Susan Hiller- Monument

Susan Hiller is not afraid of death. 
Her voice can be heard, softly scratching away, and discussing the unknown realm of the afterlife. She elaborates: ‘‘We could exist forever, inscribed, portrayed, as inscriptions, portraits, representations. I’m representing myself to myself... and for you, to you. This is my voice.’ (1981,p.6)
On the wall, 41 photographs of memorial tablets are displayed in a symbolic cross, each referring to an act of civic heroism. Of the people who lost their lives through ‘heroic self-sacrifice’ (Dorment, 2011), Henry James Bristow, aged eight, died, as he ‘saved his little sister’s life by tearing off her flaming clothes, but caught fire himself’. In front of this, a park bench has been placed, holding a metal memorial plaque that reads ‘1980-81, Monument, Susan Hiller’, her work encompassing both its own death and its maker's. On this bench is a cassette recorder, a recording of Hiller herself, discussing the afterlife.
Hiller’s work is driven by the notions of Electronic Voice Phenomena, made famous by Konstantin Raudive, a parapsychologist who worked on recording voices of the dead. (Hiller, 2001) Hiller calls herself “an audible Raudive voice,” (cited in Horlock, 2001), a voice from the past, played back in the present. Her work emphasises temporality on all levels, playing around with ‘past’–the historical past, the past when the work was made and [the] voice recorded, the past of a moment ago (Hiller, 2001). She attempts creation from forgotten history, exploring the idea of finding something in nothing, expressing “the poetic idea of amplifying silence and finding it isn’t silent at all but full of sound”. This realisation that ‘nothing’ has the ability to be ‘something’ is a recurring motif in her work, as she has often explored ideas based on what is out of sight ‘beneath or beyond recognition within our culture”(Hiller, 2001).
The same ideas has pushed her inquiry for over 40 years now, through many interchangeable disciplines. Her work takes elements of of fluxus and Minimalism, expertly weaving her different choices of medium to create powerful pieces. The value of being able to weigh up a life's work, especially work as disparate as Hiller's, is that you can follow the path through its own history. Monument plays around with this intrinsic intertwining of memory and history. The process of listening to Hiller’s voice means it is accessed in a temporally successive linear way. In the action of listening, “parts which occur before and enable ones immediate sense of the work’s unity, are present in memory only” (Crowther, 2009, p.26).
The representation of the voice is emblematic of Hiller; she states that “in this sense, voice is physical, voice is body. Body is evoked and transmitted by voice, and not represented (Hiller, 2001). This notion was one of the radical, political underpinnings of Monument which was positioned ‘against’ representation as a kind of fake immortality. Hiller's use of sound in this work was a new development, and she has highlighted that the physicality of her voice extends the meaning of the words spoken, expressing the need to “emphasise the idea of voice as body, the physicality of it and the intimacy” (Hiller, 2001). Remarked by Raudive, ‘the soul is free from the body after death” but a “forlorn spirit replied ‘It is not so’”. (1968, cited in Sconce, 2000, p.88)
The authenticity of Monument is real. The individual stories of untimely death bring a certain sharp and macabre poignancy to the piece. Although death seems final, Hiller allows us to believe in immortality, and the uneasy, unresting state of the soul. Death described by Raudive is “an afterlife that continues to serve as an anxious mirror to the modern world and its uncertainties. [The voices] hint that there is no peace, no resolution, no wisdom’ (Sconce, 2000 pp. 84-90). This never-ending flux of life and death, constantly interchangeable for eternity, is evocative of Beckett’s final words in The Unnamable, as he writes; “It will be I, it will be the silence, where I am. I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on” ( Beckett, 2010). 
The use of found objects to mine collective unconscious, gives the chance to speak for people who are rarely heard.The photographic representations also attempt to guarantee a kind of immortality. As Hiller discusses, “You can think of life after death as a second life which you enter into as a portrait or inscription, and in which you remain longer than you do in your actual living life.” (Hiller, 2001)
Hiller’s need to immortalise people and places, sounds and moments is to her credit. Her interest in art’s magical ability to invest power and meaning in the everyday results in the discovery of a more profound truth rooted in the collective consciousness. None of her ideas will be new, but that doesn’t make them any less important: for her, art is a useful way to access this layer of sensed or felt meaning. The work contains a kind of still beauty, quietly clinging onto specific moments in time. How appropriate that through them she will remain forever.

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