Susan Hiller: Magic Lantern and Triplet

4 February–29 March 2009

Index presents the work of Susan Hiller with a focus on the installation Magic Lantern (1987) and Triplet (1991 – 2009). An influential figure in British and European art over the past four decades, Hiller’s work can be framed in terms of Arte Povera and Conceptual Art as well as her early history in anthropology, however it is her engagement with Surrealism – the repressed and the misunderstood – that remains at the heart of her work. The relationship to technologies of the image are central to both works in this exhibition, technologies that in Hiller’s hands themselves become cultural artefacts.

Magic Lantern is one of the many works of Hiller’s that use apparently simple forms of illumination. It is a sublime slide projection, in the dark, generated by three discs of coloured light driven by electronic pulses. This technical device has been taken from its original context as an early scientific experiment. This is not a benign return to the discovery of a source, for as in all of Hiller’s work, her sources become fragments torn from their context. This is also the fate of Magic Lantern’s synchronised soundtrack of recorded ‘ghost’ voices – they are the experiments of Latvian scientist Konstantin Raudive who believed he had recorded the voices of the dead. Hiller’s voice too is here as she whispering invites us into the realm of story telling, ’ …10 minutes of silence for the dead starting – now’.

Science and so-called irrational beliefs are re-exposed here as a meditative, critical practice. Hiller’s gestures toward Freud as in much of her work, “… Freud said that an un-critical belief in psychic powers was an attempt at compensation for what he poignantly called ’the lost appeal of life on this earth”.

Triplet is an inverse play on illumination. The objects that make up the work are 35 mm slides of images from a Mexican children’s game, mounted on three brackets and installed vertically on the wall. This formation of three is an echo of the affect of Hiller’s Magic Lantern with its three discs of light, red, yellow and blue that overlaps and shifts in scale – either small, or flooding of our visual field. Jean Fisher, writing on Magic Lantern, recognizes that, “… three is never a privileged number. Two overlapping colours make a third; but three overlapping colours make a multiplicity”.

At Index, Triplet is installed at the entrance of the Magic Lantern installation. These are child’s night-lights meant for the realm of the dreaming child; however re-presented here they take on the role of guardian or guide. These simple images become jewel-like as each is illuminated by the backlight from tiny globes.