Wall Piece

Wall Piece (an excerpt) by Gary Hill, 2000

Single- channel video/sound installation

Wall Piece, 2000 (5:34)
Single-channel video/sound installation, video projector, one DVD player and disc, strobe light and controller with steel floor mount, two speakers, amplifier and equalizer

A man flings himself at a wall repeatedly and each he speaks a single word. The sound is “modified” by the physical impact of the body against the wall. During the recording, at the moment of contact, a single flash of high-intensity light strobes the body. These “speech acts” have been edited together to form a linear text and a sequence of a body in various positions up against a wall. In the gallery, a strobe light is mounted on the floor and focuses on the projected image. It flashes approximately once every second, going in and out of synchronization with the recorded flashes of light. Sometimes the light precedes the image, echoes the image, or when in unison, obliterates the image.

As in all Hill’s work, the physical wall is a representation of something “other”: a technological and corporeal impasse. Wall Piece is about transcending boundaries and about the nagging doubts of existence. Beyond the anxiety about remaining alive, as Hill’s words imply, lies a higher level of consciousness. The struggle to move beyond the impasse onto another plane is articulated by a series of statement and questions:

“Where am I…I feel abandoned by the real…Difference exists only through sound…a wall of sound. Can I go through it? Can I do through with it? Where does it reside? What does it feed on? Why does it flicker? Nothing approximates its speed…This is that hole which everything must pass through…Will there be a moment of recognition?”

Hill’s powerful text articulates the anxiety surrounding the process of becoming, of passing from one plane to another, of waiting at the threshold for some critical moment of transformation.

—from the Gary Hill: Language Willing exhibited at the Salt Lake Art Center Fall 2004

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American video and installation artist Gary Hill was born in Santa Monica, California, in 1951. Turning from his early work in sculpture, in the 1970s he began experimenting with video, especially during his residency at the Experimental Television Center in Binghamton, New York, from 1975 to 1976.

Informed by conceptual art and its self-reflexive strategies, his work often makes specific literary references. For instance, Incidence of Catastrophe (1987-88), an 18-minute color video with stereo sound, was directly inspired by Maurice Blanchot’s existential 1941 novel Thomas l’Obscur. In this film Hill appears as a free interpretation of the character Thomas, naked, engulfed, and eventually overcome by language.

Hill’s work often introduces radical concepts to the audience’s experience. His often-cited installation Tall Ships (1992) at the 1993 Whitney Biennial in New York City asked the viewer to walk through a dark and silent space, lit only by the projected images of people advancing toward and then turning away from the viewer via a mechanism triggered by the viewer’s movements.

Hill’s installations have been exhibited in major museums and international surveys, demonstrating that video is one of the most vital branches of contemporary art. During the last year Wall Piece has appeared at exhibitions in Washington, D.C.; Winnipeg, Canada; Venice, Italy; and São Paulo, Brazil. Hill has been written up in ARTnews and Artforum.

Gary Hill works and lives in Seattle.