Susan Hiller: Witness

Susan Hiller is an American born artist, her practice practice encompassing installation, photography, video and performance. For her work Witness she has gathered first-hand reports of encounters with UFOs or aliens posted on internet sites world-wide. Hiller sees this activity as related to older forms of confession, ways of placing fears into the public arena. Gathering this information becomes an exploration of a kind of contemporary folklore, one in which alien contact is offered as explanation for the inexplicable. The work is like a cave of thin silvery stalactites that turn out to be wires with miniature speakers attached, where one can listen to the testimonies of encounters with UFOs.

“Listening to these people whispering in your ears is like being a priest in a confessional. The whole piece is built upon the shape of the cross and the circle. There are four pathways where you can enter the inner circle of the installation… The religious symbolism of the cross in the circle is crucial because the stories are examples of contemporary visionary experience. Only today people see UFOs where once they saw angels.” – Hiller

The Story of Art School and the Red Tape

With the degree show just over the hill and everyone around me starting to get tense I find myself dealing with institutionalized red tape (a-fucking-gain). Why do we student artists have to deal with so many barriers when all we are trying to achieve is some form of conclusion to the past four years of blood, sweat, and tears.

Let me put this in context for you. I, for my degree show, have proposed to exhibit four works, two instillations, one photographic/sound piece, and one performance. Originally I proposed to hold most of these within the building at Grays (excluding one of the instillations), but later decided to adapt one of the works so that it could be held outside so not to take up space unnecessarily for a one-off performance. Personally I thought I was being considerate, doing both the school and my fellow students a favour. But all I have seemed to have encountered after proposing this is a massive pile of the proverbial ‘red tape’. Their response was this…

“Anything between both buildings for the duration of the show is problematic – power, security, equipment left outside overnight etc etc…. The quad is a more controllable and safe area but it’s starting to get busy in there.”

I really think they failed to understand the whole notion of this being a ‘one-off’ performance. I only plan to do the performance once… I say again once. Not for the “duration of the show”. And I am now being encouraged not to do the work, something I have spent a long time researching, organizing, and developing so that it could be accommodated. Their main concerns seem to be power, equipment, and that ultimate failure of legislation, health and safety (the legislation of common sense). And I am still unsure as to what major health and safety issues I will encounter. Someone tripping on the cables? Someone eating a cable? Both seems as likely to me. For me it seems to be a waste of both my time and my energy to put so much into this for it to be cancelled just because their worried someone might cause themself a ‘You’ve Been Framed’ moment.

The next problem was the suggestion to hold it in the quad. As I explained in both my proposals is that this performance is extremely loud and would therefore impose on the other work being held there, another reason I considered and the main reason I asked to do it outside the Grays building.

Basically I think the only thing that is causing any problems with this work is the school seeming inability to both understand what I am proposing and they’re lack of encouragement. They clearly have ‘better’ things to deal with. All I want is to feel I achieved something with my time at Grays, and to be able to share that with the public (the whole point in making art, no?)