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Susan Hiller, The Sisters of Menon

The Sisters of Menon, 1972-1979, was made while Hiller was working on her collaborative telepathy experiment Draw Together. While working on this project where she attempted to send images for friends all over the world to draw, Hiller was surprised to find herself the agent of automatic writing. This work was then to form this body of work known as The Sisters of Menon, which communicated powerful collective female solidarity of ‘sisters’ from Thebes.[1] The women’s movement of the 70s that Hiller was a part of carried an interest in Ancient Greek oracular women. When her partner David Coxhead tried to participate, the mediumistic telepresence inscribed ‘no men.’ Lippard points out that ‘no men’ is an anagram of Menon as is ‘nomen’ which means ‘name,’ and also that “the Sisters of Menon spoke in several voices: singular (I), plural (we) and collective (everyone); they were insistently repetitive, almost permutational”.[2] Lippard notes that “when automatism is used by men, it is often ideologically validated as science, but when used by women ‘it is denigrated as the nonproductive, threatening activity of mediums.’”[3] Regarding her easy transition from telepathy art experiment to automatic writing, Hiller sees these works, and her work in general, as part of her exploration of transmission of images and ideas, and her refigured notions of ‘the divided self.’ Hiller has a strong sense of art historical links between Surrealism, Fluxus and Conceptual art.

 

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[1] Hiller’s engagement with gender issues, the informe and abjection within art parallels Mike Kelley’s quasi-dadaist Ectoplasm Photo, and Julie Rrap’s photographic performative appropriation of Edvard Munch’s paintings of psycho-sexual images that were influenced by spirit photography. See: Welchman, 42-93, 86. Hiller’s Midnight, Totenham Court Road, 1982, features C-type photographs of her head worked over with automatic script and halo forms. Interestingly, the works of Kelley and Rrap can be read as quasi-pop takes on the hormonal flashback moments of teenage angst, something Hiller explores by editing and showing film industry depictions of the ‘irrational’ powers of young girls and women in Psi Girls.

[2] Lippard, “Preface,” xi-xxi, xiv.

[3] Lippard, “Preface,” xi-xxi, xiv; Quoted by Guy Brett in City Limits, 12-18 Mar. 1982.