Prologue


Speaking For Before

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Prelusion

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Artist of language (even where there are no words?)

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The art identity “Gary Hill” has an immediate association with video,[1] and at the same time those who know his work usually think language as well. For the most part that means that in his work he has used words, both spoken and written, as well as the concept of language and linguistics.[2] We can have an idea of video in much the way we do of paint­––a known medium open to subtle reconception. But what about language? Not so clear, beyond the obvious presence of words, articulated human sounds, text. How do we know that we are in the presence of language? In the simplest sense it’s like the joke about how you know when a lawyer is lying; answer: his lips are moving. If it talks to you, it’s some kind of language. If you can read it, it’s language.

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And what about when it sounds like it’s speaking but it’s not making sense? What about empty space with large moving pictures that make you want to talk back? What about word-like sounds seemingly tortured into existence? What about a word or a small array of words so positioned that even a thousand pictures seem reductive by comparison? Why? Because each time you come into its presence you may tell yourself who you are in a new way.

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Thinking and talking about art too often boils down to telling the artist who he or she is in an old way. A variation on an established model. An elaborated way of thinking through the problematics of an art by way of a well-worked system of thought, albeit an important system in context. Some artists seem more exercised by this problem than others. Indeed some artists take on the problem by working in a dynamic of definition evasion: engagements with language that destabilize the indicative–– that is, by rendering nearly impossible any positive statement in the indicative mood asserting what is, or indeed what is, was, or will be happening. Such action may even constitute a sort of theory of language to the effect that the truer it is, the more it is a site of transition––transaction at a transom, the event of transparence––an agitation that is paradoxically a windowing. It would seem that a necessary speaking lets a particular light quality pass through, releasing objects into a certain mental vision.

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In this view language is an event with a built-in parallax, if we may extend this word––meaning the apparent shift of an object against a background caused by a change in observer position––to include the phenomenon in which objects come into question even as they come into view. Logo-parallax, as it were. Neither the language nor the object is subject to static indication; the indicative in this sense is only ever performative. What appears to be there is a work created in the event of perceiving it; saying it is there is an artifact of the event of conceiving it; and the medium is a membrane of direct connection and exchange. In a sense we read the object into existence, and that is language.

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The artist of language, in our conception here, participates in a process of objectifying, of laying out objects that perform the act of saying themselves. It’s not enough to say that he or she uses language. There is no toolbox handy. What’s there is more like a swamp. A verbal wetland. An ecology that alters at the moment you ingress. You cross the line and the two worlds are never again fully separate. You project an image on the wall and there is window: light coming back at you with articulate otherness, outthereness. Let there be head and hand the size of the wall and the silence of empty space resounds. Something is saying. It languages.

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There is art that knows this problematic of language; namely, that in order to be true, it––the whole of language, language as an entirety, like a living body, and not just a fragment (or prosthesis!)––has to be reinvented or re-envisioned or re-embodied in any occasion of utterance. And to talk about art that has this knowing is to be faced with learning its language, which is always in some measure foreign. The viewer/listener is the stranger. It takes direct immersion in order to hear it, learn to speak with it, and enter into a feedback relationship with it. Feedback is necessary for homeostasis and self-regulation, and when one crosses the line of separation to experience the work, one’s own psychosm begins trying to expand to include it. One stands at the threshold. To engage it further is to invite it to cross over, and to lean over into it, causing a double furtherance. One activates an architectural inside-outside flow. One’s being, catching new views of itself as it goes, is in oscillatory parallax. Onto-parallax in flux. And there has to be a speaking that is true to this engagement, this mutual transpiration. A speaking that furthers the life that draws us to this site in the first place.

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For this to happen, optimally the work has to be somehow in its nature asking for it. What we are saying here, in saying all this, is that saying it reflects the language of the language art according to the art identity “Gary Hill.” That is the view and the claim here. It is not poetic license––well, maybe it’s a temporary learner’s permit. It’s an attention. A way of attending. A way of configuring.

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Accordingly we are tracking the play of certain notions through pretty much the whole of Gary Hill’s work––not every work but the full extent of the field of the work. Specific terms and concepts will be clarified in the brief exposition that follows in this prolegomena, terms worked out over the past three decades of collaboration––between us, the authors, and us and the artist, and all of us and the work that has come to be in these years; and the state of dialogue that we think of as trans- and co-performativity.

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Translusion

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Naming things what language can’t say (but does anyway)

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Or: further language. And what would that “further” be? Well, if we raise the ante in this question, we quickly find ourselves in a discourse situation that frames the issue of human furtherance (“evolution”) in a way that divides the world between opposites. On one side are those who think that life evolves (goes further) and on the other side are those who say that it stays the same despite innumerable apparent changes (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose). (The latter calls to mind William Blake’s saddened sense of human resignation as the “same dull round over again.”) And, among those who say that it does go further, there would be some who think that it evolves on its own by natural selection and others who think that there is intentional evolution. The latter can mean, to apply Charles Olson’s felicitous phrase, that we come to our further nature by way of conscious response to feedback in the very dynamic of life interactions. Setting aside for convenience the obvious fact that there are unlimited nuances in all of these views, let us cut to one particular chase and say that, despite the battles that rage (e.g., between “intelligent design” and “natural selection”), it might be possible to find interest in any of the positions, entertaining spontaneous attractions to unlikely configurations, once, that is, they are angled in a fresh way or cut loose from their proponents and the tendentious forms of their expression. We come to some sense of further language merely by converting polemic to dialogue in a zone of intensified betweenness––engaged liminality. Again, shades of William Blake: Every thing possible to be believed is an image of the truth. Imagine a book entitled Intelligent Design for Atheists, the very thought of which boggles the question: conscious evolution?[3]

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Clearly the framing language determines the inquiry and the range of allowable responses. Beyond the well-worn claim that we need new questions to get new answers is the view that we need new language to modify inquiry and minimize the very dependence on answers. In this view the state of inquiry itself must be preserved, indeed intensified––even if it seems at times little more than a depressive-comic enhancement of waiting for Godot. The questions pertaining to evolution may benefit not only by refinements of argument but by gross levels of opposition as well. There are two good reasons that come to mind. One is that opposition to longstanding consensus is necessary in keeping inquiry open (“Without Contraries there is no progression”––Blake). The other is that the science that tracks evolving life is notoriously unstable, or perhaps voluble, and frequently overturns even long held views. It is subject to continuous reconfiguration. To think further we need to further the thinking inside the very view of furtherance and, especially, the language in which it feeds back. The poetics—the adequate language—for such a situation is always, to borrow another phrase from Charles Olson, “yet to be found out.”

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At issue from the start is the stance toward language. Gary Hill’s early choice to work closely with particular poets, indeed to work through the texts of such a writer as Maurice Blanchot, bespeaks a certain inner orientation toward open discourse, and a need perhaps to discover a principle of openness in language. Such language seems always on the verge of breaking through its own surface. Its excitement is at the level of aroused particles edging toward a change of state, a stepped up intensity, a higher state of energy. It suggests a possible world and an enhancement of the sensory weave of experience wherein language speaks openings in our very capacity to sense. Verbal synaesthetic orificiality. Such a view implies an evident valorization of language, as if it could be a transgressive vehicle––poised at the threshold of crossing the line. And who knows the limit of that? Maybe at the psychotropic event horizon we see Blake’s vision of Dante beholding Beatrice in the Star Car!

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The stance, in contrast to a range of utilitarian approaches to language that enforce one consensus or another, is receptive, where value resides in qualities of obedience to language, as it comes, in its actual play. This attitude approaches language as itself (ambiguously) willing, a notion we will explore in relation to the 2002 installation, Language Willing (Chapter Fifteen). (“Writing is first a search in obedience”––Robert Duncan.) And, as suggested by another work’s title, Site Recite (a prologue) (1989), the artist unveils actual sites of language, places where it recites. Telling events, voluble spaces.

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These modulations of intention in the way events unfold serve as guides in how to read the artist’s work. Many of Gary Hill’s most appreciated works offer very little encouragement in assigning simple meanings, especially those, like Tall Ships (1992), HanD HearD (1995-96), and Viewer (1996) (Chapters Six, Seven, and Eight), with no verbal content beyond their titles, which therefore radiate more than refer. Language comes to us at the circumference of an experience-saturated field, in which we are left to listen with silence and consult the contents of our own minds, there where the conversation originates. Viewer is the aperture through which the site recites. The further agent.

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The Fall, Axis, Mesh, Mirror Road, Earth Pulse, Synergism, Electronic Linguistic, Sums & Differences, Windows, Mouth Piece, Elements, Primary, Full Circle, Objects with Destinations, Picture Story, Equal Time, Soundings, Processual Video, Around & About, War Zone, Black/White/Text, Videograms, Glass Onion, Happenstance (part one of many parts), Primarily Speaking…––from 1973 on, a decade of resonant titles that speak beyond themselves and radiate out from their youthful years, each suggesting a path of and through the body of work (the oeuvre), each the possible title of a thesis aiming at the essence of an art––together comprise a thicket of verbal possibility, a mesh, a text. Here we are yielding to an Emersonian/Whitmanian temptation to let the names do the talking––a postlapsarian listening to the fall in its earth pulse along the mirror road––where we listen in as the site recites, the recital, the récit.[4] We stand at the axis where the hearing is good. The stance is:

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living language speaks for itself

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At the end of the 1987-88 work Incidence of Catastrophe, the protagonist lies in a fetal position naked and desperate on the floor speaking in what sounds like strangely deliberate nonsense, as the text of Blanchot’s Thomas the Obscure rises luminously behind him. (The image comes to mind of the alcohol-ravaged San Francisco poet Jack Spicer on his deathbed saying, “My language did this to me.”) Language speaking. A tale told by an idiot––in the root sense of self, own, the individual as indivisible, the singular telling. (The Indo-European reflexive third person pronoun “se” feeding back to the subject in the syntax of identity.) Catastrophe in utterance, the crack in the real that lets itself speak, the incidence thereof––turning the world on its head. The book reading the reader. The man stripped bare by his language, even: a desperado at the horizon where text originates by reversing all things familiar, where the act of naming talks backwards and only sounds like nonsense, yet is the very matrix of mystery in how humans renew themselves.

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language transmits
even as
art reads it
into object

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Ontononymous the Particular

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Language wants to surround us like air, to be the medium in which we live and breathe––the “house of being,” as Heidegger said––and also play (not plaything, playground). In Gary Hill’s linguistic dwelling the identity of language itself, along with one’s supposed identity in language, comes under stress in an almost bewildering plethora of ways. For the most part these language outlaws stand at the margin of, or even outside, the conceptual dominion of linguistics, information science, and language philosophy.

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––In the 1980 video Around & About, images play at being language by being timed to the beat of syllables; image sequences seem semantic, enveloped in a language-like syntax.

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––In the 1984 video Why Do Things Get in a Muddle? (Come on Petunia) strange looking people speak a strange English that turns out to be a reversed video in which the people originally spoke in phonetically “backwards speech” now heard weirdly “right.”

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––In the 1996-97 installations Reflex Chamber and Midnight Crossing, images appear as if imitating a root neurological situation, exactly parallel to the neurological exigency of language itself.

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––In the 2000 single-channel video projection work Remembering Paralinguay, a woman emerges from the dark, uttering in extreme falsetto, sounds that eerily straddle incompatible orders of “primal” signification––human calling animals? animal spirit occupying a human? pre-human music? inscrutable screaming? unheard-of language?

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––In the 2000 installation Wall Piece, projecting a strobe-lit man who repeatedly hurls himself against a wall uttering one word per hurl, language in its materiality exists inseparably from the battering of wall, words, voice, and body.

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What is language that it can also be these things? Is language, or any instance of language, an object––something in fact “out there” in the world, its status equal to the thing it “represents” or “communicates” or “speaks for”? And what is the ontological status of the art object whose material is language––art made of language, language made of or into art? Obviously we are headed on a scarcely rational journey here, and the very pretense of these questions to engage art reality at a serious level of intellectual inquiry––well, the tall ships of rational approach are in troubled waters. We’re studying liminal objects. And it may be unavoidable that, as Blake said, “we become what we behold.”

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One thing is clear. It is of the nature of Gary Hill’s work to be inquiring, directly or indirectly, into the nature of language.  It is not a particularly rational (or irrational) inquiry, which is to say, it is not motivated by a concern for an answer to the “question of language”––or any other question for that matter, political, spiritual, aesthetic. Nor is his inquiry concerned to intellectually respond to or represent or be consistent with any of the language-concerned thinkers whose work he has thought inside of (Bateson, Blanchot, Heidegger, Derrida, Wittgenstein…). His inquiry is a modality of engagement in what might be of mind and body. It is a way of bringing reality into focus, for the power of knowing what can be known in the singularity through which it is revealed.

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Language speaks in many ways here, often seemingly on its own behalf. It declares what is—not by reference, either of image or word—but by the performativity inherent in ontologically singular work. The work performs a way things are––and a way can only be so by appearing to be the way––which is to say, it bespeaks things. It doesn’t argue for them, nor does it ask us to argue on their (or the artist’s) behalf. If it asks for anything, it’s that we allow it to further its process in our experience.

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And, as we have said before, we take it as our mission here to attend to the further life of the work. An aspect of our parallel process occurs by way of certain understandings embedded in an array of terms. We would like to clarify our usage, not toward asserting a methodology or dogma or to limit the meanings of our favorite words to uses we have already engaged, but to make them more precisely functional in the discourse that follows. We think of them as collectors of perspectival awarenesses, artifacts, in part, of engaging the artist’s work on its own terms.

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Art by principle

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Axial, liminal, configurative:

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These three terms comprise both a complex principle, as we see it in its tripartite appearance, and a possible sequence in the interrelated way that the principle unfolds in experience. They also embody three ultimately inseparable aspects of a commitment to principle in art. Principle in this particular usage differs from “concept” and “conceptual” but is in no way opposed to them. An artist working from principle in this sense may also be working with concept, but they are not interchangeable terms. Of course, as the history of art particularly since the 1960s has shown, there is a range of possible ways of defining and using “concept” and “conceptual.” Yet we can notice in a number of cases that a concept is definitively represented by the work that it produces; indeed, one kind of conceptual “ideal” might be: one concept, one work. A principle, in contrast, cannot be fully defined by the work it produces or inspires or operates within. A principle can be endlessly renewed through well-defined yet non-definitive manifestations, and an endless variety of works can be produced out of it. Paradoxically a principle is not well served by apparent repetition; a true manifestation of principle, the way we mean it here, is a singularity.[5]

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The principle of a principle-based work is not necessarily prior to, as “leading up to,” the practice. Though a given principle in some sense had to already be there before the practice began, the decisive point is the artist’s discovery or direct awareness of it, which may or may not function as motivation for making the work. This would be a key distinction between principle-based art and conceptual art: the latter would seem by definition to be substantially in place prior to execution of the work. Work grounded in principle, by contrast, is neutral on this issue. A given work may have a strong conceptual focus at the beginning or not; but this basic fact––that it can be subject to processual evolution through open composition––alters the status of even its conceptual strategies. The root principle is open. In this regard, Gary Hill has said of early, foundational work: “…the space that I often attempt to work in…[has made it possible for] many of the single-channel works [to be] structured in such a way as to allow… unpremeditated activity on my part in producing them.” (See below Dialogos: Liminal Performance.) And, discussing installation work like Tall Ships:

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My working methodology is not one of theorizing and then applying that to making art. In each work I find myself committed to a process that of course may involve material where… philosophical issues may seem to be relevant. But I’m committed to the idea that the art event takes place within the process. One has to be open to that event and be able to kind of wander in it and feel it open up; to see it through until some kind of release feels inevitable.[6]

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This basic attitude may be seen as comparable to the approach of certain older artists who were working during his early development, say, Stan Brakhage in film; John Cage, La Monte Young, or Terry Riley in music; Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Jackson Mac Low, Allen Ginsberg, or David Antin in poetry; or, of course, the “action painting” of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as a good deal of body and performance art (Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci) from the 1960s on. Yet in matters of art principle it is not of primary interest to think by way of comparison or the idea of influence or the claim of priority, except incidentally, or as a way of being in touch with historically resonant event fields. An artist working from a matrix of free action and according to an emerging vision certainly feeds on art and thought, but that means many kinds of art and thinking, beyond all anticipation. And Gary Hill’s particular “consumption” has involved heterogeneous, sometimes incommensurable, sources: Heidegger and Wittgenstein, Bateson and Blanchot, McLuhan and Derrida….[7] Principle is not bounded by consistency. Nor is it exhaustible by definition, use, or application. And it can’t go out of fashion, never having been in.

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Axial

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Sooner or later everything turns, and turning involves an axis, usually invisible. The Earth, the Sun, Jupiter, and people have at least one thing in common — they are bodies that move on an axis, whether axis mundi or spine. If we understand the operative principle to be the axial, we can let the name inform us. Axis. Gary Hill’s 1975 silent color video of this name is hardly intended as a forerunner of theory:

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Bi-directional horizontal and vertical image sweeps of a sheer cliff are structurally edited together to enforce the physicality of the place itself. As the number of frames on one movement increases, the opposite movement decreases, and vice versa along the two axes. (Catalogue Raisonné­, 62)

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What is extraordinary, beyond the prescience of the title, about this description of one of his earliest video works is the number of lasting themes it strikes:

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–– “Bi-directional horizontal and vertical image sweeps” looks forward to works like Searchlight (1986-94) and Beacon (Two Versions of the Imaginary) (1990) in which a sweeping cylinder projects images that alter according to arc of projection from the axis, calling into question the status of the physical reality imaged. (See Chapter Thirteen: Stance Horizontal and Turning) The “bi-directional” also suggests the axial as ambi-valence, the amphibolous or “double throw” quality of open/ambiguous language, and the pervasive theme of double identity, twinning, movement from two directions, such as that in an installation like Disturbance (among the jars) (1988) discussed, for instance, under the title of the 1998 performance piece, Two Ways at Once: Deux Sens à la fois (Chapter Twelve), or the switching/doubling identities of the 1996 installations Standing Apart and Facing Faces (Chapter Nine);

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––“enforce the physicality” describes a core theme of practically the whole of the artist’s work in its great number of ways of exploring physicality––as materiality in the human body, language, light, all elements of the art medium, technology, etc. Highpoints in the physicality of the body reflected in that of the medium include Soundings (1979), Incidence of Catastrophe (1987-88), Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place (1990), Suspension of Disbelief (for Marine) (1991-92), Cut Pipe (1992), Between 1 & 0 (1993), Body Multiplex (going under) (1995), HanD HearD (1995-96), Conundrum (1995-98), Switchblade (1998-99), Namesake (1999), Wall Piece (2000) and Impressions d’Afrique (2003);

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––“the place itself” describes another core theme in works where physical place and medium (especially as technology) are in some kind of oscillatory dynamic (“two axes”), like The Fall (1973), Hole in the Wall (1974), Rock City Road (1974-75), Site Recite (a prologue) (1989), Between Cinema and a Hard Place (1991), Site Cite (1993), Placing Sense\=/Sens Placé (1995), etc.

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Axis obviously can be thought of on many levels, from the intimate scale of the body and its spine, to the way physical things line up or pile up vertically, to the grand scale of the earth turning on its axis and its physical and magnetic polarities: how bodies are in space over time. Issues come up immediately––of balance, alignment, gravity, stability, precariousness, danger…. The axis, in most instances, is not primarily a thing, if at all, but something more in the nature of a mental convenience in observing physical events (earth turning, upright body walking), a concept, and indeed a principle of dynamic orientation of a body amidst physical forces. (Axis, in this respect, is like “horizon­.” See Chapter Thirteen: Stance Horizontal and Turning.) We use the word “axial” at times to engage the sense of personal relationship to the presumed or observed existence of an axis, and the potential for relative “freedom” in movement.[8]

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The axial, then, stands for the opportunity of optimal (but not necessarily “maximal” and certainly not “ideal”) free movement, and for the aligned “surrender” to gravity that also “releases”––polarizes––into levity; bipeds rise into uprightness. So, taking the notion further, the axial means the conscious, radical self-alignment that liberates identity/work into its unknown further possibility. On the plane of art, this means the freedom of an art action to discover possibility through the medium––to work optimally through its own physicality, focused on releasing singular awarenesses peculiar to the artist in a given medium at a given time and place.

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In theory at least, if there is a declared principle of axiality, unlimited new events can be called forth. In Gary Hill’s oeuvre two open series, one early, one more recent, particularly seem to embody this potential for endless self-generating art: Videograms (1980-81) and Liminal Objects (1995-) (Chapters Two and Seven). Each consists of a species of art object that remains liminal to all definitions of “object.” There is no development within either the appearance of the image/object or within the series. Each stands its ground, self-engendering, ingenerate, without reaching outside itself, without much actual reference. It is simply by force of its own volubility, turning upon its invisible axis. Each object speaks itself with its own “electronic linguistic.” The rather mysterious spoken texts of Videograms sometimes seem to bespeak the axial state of the art itself: “The image folded in the double bind of frame and content. Permanence of the act was marginal with a perforated edge of light-heartedness….” And: “…The uncertainty of a tidal dynamic put everything at attention.”

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Attention: The axial can also be considered a state of awakened or alert attention focused openly.[9] While this can be said of art in general (perhaps music especially), there are obviously vast differences in the understanding of “state” and “attention.” Gary Hill belongs with those artists who emphasize the transformative state of mind/attention as a core concern; there are many examples, from, say, Blake to Michaux to Cage to La Monte Young, etc. Attention would range from quasi-trancelike states to acute awareness in reflection––or a state of liminality between them. The inherent complexity in axial possibility brings it close to a life principle in that it is at once self-regenerating and nonrepeating.

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The axial principle does not suggest a style or aesthetic preference, and the intrinsic variety of work in an artist of Gary Hill’s stature does not encourage us to look for consistencies throughout his oeuvre. In fact there are core concerns, as we’ve observed, that persist over years, some reemerging suddenly after years in the background; and there are signature aspects like the CRTs (cathode ray tubes) stripped of their casings, the naked tubes in works like Disturbance (among the jars) (1988), Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place (1990), and Between Cinema and a Hard Place (1991). But these are minor points in the open field in which the artist is willing to generate radically new points of departure and processes. His work belongs in the open perspective of artists in vastly different domains who are able to return to zero point in each new work.

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We were interested recently, for example, to discover a parallel instance in architecture in the work of Steven Holl. In one of his recent books, House: Black Swan Theory, he speaks of the value of proceeding from a particular delimited stance (in his terms a “limited concept”) that

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begins with dissimilarity and variation. It illuminates the singularity of a specific situation. The universal-to-specific order is inverted to become specific-to-universal.

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The critic will observe that this strategy of inversion may become an ideology in itself. This is not the intention here, but even so, this would be an ideology forever changing, a black swan theory, mutable and unpredictable.[10]

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Liminal

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Being at the edge…on edge…over the edge are phrases that express a range of relationships to a basic fact of life as it happens on pretty much all levels—the fact of boundedness. To give it an abstract frame, that is, without much edge, we see: At the center, the self, looking out to the periphery, the boundary. Viewer vs. viewed. On the intimate scale, one’s inner self––feeling, sensing, thinking––bounded by skin, the body’s interface between self and other/world. And always there at the mid-point of between is the threshold, the limen. I am on this side and you are on that side––unless, that is, we are communicating or otherwise intimate. So, not only skin but language functions as a limen, my language vs. the language––a crossing point, a medium of exchange. When we conjunct, singular becomes plural; the limina––skin, language––become mediums; and the medium becomes membrane, flow-through. Question: Once there is plurality, what happens to singularity? Perhaps it takes up precariously balanced residence at, on, or within the limen.

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Shifting now to a concrete frame: In making his installation Crux, first planned in 1983, followed by a dry run in Tokyo in 1984, and finally executed two years later, Gary Hill went out with two friends in a canoe loaded with equipment to Bannerman Island in the Hudson River. The island consists of some seven acres of rocky terrain a thousand feet off the Eastern edge of land fifty miles North of New York City, where from a distance the ancient Scottish outline of Bannerman Castle is an anomalous view. The artist strapped four small cameras and microphones to his wrists and ankles, facing them out to the hands and feet (and beyond) and one braced to the front of his body facing up to his face; five recorders weighing together about fifty pounds were attached to his back. For some twenty-six minutes, viewed in the installation on five monitors suspended on a wall in the shape of a large cross, we see, in real time, the island and its stone ruins (like a “Gothic” set from a horror movie) as the space beyond his limbs and the sky as background of his head. We know the weather as the bright clear sky turns to darkening clouds over his head, rather ominously.[11] We hear his labored breathing and the rustling of leaves as he trudges overland. We see the bounding world from the center (crux) of a human cross (crux) in all its rugged dynamism and feel the technology-crossed heart of the struggle in a strangely familiar double view: from the intimacy of the body outward and, as viewers, from outside the periphery of the event, across space and time (in various senses). There is no resting in this restless perspective, no stillness, no outside beyond the inside-outside of the continuous strained odyssey: The world, ancient and crumbling, “history,” and raw “nature” underneath and all around, viewed as an artifact of technology-laden body-centered endurance-performance.

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This is a between state with many levels of resonance. Hauntingly suggestive of human monster movies––“subjective camera,” a cross between Frankenstein and the Bionic Man––it gives us a contemporary and quite innovative equivalent of a timeless archetype–– let’s call it the liminal persona. Ancient examples include the man-beast Centaur, such as Chiron who is mentor to Achilles and Hercules (The Odyssey), both monster and heroic purveyor of lineage; likewise the Green Knight who is both monster and mentor to Gawain (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight); or the Green Man, whose face gazes from ancient stone carvings, linking human architecture to the vegetable world as his head sprouts vines. The latter now would be the Techne Man, sprouting many eyes as seeing-camcorders, focused both on to and out from his own extremities. Man technologically liminal to earth/body/sky.

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Man on the cross and at the crossroads––such is the liminal way that Gary Hill embraces potentially religious issues, never as religion or direct religious symbols or as spiritual grandiosity or heroic imagery, but in the indirection of human life crossovers. This often shows up in self-marginalizing situations, and sometimes with the literalness of his own body, yet abstracted from the personal by technological intervention and made always already marginal to the world, the other. In Incidence of Catastrophe, mentioned above, a work of the same period as Crux, the edge of the land is the shore wearing away in intimate catastrophes. We can think of this as natural violence, and then we understand that there is a thin line of distinction between this and human-natural violence, indeed self-violence. The man is isolated by a book and readerly identification with an outsider character (Thomas, in several senses obscure), and he ends up liminal to his life story/history, even to the text of his obsession (as “monstrously other” as the technology of Crux is the body’s burden), to language itself, and not only to rationality but to the sensory world of his own body. This “liminal personality,” in the psychologically and socially alienated sense, as half Blanchot’s Thomas and half the non-acting literal Gary Hill, is the ontological liminal persona. Sounding through his hybrid reality mask is the alien voice of a personal “between world.”

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“Being at the edge” is frequently registered in Gary Hill’s work as an event at the surface of the body. He lives the threshold, the limen, as sheer physicality. When words coming out of the persona are nearly or fully incomprehensible, it is the actual muscularity of the mouth that moves to the center of action. In the minute-long 1978 video Mouth Piece, there are two planes of image: in the background is the lower half of a face (the artist’s) with mouth at the center; in the foreground is a graphic depiction of red, electronically generated lips that move as a transparent motion picture against a violet background. The actual mouth manneristically blows a loud kiss as the red lips move precisely in front of it, and after repeating it four times vibrates the lips (blowing-sputtering, sounding like a child) and then sticks the tongue out with a loud throaty “Ahhh.” This primitive articulation takes language down to the physical bottom line, like the sound of the word Dada that’s baby talk. And it creates an interface between physical and electronic linguistic acts––a simple, even ridiculous version of the threshold between person and electronic art. The title spelt as two words is axial, suggesting “a piece about the mouth” and at same time “mouthpiece”; the latter seems light-heartedly to pick up on the etymology of persona[12] as the sounding through the mouthpiece of the mask in ancient Greek drama. This stands at one extreme of “pure sound” from a work like Remembering Paralinguay (2000), mentioned earlier, and its alien scream-communication that could be the voice of a liminal being, either centaur or cyborg.

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In these ambiguous, indeed axial, compositions there is a sensory precision, even in the midst of the technological. One becomes aware of a certain tautness in the engagement with material, a surface tension, which can also be registered as a tuning in the body. Gary Hill’s teenage experience as a skateboarder (appearing in the 1965 film short Skaterdater) and as surfer (continuing into the present)[13] connected him physically to the issues of axiality, balance, and liminality. Surfing is the liminalist sport par excellence––riding the surging/disappearing surface, experiencing the exhilaration of pure edge. Its most ecstatic moment is a brief and precarious enclosure inside the “green room” where the wave takes the surfer into its encompassing fold. The body released to the margin between earth and sky, like a dolphin in continuous weave between water and air, is so disengaged from land life as to move closer to the experience of free mind, something like pure possibility.

~~~

At the same time such experience translates into physical alertness to any medium. Likewise touch––surfer’s, sculptor’s–– has tone and an intensity of focus that transfers from one medium to another.[14] Attention here thrives on otherwise troublesome contraries by not taking sides and remaining instead in the tense zone between. This somewhat special sense of liminality implies a conscious choice to work at the edge and accept the energetic advantage of precariousness. Yet one does not avoid or fall out of touch with emerging/disappearing contraries, but instead retains a live connection with two sides at once. What happens in the middle is itself and new.

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A liminalist theory of liminality and the work as limen

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Coming to terms with terms:

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The noun limen, threshold, has the meaning of smallest detectable sensation, the unit of what crosses the line. In physiology, psychology, or psychophysics, a limen or liminal point is a threshold of a physiological or psychological response. In this technical context, liminal means situated at a sensory threshold, hence barely perceptible. A limen is therefore close to vanishing point.[15] This helps us understand the academic and social domains in which the concept of liminality has played a significant role, such as psychology, as noted, but also more loosely in the description “liminal personality” for someone “near the edge (or breaking point).” And in the social sciences, notably in anthropology, there is the work of Victor Turner, who has written influentially of its implications for social status, saying, for instance: “Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial.”[16] In a sense, a liminal person is “barely perceptible” and living at the social “vanishing point.”

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In the 1996 installation Viewer (Chapter Eight), Gary Hill projects the life-size images of seventeen marginalized men (mostly Latino, Native American, and Black dayworkers) who obviously live near the social vanishing point. When we view them seemingly viewing us, their sad and vacant eyes gazing into our art-inquiring eyes, we enter into their liminality and perhaps discover another portion of our own. The art space as liminal zone (the outer banks of society at large) is further liminalized by virtue of our reflective empathy. We might say that we engage marginal viewing: There’s our viewing their marginal status and their viewing back from the margin. At another level perhaps there’s our awakened self-view as belonging to the social class (gallery, museum, art market) that contributes to their marginalization; and, quite possibly, the momentary reversal of that in our opening our eyes to them. Maybe also there’s our honest awareness that only here in this liminal (but safe) space of art (as opposed to standing in front of them on a street corner) do we get to be this kind of viewer, in all its resonance. In this very moment, standing as we are at the threshold of self-awareness, the viewing is the limen, the barely appearing instance of newly reflective awareness. And the work, Viewer, is itself the limen––the actual threshold––that makes all this happen.[17]

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In general, as well as in most of the specific ways that we have referred to it, liminality is a concept, a cognitive frame within which we understand, or apperceive, various relationships of center (self/entity) and periphery (other/world). It also stands for, indeed signals, the act of framing that allows us to mentally stand back and reflect upon an open state of objectifying––to grasp, for instance, that some objects are non-ordinary and demand special attention, perhaps even new orders of attention––singular acts of attending. We can recognize liminal objects without really knowing what they are. We grant them, at least provisionally, an honored status. And we find ourselves in dialogue with othernesses, states of oscillatory engagement with unnamables––and maybe it makes us want to speak out, even out loud, and talk with unknown things, alien objects. At a certain point in this process, such as when we realize that the object before us, the work or opus, is itself a liminality, a limen, a unitary agent of some kind of energetic exchange at an edge or transformative or transportive event or indeed synergy. At that point liminality as concept has become liminality as principle. The merely thinkable has become a unique kind of doable, an event at large, something happening with perhaps unclear agency. And once we see this we can give up trying to know what it is in advance of experiencing its actual instance. Singularity is possible.

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The point of laying out this notion of the work itself as limen, its embodiment of liminality at the level of principle, is to signal a shift in view. In a sense, a work that functions as limen––as vehicle of liminalizing our very state of participation––is already a further threshold, a crossing point to a unique state that cannot have been before its (this) very moment. This is the shifted, and shifting, view. The work is always a further instance of itself––which is why it is open, completely incomplete, able, that is, to be incomplete through the fact of interminable completeness. The work is “living” in the sense that it is self-regenerating and non-repeating. And why it is that we take the position that our role is the “further life” of the work––well, because what else is there to do when you realize that the object you are discussing is changing as you speak, even in what you are speaking. How else to convey that status but to take responsibility for it? Further life comes through co-performance, for which there is a critical discipline: it arises from within the work itself, peculiar to responsibility understood as precise responsiveness. Or as the poet Robert Duncan put it: “Responsibility is keeping the ability to respond.”

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Configurative poetics

That which exists through itself is what is called meaning.
Nothing is anything but itself, measured so.

Charles Olson [18]

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The work in language asks itself what it is when it speaks:

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People speak toward things, entities “real or imagined,” even when they think it will help them get away from something, or away with something. It makes some sense to think of the act of speaking as addressing, which is not all that far in sound or meaning from aggressing. Or perhaps we need a word that puts that act in relation to aggression; so we could twist it to get addression, indicating the state of activity we engage in as we speak “directly toward,” addressively. Although we might be encouraged by Wittgenstein’s remark that “a new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion,” we’re only half-seriously proposing this awkward word—or nonword. But there it is, on the page, while still only liminally in the mind, feeding back almost before it has been fully thought—a language act (as writing) trying to say something about what happens in language (as speaking). A pretty addressive word, you might say.

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Characterizing art/poetic discourse, especially when it oscillates in confusing ways between the written and the spoken, can be difficult, so that one might feel the need for new words for new thoughts, fresh seed. In a number of Gary Hill’s pieces, spanning the whole of his career to date, there are instances of speaking that range from various tonalities of apparent direct address to something like aggression (or, perhaps, self-aggression).  In Around & About (1980) a discourse of unfamiliar and somewhat mannered intimacy implies a whole troubled relationship that unfolds poignantly as syllable after syllable is uttered with rapidly flashing images of an apparent office space with associated objects and furnishings to a point of saturated communication—all in under five minutes. Dense addression? In Happenstance (part one of many parts) (1982-83), discussed in Chapter Three, the speaking interlocks with a kind of image magic that combines harsh challenges to a viewer/listener with unexampled visionary process. Alchemical aggression? In Guilt (2006) (Chapter Sixteen) a voice can be heard from a tiny ultrasonic speaker suspended above a telescope that focuses across a large room on a rotating, elegantly inscribed gold coin; the voice spews a veritable tissue of accusatory obscenities and abusive self-aggression. Verbal violation? We hardly think of this artist as belonging with those whose “style” involves assaulting the viewer/listener—or, really, himself either, appearances notwithstanding (such as the body-hurled languaging of Wall Piece, mentioned above). So we might consider whether the work has in fact worked its way into an aspect of language itself: that conscious language, at some cost to the user, presses up against any instance of life to bring it to a threshold of appearance. Self-addression?

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Descriptions of complex states of discourse foreground the problematics of objectifying living language or understanding how it motivates (itself). Any word, not just a neologism, can be liminalized in usage, especially as it takes on new textual life in an emerging configuration.[19] The rather simple language in Around & About, conjoined with intricately ungraspable image production, is axialized moment by moment, syllable by syllable, creating a non-grammar of the surreal mundane. Each new language moment––“new” because axialized, liminalized, or otherwise reconfigured––is instantaneously a nonword with respect to established denotation––a micro-site that stands in some relation to a possible referent. Perhaps we can think of the notion of nonword (or even nonlanguage) as a verbal relative of Robert Smithson’s nonsite, indicating a new positioning of something that displaces inside a given space (or syntax) in order to create a relationship (real or imagined) with an actual site at some remove from the present positioning.[20] Since such displacement only liminally references an actual site, the language object (the verbal nonsite) slips easily out of mind; it’s just a momentary configuration, ever in search of a possible object. And therefore it’s mind-degradable.

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Yet if a site can recite, in the sense we have mentioned in relation to Gary Hill’s work, so can the nonsite; in fact, that’s one way of tracking the advent of text—the weave of elements independently of preceding locations or fixtures. (Certainly it does injury to an elegant concept like nonsite to take it simply as a representation or reification of an absent original.) Things are being configured at a remove from a supposed actual place, and the configuration is a sort of textualization in process. One weaves a world-picture, and in so doing, configures it. When we become aware of this event of configuration (by performing an intentional engagement with it), objectify it, and read it, we are already making a text; we are performing the ur-poetic act; and we are rendering the world-weave accessible to reconfiguration. We are performing the nonsite recitation, speaking nonwords. Are we also engaging poetics?

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Obviously when we say “poetics” we’re not only talking about principles of what established culture recognizes as either poetics or poetry; we may also be talking, for instance, about what remains outside consensual zones of recognition.  John Cage says: “I have nothing to say/ I am saying it/and that is poetry/as I needed it.” Or as David Antin has said in a “talk poem” (an improvised performance piece, transcribed without punctuation or capitalization):

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i had always had mixed feelings about being considered a poet    “if robert lowell is a poet i dont want to be a poet    if robert frost is a poet i dont want to be a poet    if socrates is a poet ill consider it”

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There are many writers from non-poetic domains whose work may be considered poetic in the sense that it is interesting at the level of poetics. For the moment let’s define poetics as the thinkable principles at work in intentionally innovative or otherwise charged language. Considering John Cage’s musically structured lectures (like “Lecture on Nothing”) as poems arguably opened the practice of “experimental” poetry to quite new possibilities in the 1960s; probably David Antin’s talk poems, for example, owe something to Cage’s precedent. And both owe a lot to Gertrude Stein. What a precedent does in this sense is reconfigure the idea of poem.[21] This is not merely a matter of influence but of a fundamental shift in how language is operating and reflecting on itself. It is also a matter of how far language extends beyond recognized functionality and, in the case of literary poetry, consensually accepted modalities. It can be a poetic act to allow language to become antithetical to itself, to become its own nonsite, nonlanguage.

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There’s no practical limit to the ways of bringing language to an edge of either intelligibility or non-consensual functionality; it’s a matter of art and poetics to approach that edge while arousing inquiry into the living nature, function and problematics of language. Gary Hill seems to have a natural inclination toward working with language as primary substance, perhaps combining a sculptor’s hands-on approach with an acquired interest in the work of experimental poets and poetics. Few “visual artists” have offered a body of conscious, performative language of such richness and poetic impact as that collected in this book. With the liberty of a poetic “outsider”—owing no particular allegiance to the history of poetics as such—he is free to borrow, apply and invent the poetic according to the necessities of given particular works of art in their process of realization. We used to think of this as a contribution to a new poetic modality which in the early 1980s we called “videopoetics,” considered as a development within a broadly defined field of metapoetics; but now it seems a contribution to poetics pure and simple—a reconfiguration.[22] The working view here is of a poetic that implies the revelation and renewal of language itself through properties evident in one’s actual use of it. According to this sense of poetic discovery, language has thresholds of intensity where it is excitable to a further nature.

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In a basic sense poesis is the root principle of the configurative. Poetry in this view involves self-conscious language and a commitment to self-creation, an event that in some measure discovers its “form” in the very process of formation. Even in Gary Hill’s early work, like Videograms or Happenstance, something like raw configurative force drives it forward. This sense of process and processual configuration is essentially performative, particularly in philosopher J. L. Austin’s famous speech act distinction (from the 1950s, later called an illocutionary act), referring to utterances that literally perform the action of which they speak: e.g., I promise, I accuse, etc.—actions performed in (sometimes only in) the very saying/making. While this (addressive) distinction has been much debated and refined over the years (and figures centrally in Judith Butler’s influential gender analysis), we apply the notion more broadly for verbal actions that close the gap between language and action—and meaning, especially in Olson’s sense of “that which exists through itself.” Accordingly we say that performative language is at the heart of the poetic, which does not so much refer to a world as declare a world’s existence. (Declaration, in this sense, involves an intuition that something is already in place in “reality.”) This happens not only by its enacting/embodying that of which it speaks; in some sense it creates, or perhaps discovers, its world through singular declaration. This non-prescriptive notion, which also could be called the open declarative, maps onto Blanchot’s distinction of “récit,” a telling distinguished from the narrative of reference, mentioned earlier as “not the narration of an event, but that event itself… the place where that event is made to happen….” A performative utterance can only do its work in the specific contexts that call it forth—always site/situation-specific and concrete. It functions within a linguistic ecology with which it couples in a dynamism of mutual feedback.

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Further configuration: a provisional coda

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Thinking as we are here in terms of configuration involves a realization that thinking itself is configurative. This is a challenging thought but it’s hardly new. Painting, following the advent of photography, moved beyond a literalist presumption of representation, recognizing that the tradition of representational or figurative painting, aiming at visual verisimilitude, in fact lacks essential verisimilitude in the sense of “truth in painting.” Science, particularly as theories of perception, was then, as now, goading art to “get real” about the very idea of representation. There’s an endless tussle between literalism (and the primary power of the image, especially “realistic” images, whatever that means in any given moment) and the contrary (whatever that is “now”). It probably comes down to an archetypal struggle that itself must be continuously reconfigured. At any rate it’s hard to imagine that Monet et al. didn’t know deep down that they were reconfiguring reality itself (Einstein was half a thought away); it’s so obvious they had the whole wide world in their hands. Whatever their brains were doing, their hands weren’t sitting around being sat on waiting for Heisenberg to say it’s OK to change everything in a glance. Blake after all knew it a century before: “The eye altering alters all.”

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Our use of the term “configurative” arose initially from some particular observations about highly polarized notions of “figuration” and their inappropriateness or arbitrariness with respect to certain kinds of art. If traditional representational art is “figurative,” in the sense that it seeks to capture the “figure”—the structure and shape—of the object it represents; and if art that moves away from the figurative is “abstract” (in the precise sense of “drawn away from”); then later art that allows a non-referential yet identifiable image to form anew can be thought of as con-figurative or re-configurative. At all events, it is with this in mind that we use the term “configurative” and “reconfigurative” here as distinct from the figurative and the non-figurative or the abstract.

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Skipping ahead, Gary Hill by all evidence has never believed in the image.[23] The will to know as the will to show understands in him that responsibility lies in the attitude towards figuration itself. Habituation, nay, addiction to the seductive flurry of public imagism (magazines, movies, TV, etc.) requires that one envision escape through self-interference—we’re not to be trusted on our own. Historically video as art has been something like a homeopathic response to TV, a declaration of active participation and communal feedback versus passivity and the status quo—as it were, fight conflagration by lighting a match at home. Never avoidance. (Many people who from the beginning automatically disliked “video art,” aside from those who simply can’t accept media as “real art,” seemed to have feared that it was really just TV in disguise —and, even more disturbingly, that it really was not: denial of media addiction and the fear of having to stare at the tube for an extended time stone-cold aware. Gary Hill, however, has not been focused antithetically on, or polemically against, television and public media, even though he began working in video at a time when anti-television sentiment was a significant motivation for artists.)[24] With this in mind Crux (described earlier), as cross with seeing-eye video extremities, makes another kind of sense. There’s a feeling of mission, but happily it’s not in the form of a self-image.

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Pervasively in Gary Hill’s oeuvre the engagement with technical means of image and sound and other forms of making—of direct interventions into the state of consciousness—themselves become, in part, the subject matter of the work. This happens not by way of a direct representation of the technical means, however, but by the inclusion of their configurations within the work itself. The monstrous projector of the demonic (really daemonial) installation Dervish (1993-95) (Chapter Twelve) is at once an open image of a bestial mind/image/sound machine, a mythically resonant construct of archaic terratology, and that machine itself. The very presence of the thing escapes its literality (its oneness with the concept of what it is) without losing its concreteness—by becoming as it were a configuration of itself!

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In so far as an entity involves some sort of feedback in its own constitution, it becomes self-performative and self-configurative. The deployment of the concept of self-reference and feedback in contemporary theories of neural nets and the nature of consciousness, make consciousness itself a configurative process; for no one claims that the feedback that constitutes, or partially constitutes, the picture of the world, by which we negotiate our way in the world, is remotely adequate or verisimilitudinous. On what scale would such verisimilitude be supposed to be? Atomic? molecular? neuro-muscular? vascular? neuro-anatomical? Getting real, in deference to science, there are, for instance, something like fifteen quadrillion synaptic connections between the neurons in the brain, all of whose interconnected and inter-reflected firings and non-firings conspire to generate a living, dynamic picture of the world. Who can say that such a thing is anything but configurative/performative?

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We’ve reached a limit of prolusional speculation, so let’s get to the translusionary meat of the matter.

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pro logos

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before the speaking

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the beginning before beginning
here
sounding on the verge

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of tracking
what can be said

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on the edge
of knowing in telling

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dropping down to the ground
with all the weight of mind
in hand

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feeding back

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Ontononymous the Particular



[1] We avoid speaking of Gary Hill as “video artist” on the logic of not reductively calling Pollock a “paint artist.” This many years into video as art medium and its pervasive integration in art installation, it’s sometimes hard not to sense condescension or indeed marginalization in such designation. On another aspect of the issue the artist has remarked: “I’ve always downplayed the etymological root of the word ‘video’ and its direct connection literally with seeing, because of the emphasis on image. I’ve even gone so far as to attack ‘video’ as ultimately the wrong word for what I, at any rate, think I’m involved with.” (See below Dialogos: Liminal Performance for full discussion.)

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[2] We mean by “linguistics” something like “theory of language” in a very general sense, not limited to the formal science known by that name.

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[3] Both intelligent design and natural selection are commonly discussed as if they were the poles of a single dichotomy—that things proceed either by random variation or are managed according to God’s explicit plan. But where feedback feeds consciousness, even chance events arise within a field of creative awareness, and even pre-conceived plans appear amidst the scatter of the phenomena that they purport to control.

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[4] In Chapter Five we discuss Maurice Blanchot’s special use of this term as applicable to much of Gary Hill’s work: “The récit is not the narration of an event, but that event itself, the approach to that event, the place where that event is made to happen….” [Emphasis added] Since we incorporate the French term into English critical usage, we will no longer italicize it.

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[5] Fluxus artist Dick Higgins once created a neat conceptual work in a button with the words, “If you can’t do it twice you haven’t done it.” A reverse concept would better represent principle: “If you can do it twice you still haven’t done it.”

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[6] Regina Cornwell, “Gary Hill: An Interview,” Art Monthly (October 1993); reprinted in Gary Hill, edited by Robert C. Morgan (Baltimore: A PAJ Book, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), p. 224ff.

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[7] The artist has involved texts by the first four of these directly in his own work, but not texts by Derrida. The latter appeared in Disturbance (among the jars) (1988) and also wrote about the artist on the occasion of this piece.

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[8] The science of human walking (bipedalism) has attempted (quite incompletely even after 2000 years of effort) to describe what is in fact the most complex motor function of the body–– involving more than half of the body’s 650 muscles and 208 bones, plus more than half of all the ligaments and joints. That’s the physical bottom line of the axial in ordinary human locomotion. And the simple fact is that, the more completely one releases into gravity through the central axis, the spine (rather than misaligned appendages), the greater the efficiency of walking or standing––and the greater the freedom of movement. Needless to say, people tend to do it inefficiently (hence back problems, etc.); instead of releasing into gravity through the spine, they resist it with muscles and distort the spine. And standing is also not easy; it’s not static but dynamic, as one continuously goes in and out of balance. In fact, there is no balance as such in living organisms, only balancing.

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[9] It may not be fruitful to attempt definition of this notion here, but we refer to John Cage’s notion of “unfocus,” as in the music piece for prepared piano entitled Root of an Unfocus. Composer Franz Kamin has defined “a state of ‘Unfocus’:  that trance-like state wherein all those cognitive parts of the mind that ‘give meaning’ are overshadowed by a larger state of perception in which all things are the same and ‘equally great’ – ‘meaning’ and ‘differentiation’ become subsumed into a state of timeless ecstatic absorption.” (“CD Cover Notes – BD II,” searchable on-line)

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[10] (Princeton Architectural Press: New York, 2007), page 11. The “black swan” reference is to Karl Popper’s critique of inductive logic, and the attempt to move from inevitably limited particulars to universals (“all swans are white”). (And, as it turns out, of the seven species of swans, one endemic to Australia is black.) The power of Steven Holl’s proto-axial view shows up in the great range of architectural innovation and unpredictable styles in his work, as he lets the “site recite” the terms of an emerging structure, and surely it’s one of the reasons why he’s viewed by many as a major architect and indeed artist.

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[11] As the three men left in the boat, loaded with equipment, a storm came up and seriously threatened their return to land. The artist in fact made two trips on successive days.

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[12] Usually attributed to Latin persona a personando, sounding through the mask; also linked to Etruscan phersu, “mask,” which may be related to Greek Persephone.

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[13] Winner of the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Short Subject category. Director: Noel Black. See Gary Hill’s 1992 essay “Surfing the Medium” in Part Three.

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[14] See the Gary Hill text and our discussion of Cut Pipe in Chapter Eleven.

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[15] An important notion in art history and the early development of perspective, it has a charged role in the piece Happenstance (part one of many parts) (1982-83), discussed in Chapter Three. A secondary, medical meaning of limen is “the external opening of a canal; an entrance.” This links to the video opening at the “split ends” of the pipe in Cut Pipe and the spoken text emphasizing touch and voice: see Chapter Eleven.

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[16] Our sense of “liminality” was worked out independently of its usage in anthropology, which, while different in focus, is not incompatible with ours. Victor Turner took the term from Arnold van Gennep’s threefold structure of ritual in The Rites of Passage (1909, 1960), and developed it in The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure (1969) and subsequent works. In the essay “Liminality and Communitas,” Turner notes: “Prophets and artists tend to be liminal and marginal people, ‘edgemen,’ who strive with a passionate sincerity to rid themselves of the clichés associated with status incumbency and role-playing and enter into vital relations with other men in fact or imagination. In their productions we may catch glimpses of that unused evolutionary potential in mankind which has not yet been externalized or fixed in structure.”

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[17] To speak in terms of set theory, half-parodically, the work is a limen of possible limina. To view it this way is to liminalize the set itself.

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[18] The first line is developed from a definition of “Tao” in The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life. Translated by Richard Wilhelm, Commentary by C.G. Jung (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1945, p. 24). The second line is from the poem “Maximus from Dogtown – I,” The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson, edited by George F. Butterick (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983, p. 172 ff). The two lines appear in close proximity in a number of sites in Olson’s work, including “The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum,” edited, transcribed and annotated by George F. Butterick in The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum, by Charles Stein (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1987, p. 167 ff.)

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[19] Perhaps, in an ontological sense, every genuine use of a word (one that accomplishes a unique distinction) liminalizes the word anew.

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[20] In Smithson’s 1970 definition, we can imagine implications for “nonword”: “The nonsite exists as a kind of deep three-dimensional abstract map that points to a specific site on the surface of the earth. And that’s designated by a kind of mapping procedure… these places are not destinations; they kind of [are] backwaters or fringe areas.” Liminal zones.

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[21] For an early attempt to show this sort of reconfiguration and argue for an emerging metapoetic awareness, see: Open Poetry: Four Anthologies of Expanded Poems, ed. Ronald Gross and George Quasha (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1973).

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[22] Other benign interlopers into the poetic besides Cage—and of course great predecessors like Arp, Schwitters, Klee, Picasso—include artist Claes Oldenburg (Store Days, 1961); architect Buckminster Fuller (Untitled Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization, 1962; No More Second Hand God, 1963); potter M.C. Richards (Imagine Inventing Yellow, 1947/1991), sculptor Robert Smithson (both verse and much prose in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (1959-72/1996); composer Franz Kamin (Ann Margret Loves You & Other Psychotopological Diversions, 1980; Scribble Death, 1986), psychotherapist Nor Hall (Irons in the Fire, 2002), etc.

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[23] The installation I Believe It Is an Image in Light of the Other (1991-92) makes this point, albeit with a kind of inverted logic. The very statement “I believe…” instantly puts into question the image as a given by suggesting that appearance as image is a matter of belief; moreover, “…in light of the other” suggests that the image is possible only if mediated by difference (perspective by otherness).

[24] Exceptions include Gary Hill’s early single-channel work, Commentary (1980); see Chapter Three: Happenstance, note 2; the single-channel and installation versions of Primarily Speaking (1981-83) wherein chaptered segments are bracketed with color bars, clichéd transitions and sing-songlike sound bites of television; see Chapter Fifteen: Speaking Gaps, note 7; and the installation In Situ (1986); see Chapter Five: Incidence of Catastrophe, note 14. Much of Nam June Paik’s work is focused on the object and culture of television, often satirically or ambivalently, but perhaps the major spokesperson for a critical view of art and media is Martha Rosler; see Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art, ed. Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer (New York: Aperture Foundation, Inc., 1990), “Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment, “ p. 31ff.

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