Susan Hiller is one of the most intriguing and influential artists working in Europe today. Her daring and thought-provoking work is informed by conceptual practice. Although the artist employs procedures of systematization such as cataloging and indexing, and uses seemingly neutral formats such as ‘collection’ or ‘record’, her work often involves highly idiosyncratic accounts of unusual personae and deals with uncanny phenomena.
We at the Kunsthalle Basel are very happy to host the first major institutional exhibition of Susan Hiller in continental Europe. The show itself has been curated by James Lingwood and was first presented last year in a different form at the BALTIC, the Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, England.
By no means a retrospective, the show is a representative and coherent selection from Susan Hiller’s oeuvre of the last thirty years and includes two major sound installations. In the Oberlichtsaal we present Witness, 2000 a multilingual collection of stories told by anonymous individuals who went through ‘close encounters’ and other visionary experiences. In these stories, the truth of eyewitness accounts merges with subjective expressions of belief and with collective narrative structures of the unconscious, the stories remain more or less the same across different cultures and are passed down throughout generations. In the last room of the ground floor we show Clinic, 2004, a work that explores the contents of one specific type of human perception that puts the scientistic construction of knowledge in question – the near-death experience. The third installation in Basel is PSI Girls, 1999, a monumental five-channel video piece in which the excerpts from different Hollywood movies show girls with supernatural abilities. The work attests to the powerful appeal of the unconscious within the production of the most clichéd of images.
The show includes the often quoted piece Dedicated to the Unknown Artists, 1972-1976, a collection of postcards with views of rough sea. While formally in keeping with conceptual art’s notorious procedures of researching, classifying and indexing, the work draws on vernacular imagery and unravels an ambiguous, romantic content. In similar mode, Inside a Cave Home, 1983, has images of the sea hand-painted on large reproductions of a postcard showing the banal setting of a living room in the Australian outback.
It is also very exciting for the Kunsthalle to be able to show for the first time three series of photographs from The J-Street Project, 2003-2005, a new cycle conceived during the artist’s DAAD residency in Berlin. This authoritative work represents a photographic investigation of specific places in Germany – streets in big cities as well as forgotten country roads – that have the word ‘Jude’ (Jew) in their names. As is the case with many works by Susan Hiller, these linked series, called ”Brandenburg Suite”, ”Snow Scenes” and ”Country Roads” form part of a more extensive on-going project that will culminate in a video installation on which the artist is working at present.
The exhibition is a collaborative project of BALTIC, Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead; Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto and Kunsthalle Basel.A German translation of the English catalogue will be published for the exhibition.
This exhibition is supported by: