are two much larger photographic panels, ‘Façade', 1982, 800 x 2100 (31 1/2 x 82 5/8, repr. Cambridge exh. cat. 1984 [p.11]) and ‘Flight of Happiness' 1982, 770 x 2200 (30 1/4 x 86 5/8 repr. Cologne exh. cat. 1983, p.59).

Like numerous other works by Hilliard made since 1979 each of the originals consists of a pair of cibachrome photographs, drymounted so that they abut one another and at first glance, appear to consist of one continuous image (for an early black and white example of this phase in Hilliard's work, see T03079 ‘Langdale Fell,' Tate Gallery Acquisistions 1980-2, 1984 pp.132-3, repr.). The original large cibachromes are mounted on ‘gatorfoam', a specially strengthened expanded polyurethane support.

The two photographic prints for P77030, were made by first making two small collage replicas of the original large works. These were re-photographed onto 10 x 8 film to a high resolution. The prints (P77030) were taken from this positive, rather than from a positive of the original large works. Each print consists of one photograph, although the joins between the original pairs of photographs are still visible in the editioned works. Each of the collages carried Letraset titles, ‘Façade' and ‘Flight of Happiness' (bottom right of the right hand photographs). These are also visible in the prints having been recorded from the small replica collages, and are integral to each photograph.

In ‘Façade' a traditionally dressed Japanese woman, in heavy white face make-up appears twice. On the right, her face is partly blurred by a fan which she waves before her. On the left, the fan obscures her face but replaces it with a traditional Japanese painted image of a woman's head (from an Utamaro print). ‘Flight of Happiness' consists of two images of the head and shoulders of a woman wearing a kimono, holding a fan decorated with three flying cranes. On the left, only the fan and the woman's hand are clearly discernable - her kimono and hand register as a blur. On the right, the woman is more clearly registered as an image, against a tapestry background. Tears are visible in the corners of her eyes and the pattern of her flowered kimono is registered clearly. In this part of the work, her fan appears as a blurred arc.

For the original of this two-part work, Hilliard took a situation where some elements were still and some moving. For the right hand images, he held his camera still, so that the moving elements (the fans) registered as blurs. For the left hand images he moved with the fluttering of the two fans so that these images were the only parts to register with any clarity.

This three part work resulted from two trips Hilliard made to Japan in 1982. His first visit was in April 1982 when he went as an exhibitor in the British Council travelling exhibition, Aspects of British Art Today. Before he left for Japan, he had already received invitations to exhibit his work in one-man exhibitions at the Amano Gallery in Osaka and the Ryo Gallery in Kyoto. He visited these cities for the two exhibitions in July 1982.

Hilliard took the photographs from which the two original large versions of ‘Façade' and ‘Flight of Happiness' were made in Osaka and Kyoto on his second visit to Japan. Having decided to make specifically Japanese works, Hilliard visited shops selling fans and eventually selected the crane and Utamaro designs. He used for his models people he met locally. The woman who appears in ‘Flight of Happiness' was his interpreter and guide while he was in Osaka. The woman in ‘Façade', who is in fact of Korean nationality, was the assistant at the Ryo Gallery in Kyoto, (the caligraphy that appears on the tapestry behind her is a Korean poem but Hilliard was unable to obtain a translation of it). ‘Façade' and ‘Flight of Happiness' are the only specifically Japanese works Hilliard has made. He had planned to make a third, based on the image of a Kabuki actor and using a male model but this work was not finally realised.

Although it would be possible to exhibit the photographic sections of this work without the text, Hilliard has confirmed that, as this is an edition comprising three elements, he would prefer the sections to be displayed together.

The mounts for the photographs each bear a small red Japanese stamp. This reproduces the artist's name in Japanese characters in four phonetic syllables.

In conversation with Jean Fisher, November 1982, John Hilliard made the following observations about P77030.

Asked to what extent his background as a sculptor has informed his use of the photograph he replied:

Well, I suppose in the sense that the sculptures I made were constructed, and I now make what one could call constructed photographs. The picture elements are conceived and deployed within space according to a prescribed scheme, and the prints are themselves produced and finished to provide a further construct. Also, one of my reasons for making sculpture was being attracted to its factuality, as against the inevitable illusionism of painting. And of course one thing central to photography is its causality - its causal connection to the real - as a result of which it carries a factuality akin to that of sculpture ...

There is a large body of photography in which everything is set up, whether it's for a passport portrait or something much more complex like an advertising photograph. A fashion shot probably stands between the two. It's in the realm of commercial photography that this kind of contrivance is something of a convention, whereas in ‘gallery' photography the convention is largely to record what is already given, without interference, to the extent that any such interference would be considered unethical.

Hilliard set up the situations in the two Japanese works, ‘Flight Of Happiness' and ‘Façade',

Firstly by asking a very elementary question in relation to circumstances where, within a framed picture area, there is both relatively rapid motion and absolute stasis. In making a recording of those circumstances with a camera, what do you decide to do? Do you follow with your camera the direction of motion to try and clearly record whatever is moving, but in so doing render whatever's statically present as a blur, or do you do the reverse-do you render whatever's statically present clearly, but in so doing render what's there in motion as a blur? In each of these two works what you have in effect is the same picture made in inverse ways.

...Your notion of what's there, and what's going on there, triggered by a title shared by both images, is completely different according to the way the picture is registered at this very simple technical level.

The dominant convention of photography denies the materiality of the print. Everything conspires to draw your attention through to an illusory ‘beyond' and that seems to me to be contrary to the character of other visual arts like painting. One of the essential qualities of art is a duality of apprehension. One sees not just what is depicted, but also the characteristics of the medium of depiction itself. One thing I want to try and do is draw attention to the material, physical properties of photography, in this case blur - something specific to photography and something which also creates a lot of surface incident, demanding attention within the plane of the picture. You are nevertheless allowed to look ‘through' that plane to the ‘beyond' - you are encouraged both to look at the photograph and to look into it.

Asked by Fisher to confirm that, unlike in traditional photography, these works imply the presence of the photographer, Hilliard said:

in these particular cases there is both the motion and stasis of the women, and of myself as recorder, so there is a direct reciprocation of action between object and subject. In most photographs the author's presence is not made explicit. It's always implicit, but it's not something that people ordinarily consider.

Fisher commented that

In these pairs of images ... the play on concealing and revealing is also described in terms of the image itself. On the one hand the girl is concealed behind the fan, and on the other she is revealed through the fan being blurred and becoming more transparent-so that the subject matter itself reflects the nature of the photographic medium

Hilliard said in reply:

The act of revealing something, but in so doing concealing something else, or vice versa, is recurrent in a lot of work I've done using photography. That's obviously one of my interests-the potential that this medium has for a kind of duplicity, merely as a consequence of the very elementary choices that one makes in producing pictures. In this case, that notion of concealing and revealing is made quite explicit in the subject matter itself, which serves to reiterate that property of the medium in general, and of this strategy in particular. In both works the fan is partly used as a device behind which one can hide. But when, as you say, you are able to see through the blur to what is behind the fan, in fact because both women are heavily masked with traditional Japanese make-up, this act of revealing only exposes yet another concealed image. They are both painted faces; both Façades. The woman underneath is doubly masked, firstly by her make-up, and then in front of that by a stylised life-size image of a woman. You never do get to see the woman herself. You never get to be properly aware of her character and of her expression. Obviously, I'm making use of a clichéd occidental idea of oriental inscrutability.

[‘In Flight Of Happiness'] the images on the fan are of cranes, which in Japan are a symbol of happiness and long life. So, looking at the picture on the left, the apparent reading is literal in relation to this symbol (and the birds themselves, through the motion of the fan, seem to be taking off from its surface). On the right, one has quite a different reading of the same title, because ‘flight' can now be understood as ‘departure'. Although the woman is heavily made-up, one is able to see tears coming through the white powder. So there is a contradiction. The two inverse ways of making the picture produce an inverse reading.

Hilliard confirmed that the titles are integral to the understanding of these works:

Word and image bounce off each other, and given that the titles are important both as a trigger and because they have an ambiguity which is in parallel with the pictorial ambiguity, I do want them to be properly incorporated as a recognised ingredient within the work. It wouldn't be good enough simply to have them put underneath or on one side. I want them to be known as the titles of these pieces, and to be seen to be integral to the work so it seems necessary that they should be located within the pictures themselves, rather than simply be an adjunct.

Commenting further on the relationship between these works and the visits he made to Japan in 1982, Hilliard said:

There are certain details within the images which perhaps do require a particular cultural knowledge. For example, in contemporary Japan traditional white face make-up is used within the context of a wedding, so a reading of unhappiness may be tied to that knowledge. The make-up and the cranes are things that I learned about by being in Japan, and are devices I deployed from within that experience. I haven't really made a lot of work spontaneously in places I've travelled to, and I'm aware of benefitting from having made two trips to Japan in rapid succession. The first trip allowed me to see what was there, and to reflect upon it, so that on the second visit I had a good idea of the kind of thing I might be able to do. The actual fans I used (with their particular readings), the women I used, the locations, were all determined on that second visit, so they were the relatively spontaneous elements.

I recognised things within Japanese culture that struck a chord with me, which seemed to be in parallel with my own way of thinking about things and dealing with things. It's to do with a kind of ordering - socially, architecturally, the order one finds in Japanese gardens, in ways of dressing, eating and so on. People have commented on the interior spaces that I have made use of here in England, and said that they always seem to be very ordered-seemingly not everyday spaces. The reason for that is that I don't want within my work an excess of clutter which doesn't have a part to play within the scheme of things. The work itself is highly ordered in its construction, and I think my preference for an ordered kind of location is a reflection of that. So these Japanese works with their traditional interiors are very much on a par with similar works I've made here in the West.

Asked whether there was an implied narrative in the two works, Hilliard said:

The first thing to say is that there is no narrative as such, because that entails a sequence of events in time.

If we refer back to the question of how this work ties in with my having made sculpture, one thing that distinguishes art from music, literature, theatre, film, television and dance is that they are all time-based, whereas what interests me is the completeness of the single moment facilitated by painting and sculpture. For me, working with photography carries that same singularity-if you like, the ‘frozen moment' conventional to photography. I said there was no actual narrative because, in effect, the two pictures in each work are inverse renditions of a single moment, so any narrative interpretation, as you say, could only be one that is implied, rather than one that's stated.

Hilliard said that he was not sure that he set up situations in his work where a narrative reading was possible:

because that's not the way I work. If it was, I'd start off by saying I want these pictures to be about this or that, and actually that's not how I start at all. I think that's something that may well develop as the work itself does. These pieces of work came about by my firstly being interested in the very simple decision that I talked about earlier, with the potential for a virtually reversed pictorial and connotative result. The decision to use fans simply came out of wanting to work with that idea in Japan, so I looked for a fan with a recognisable motif, and found the one with the cranes. I found that fan before I know what the motif symbolised, but once I had that knowledge I then used the woman to construct a reading which confirmed its significance, and also one which opposed it. So, you see, all these decisions are made in a fairly abstract and pragmatic way, and the upshot of any ensuing conjunctions in terms of a possible narrative reading is something that's very much on the tail-end of this procedure. It's the same for the other piece of work. When I was looking at fans I saw one with a life-size face on it, and then began to work everything else out from there. I'm not saying that I deny responsibility for the readings that can be put on these things, or on other works of mine-in fact, I don't consider these two to be amongst the most suggestive in terms of an implied narrative.

In the interview Jean Fisher pointed out that in ‘Flight Of Happiness' Hilliard has ‘constructed an image which presents opposing meanings - the cranes on the fan ... signify happiness, and yet there are tears on the woman's face. The viewer immediately seeks a relationship between these two pictorial "events", starting a train of narrative thought'; to which Hilliard replied:

For me, what's important is for the contradictory readings to be evident and then the way one handles those readings beyond that point is open.

These women, as well as being objects of the gaze, seem to be very powerfully located themselves, especially in Façade. The woman, being concealed by two different devices, and also perhaps by a third device which is the product of a kind of deportment and controlled behaviour characteristic of her society, is placed in a removed and powerful position in relation to the observer, so that even though she's the object of the percipient's look, that objectness itself is really only a Façade. Similarly, with the woman in Flight Of Happiness, even though there are tears, the expression is still controlled, and again there are the two physical masking devices-firstly the fan, secondly the make-up - and then additionally a psychological mask which allows her to further contain herself. So she is both there and not there, and although she is apparently the object of the gaze, the real she, by inference, is not. I don't see these women as passive recipients.

...the direction of the look in itself wouldn't necessarily signify either dominance or submission. but this idea of firstly establishing these women as objects of the gaze, and then destroying that passivity, is parallel with the way the pictures are made. We were talking before about ‘transparency'. Within both these pieces of work, and in both parts of each work, there are elements that draw you through to the apparent object of your gaze, but then that look and that transparency is challenged by all the incident within the plane of the surface itself. So an illusion is set up, and then knocked down again by an enforced consciousness of the very medium that generated that gesture in the first place.

[In each work the gesture of the women] helps to confound the notion of the captive image as undefended object of the predatory stare of the spectator.

The full text of this interview appears in the framed text accompanying the two editioned works. The artist has agreed to the reproduction of the text as part of the catalogue entry. When P77030 was acquired it was accessioned in two parts. It has since been designated a three-part work, following the artist's confirmation that the text section forms part of the work.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.381-5

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