Susan Hiller (b. Cleveland, Ohio, 1940)
Susan Hiller was born in 1940 and grew up in and around Cleveland, Ohio until 1952 when her family moved to South Florida where she attended local schools and Coral Gables High School. She was awarded a scholarship to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and graduated in 1961. After a year in New York studying film and photography at The Cooper Union and archaeology and linguistics at Hunter College, Hiller went on to do postgraduate work at Tulane University in New Orleans with a National Science Foundation fellowship in anthropology. She conducted fieldwork in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize but became uncomfortable with academic anthropology’s claim to objectivity; she wrote that she did not wish her research to become part of anthropology’s ‘objectification of the contrariness of lived events’. During a lecture on African art, she made the decision to leave anthropology to become an artist.
Susan Hiller has been based mainly in London since the early 1960’s. After several exhibitions of her paintings and a series of collaborative ‘group investigations’, in the early 1980’s she began to make innovative use of audio and visual technology. Her groundbreaking installations, multi-screen videos and audio works have achieved international recognition and are widely acknowledged to be a major influence on younger British artists.
Each of Susan Hiller’s works is based on specific cultural artifacts from our society, which she uses as basic materials. Many of her works explore the liminality of certain phenomena including the practice of automatic writing (Sisters of Menon, 1972/79; Homage to Gertrude Stein, 2010), near death experiences (Channels, 2013), and collective experiences of unconscious, subconscious and paranormal activity (Dream Mapping, 1974; Belshazzar’s Feast, 1983-4; Dream Screens, 1996;Psi Girls, 1999; Witness, 2000). In describing this area of Hiller’s work, art historian Dr. Alexandra Kokoli draws attention to its palpable political subtext: “Hiller’s work unearths the repressed permeability … of … unstable yet prized constructs, such as rationality and consciousness, aesthetic value and artistic canons. Hiller refers to this precarious positioning of her oeuvre as ‘paraconceptual,’ just sideways of conceptualism and neighbouring the paranormal, a devalued site of culture where women and the feminine have been conversely privileged. Most interestingly, in the hybrid field of ‘paraconceptualism,’ neither conceptualism nor the paranormal are left intact … as … the prefix ‘para’ -symbolises the force of contamination through a proximity so great that it threatens the soundness of all boundaries.”
With a practice extending over 40 years, Susan Hiller is considered one of the most influential artists of her generation. Her work is found internationally in both private and public collections and her career has been recognised by mid-career survey exhibitions at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (1986) and Tate Liverpool (1996), and, most recently by, a major retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain (2011).