Susan Hiller

Susan Hiller (1940–2019)

The Last Silent Movie and Lost and Found are two collages made of excerpts from anthropological recordings of rare languages from across the world, including Europe. In the first film, there are no visuals except for subtitles; in the second, each voice is represented visually as a green oscilloscopic line, accompanied by subtitles. The languages in both films are labelled as extinct, endangered, dormant or revived. Produced almost a decade later, Lost and Found focuses more on languages that are still practiced and transmitted today.

In these two sound-driven works, the combination of spoken words, visuals and texts re-materialize and amplifies speeches that had been recorded, archived and often forgotten by researchers. Animated by voices, the screen becomes a space of cross-generational and cross-cultural dialogue, a platform for uncanny encounters. In this work, Hiller uses her signature editing technique where she fragments, juxtaposes and recontextualizes archives, in order to generate multiple meanings and ambivalence.

A conceptualist and feminist artist working with media since the 1970s, Hiller always played with the limits of communication and language to reveal the construction of knowledge. Here, she compiled and edited similar archival materials to highlight the obsession of ethnographers with the preservation of non-dominant cultures. Wandering in a polysemic and polyphonic soundscape, we [Westerners] are invited to understand that ”we value creating archives more than sustaining peoples” and to re-evaluate our distanced position towards the situations of rare languages and more importantly their speakers.

Image: ©Susan Hiller; Courtesy Lisson Gallery. Lost and Found, 2016, Single channel projection, with sound, Dimensions variable, 30 minutes.