Gary Hill

A pioneer of electronic media, Gary Hill has developed his work with video and sound since the early seventies. In 1973, while still a student at the Arts Students League in Woodstock (New York) and at a time when he had only worked with sculpture (especially exploring the possibility of integrating sound), Hill borrowed a video camera from the Woodstock Community Video and began experimenting. Fascinated by its real time use, he employed video as if it were a means for “thinking aloud.” This immediately functional process led him to consider video as the form of expression closest to thought. During the two years that followed he worked at Woodstock where he created his first videos. In these, he explored the relationship between sound and image and, in line with the sensibility of those days, he tackled ecological themes related to greater sensibility and awareness.
In 1974, he created his first installation that consisted in a closed-circuit broadcast. From the very beginning of his career, Hill has considered the potentials of technology one of the essential points of his artistic research. In fact, he uses video as a favorite and exclusive medium.
In his first productions, the creation of electronic images took on a specific importance. Later, by introducing spoken words, Hill became interested in its innate possibilities through phonation, the presence of an emitting body. A careful use of the diverse means employed, such as texts, words, and images, permits the physicality of language and its relative mental processes to be reflected in Hill’s oeuvre. His research focuses on the forms of relation, reaction, and friction between language and images.
After he met the poet George Quash in 1976, Hill turned to the extraordinary possibilities of language when placed in relation to images in motion. Hill’s research therefore moved towards exploring the intertextual relationships among image, sound, word, and language, especially in his late seventies and eighties works. Since the end of the eighties, he has earned international renown, dedicating himself more and more to complex site-specific installations. [F.B.]

List of Works

Selected Works I, 1975–1979
video, color, silent and sound, 26 min. 20 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Objects with Destinations, 1979
video, color, silent, 3 min. 57 sec.
The work consists of superimposed layers and colorings of objects and instruments in the negative combined with an electronic re-elaboration of the images.
Windows, 1978
video, color, silent, 8 min. 28 sec.
Images of windows, digitalized and in continuous overlapping layers, rotate and sometimes appear as abstract and unrecognizable forms, simulating effects of spatial depth.
Bathing, 1977
video, color, sound, 4 min. 30 sec.
From the simple shot of a girl bathing, the artist extrapolates a whole series of images that are once again elaborated and transformed with the use of colors, positive-negative inversions, still images, and intersecting layerings.
Bits, 1977
video, color, silent, 2 min. 59 sec.
Fragments of images and details of objects, increasingly enlarged, create a play of abstractions and overlappings.
Mirror Road, 1975–1976
video, color, silent, 6 min. 26 sec.
Some shots taken while traveling in a car along a road offer the primary material for a series of visual treatments that render vision and perception extremely abstract.

Selected Works II, 1977–1980
video, black and white, sound, 19 min. 26 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Electronic Linguistic, 1977
video, black and white, sound, 3 min. 39 sec.
Minute electronic forms move on the screen with progressive acceleration and become the visual equivalent of electronic sounds.
Sums & Differences, 1978
video, black and white, sound, 8 min. 24 sec.
A series of images of musical instruments and their corresponding sounds are alternated in a progressively faster way. The accumulation of the visual and sound flows—both vertically and horizontally—creates a throbbing effect.
Black / White / Text, 1980
video, black and white, sound, 7 min. 23 sec.
This work is structured as a type of linguistic deconstruction and represents a study of the syllables making up the sentences that appear on the screen.

Selected Works, III, 1978–1979
video, black and white, color, sound, 19 min. 22 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Full Circle (Ring Modulation), 1978
video, color, sound, 3 min. 38 sec.
Three sections make up the image: the close-up of hands that bend a metal rod into a circle is juxtaposed to the image of the whole body of the person in question, and an electronic circular shape visualizing the sound of the vocal. From the progression of these different images a strong tension arises between the action of manipulating a physical object and the process of electronic visualization.
Mouthpiece, 1978
video, color, sound, 1 min. 07 sec.
The continuous passing of a stylized red mouth, seen on a blue background, transforms the underlying image of another mouth. A landscape of graphic forms and sound fragments rhythmically pulses.
Elements, 1978
video, black and white, sound, 2 min. 13 sec.
In a visual articulation that is both strongly and essentially terse, the screen presents a play between black and white elements.
Primary, 1978
video, color, sound, 1 min. 19 sec.
This work is a study dealing with the forms of red, green, and blue. Some lips repeat their names while the images change.
Picture Story, 1979
video, color, sound, 6 min. 26 sec.
Constructed on the visual intersections between letters and textual sources, the work focuses on the relationship between linguistic play of words and video representation, the result being the creation of a brief narration based on puns and images.
Equal Time, 1979
video, color, sound, 4 min. 39 sec.
Two contrasting narratives are superimposed within an abstract setting: one is based on a psychological space whereas the other is based on a concrete one.

Soundings, 1979
video, color, sound, 18 min. 03 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Through a sequence of images of acoustic cones (loudspeakers) that are first placed in relation to a person who moves them and are then isolated and presented in close-up, this work offers a series of reflections on the relationships between “the images of sounds and the sounds of images.” At the end a loudspeaker burns in flames.

Around & About, 1980
video, color, sound, 5 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
“It could have gone in another way . . .” Through a concise presentation of possibilities and conditions recited by an off-screen voice, this work presents details of objects, at the same time offering a series of considerations on the modalities of the contextual nature of communicative relationships.

Processual Video, 1980
video, black and white, sound, 11 min. 13 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The work is structured around the relationship that is continuously created between an absolutely minimal, abstract electronic image—a white line that moves on a black background—and a narrative text that talks about the movement and perception of forms. Thanks to a progressive effect of communicative feedback, resonances and correspondences between words and visions are the result.

Videograms, 1980–1981
video, black and white, sound, 13 min. 27 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
This work is made entirely by using an electronic scan processor (Rutt/Etra Scan) that literally allows the artist to sculpt forms in sequence on a black background, starting from single words or sentences. The “videograms” created come to form a dynamic relationship with the text Hill reads, by both accompanying it and (in a more mental counterpoint) through a complex series resulting from abstract and optical forms.

Primarily Speaking, 1981–1983
video, color, sound, 19 min. 23 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
A single-channel version of an installation of the same title for multi-screens placed in a parallel sequence, this work offers a complex series of audiovisual relations on a monitor that is divided into two autonomous series of images. The off-screen voice analyzes considerations regarding contexts of communication and furnishes variations on the theme of the potentials of language.

Happenstance (Part One of Many Parts), 1982–1983
video, black and white, sound, 6 min. 47 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
An essential and refined play of interrelations among written parts, words spoken off-screen, sounds, and images, this short although dense work is constructed upon a series of questions dealing with the interpretation and the transitory nature of textual meanings. Hill’s voice, which is manipulated, together with the text generated by the characters used cause the black and white images to correspond to the visualized forms of Haiku poetry.

Why Do Things Get in a Muddle? (Come on Petunia), 1984
video, color, sound, 33 min. 09 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Inspired by Alice in Wonderland, through an actual staging two characters recite and develop an analysis between the perception of time and the order of things. The dialogue between Alice and her father about “muddles” is recorded by means of a double reversal technique of sentences originally pronounced backwards. The apparently paradoxical situation seems to demonstrate how the order of discussions is caused by the ties among linguistic linearity, narration, and the meaning of the story.

URA ARU (The Backside Exists), 1985–1986
video, color, sound, 28 min. 30 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The video investigates the structures of the ancient Noh drama and its structure of formal, technical, and linguistic dualities. From here Hill constructs a series of acoustic palindromes using Japanese words, creating a visual counterpoint with lengthy sequences of Noh actors.

Incidence of Catastrophe, 1987–1988
video, color, sound, 43 min. 51 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Written, directed, and edited by the artist, this video shows the results of Hill’s research during the early eighties. Inspired both by Maurice Blanchot’s novel Thomas l’obscur and by his own son who began to speak at that time, the artist places the observer in the situation of becoming “text” through a succession of scenarios and motifs that describe the descent within language and within its labyrinthine ways of representation.

Site / Recite (A Prologue), 1989
video, color, sound, 4 min. 05 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Produced with the most accurate precision, in this work the video camera scrutinizes a vast table with a series of still lifes, such as bones, butterfly wings, shells, and skulls.

Soltice d’hiver (Winter Solstice), 1993
video, color, sound, 60 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Originally commissioned by the French television network La Sept for a series of works created in real time by artists, this video is centered on a methodical and continuous observation that records the daily life of the artist’s domestic surroundings. In a single, uninterrupted sequence, Hill documents the objects, the spaces, and the daily gestures surrounding him.