Like Nam June Paik, Gary Hill often uses the physicality of the television as part of the work but for Hill the box is something to shed leaving the screen and the tube behind it to occupy the space. Multi-screen video works become installations in which the means of display takes on its own significance. Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place is, in a way, a self portrait, albeit a fragmented one and one which tells us little about Hill.
Lying in an alcove, the artist’s naked body is split somewhat randomly across sixteen screens of varying sizes. The recess in which the work is shown is raised, starting roughly a metre from the floor, putting the work a little below eye level but meaning that the artist’s body is laid out before us. Thick cables run from the screens, disappearing out of view at the back of the recess. These cables from the connection between the fragments; though they don’t make the body whole they do to an extent suggest it. In a way the work feels like a recognition game; it makes the body fascinating in a way that it wouldn’t be as a complete entity. The flip side of this of course is that one finds oneself engrossed in what amounts to staring at a naked body in a public place, which always has the potential to be uncomfortable.
Between Cinema and a Hard Place, 1991
Hill also used monitors stripped of their casings in Between Cinema and a Hard Place the title of which describes the problematic position of video art. For this installation, the monitors are arranged in lines. Images move across them, seemingly triggered by a voice reading from Heidegger’s essay The Nature of Language. The connection between sound and image isn’t clear though, images aren’t always clear and sometimes monitors go dark. Hill has used philosophical texts in other works too. Art and philosophy are closely connected but when artists reference philosophy directly the results are often disappointingly literal, patronising or pompous. Hill is an exception though; he’s both an exceptional artist and plenty smart enough to make such works both challenging and accessible and above all enjoyable to see.