Interview with Artist Gary Hill

from: time:

Artist and CAFA Distinguished Professor Gary Hill

Gary Hill
Gary Hill is a Seattle-based American artist who for more than forty years has been deconstructing the relationships and links between spoken words, sounds and images in a myriad of complex ways. His video pieces and their conceptual frame result in intriguing multimedia structures that put into motion a complex course of re-definitions, aiming to challenge many aspects of our life. His work explores an array of issues ranging from the physicality of language, synesthesia and perceptual enigmas, often leading to ontological spaces and viewer interactivity. Gary Hill’s artistic inquiries into semantics and awareness offer the viewers resounding philosophical and poetic insights into things we often take for granted or see as logical. Although this artist initially started out by making metal sculptures in the late 1960s, Hill eventually turned his attention towards video and sound-based installations during the 1970s through the 90s and on–the exact artworks that placed him on the map of both the video, installation art and interactive works--his Withershins won the Venice Biennale Golden Lion award in 1995 for sculpture.

Expert interviewed |Gary Hill
Interviewer |Hu Bei
Interview Time|December. 12. 2019
Interview Location|CAFA Building 7

Artist Gary Hill and Interviewer Hu Bei

VAII:Hi Gary Hill, so nice to have you here.As an artist, how has your art practice evolved over time? How do you see yourself today?
Gary Hill:It’s my pleasure.Well, that would change on a daily basis for sure, when you ask me this question now, or a few minutes from now there could already be contradictions... but I sense that everything has become more expansive and more open to, not just mediums, but materials, sources of ideas, a certain kind of new complexity; it’s really kind of an extended continuous merge of art and life, where there’s slowly not much difference between the two. In other words, I couldn’t really survive doing anything else--the doing and the being are the same. I guess that’s an okay explanation for now.

VAII:You mean art is your life Has the medium you used changed over time?
Gary Hill:Yeah, art is my life, I am art, something like this, for better or for worse. I started making metal sculpture with no knowledge of contemporary art in the beginning--the work was a strange mix of Giacometti, Hieronymus Bosch and a kind of psychedelia. I had a sort of silent mentor unbeknownst to the particular artist (Anthony park). A few years later by pure happenstance, I was given a video portapack to play around with. Quickly, my notion of art expanded (blew-up might be a better word), to include process and looking at otherness. I found myself more connected to the present. Self-consciousness was a new meta space. Everything felt cybernetic. That all opened me up to, not so much multiple mediums per say but a lot of different sources and associating diverse things in unexpected ways. "Accidents" and everyday occurrences all became material and media in a highly visceral sense.

Full Circle (1978)

Elements (1978)

VAII:Many of your work explored the intersection of sounds and images, issues ranging from languages, synesthesia, to ontological space. Could you please give us more insight into that?
Gary Hill:When I first immersed myself in video, almost immediately I was exploring my body with images and sounds, even making sounds with cameras literally laying on my body-- wrapped up in wires practically. It was something far away from film or even image-making for that matter. Then I got distracted by the possibility of images, and processing images, and multiplying images, and electronic imagery and "infinite possibilities of the medium." My way out of that vortex was by literally speaking and centering my body into the media. This kind of physicality made language, sound and image into a sort of braid. And yet, still, there is always some kind of surprise, something that’s completely unexpected that generates the flash point of a work.

Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place (1990)
Primarily Speaking (1981-1983)

VAII:What pushes you to make a work?What’s one of the artists or authors that has inspired and influenced you greatly?
Gary Hill:Probably similar to what pushes us to procreate, it’s pretty much the same thing. I made several works that were very much inspired by the author Maurice Blanchot, he is a French writer, philosopher and theorist. Rather coincidently I’m working on a piece now that I also see as coming out of the Blanchot experience--that’s really what it is, an experience--you can’t expect just to read Blanchot. Anyway, I will be lying on a bed--a bed as kind of island in a large empty space. There will be a drone that explores me and the space and we have a conversation--an imaginary conversation experienced as narration; you don’t actually see me speak. It’s still very much in the beginning stages. I can’t decide to do it in the flesh or as a very realistic computer- generated scene...we’ll see.
Anyway, In general, I would say I’m more affected by writers and thinkers more so than visual artists, not that they don’t thin mind you but the focus is different. Surfing has been a considerable influence too. I grew up surfing and the impact on my thinking would be hard to hide. I’ve several works in which surfing is the focus--Learning Curve and Learning Curve (still point) both from 1994, and more recently, Isolation Tank, 2011 which is a rather realistic computer-generated scene. The life of a wave could be looked upon in a similar way as the life of an idea. they form in a process of becoming and as they get closer to cresting and forming an inner space, there is a kind of dichotomy paradox condition that teases with either--waves and ideas...

VAII:What advice you would give to young artists today when the border of technology and art is beginning to disappear?
Gary Hill:While I hope it doesn’t disappear, be aware of the spectacle of technology, as well as the spectacle of anything else, I think sometimes we put technology out here because it seems like another fantastic something, when in fact we are already technology, we are born technology through language. Languages are our first technology that defines human beings. I think it’s important to feel that organic connection and preserve ones ability to mediate new technologies and the spectacle that is so easily produced from it. This is not to say that one shouldn’t use it, or incorporate it, or learn it, make it or whatever, but I think it’s all too easy to get swept away by it.

VAII:You think it’s easy to be distracted by it?
Gary Hill:Yeah, I mean everyone likes to be distracted sometime because life is hard, so you know, that’s why we like to listen to comedians, or watch a movie, or find love.

VAII:As a teacher, what’re your thoughts on teaching? What’s something you really want to share with CAFA students?
Gary Hill:It would seem that technology is the focal point as it will determine much, perhaps everything one day. Rather than just bringing it up as just another subject among many, I think it should remain as the central dialogue of the university, but not just as a set of new tools but what does it mean now and in the future; how does it affect thinking and what is it to share thinking with a machine etc. There are ethics involved as well as the very meaning of life. One facet of my thinking sees a gruesome end, maybe it’s not so gruesome, but things are escalating toward an apex of sorts, on one side, you have human beings--a path of mortality, in the simplest of terms, you are born, you suffer, and you die. Then you have artificial intelligence, machine learning, machine living, machine language, and at some point, we will have crossed some kind of line and many things will happen. Life will be extended well beyond current longevity into the possibility of immortality, which changes the very nature of being-- thinking, emotions, and many things that are impossible to predict will be different in ways we cannot conceive. I would say there’s a very real possibility that human beings, as we define them will end; that’s not a very happy ending, but maybe we will overcome.


Chief Editor/ Dong Huiping
Layout Editor / Zhang Yueyan
Shooting,Video clipping &Text/Hu Bei
 Image / Website