web analytics

Susan Hiller, Witness

Psychical research has led to recent manifestations of UFOlogy and extro-science fiction. Susan Hiller’s Witness takes precedence from both the strange doxai narratives of Psychical Research and UFOlogy to operate as an odd yet sympathetic blend of conceptual art and quasi-anthropological collection of doxai narratives. She works with what Roger Luckhurst and Michel Foucault refer to as ‘subjugated knowledges’ of folk and ghost stories, and literature of the double, captured by the Society for Psychical Research. The discourse of psychical research, despite seeking as many connections to science as possible in sharp contradistinction to Spiritualism and Theosophy, which were aggressively opposed to scientific orthodoxies[1], “risked ‘disqualification’ from ‘knowledges of erudition’”.[2] However, the cultural artefacts of psychical research and science fiction remain part of the unconscious of our collective social production, and Hiller “uses whatever means she can to connect her audience into areas of collective personal experience.”[3] Hiller says her work attempts to newly puzzle with and articulate such incoherent, suppressed, overlooked and unsayable aspects of shared subjectivity and collective psyche, and further says: “I think of art as a first order practice – as important as sociology, psychology, physics, politics or whatever.”[4] Hiller explicitly references Psychical Research in her most important early experiment with telepathy, Draw Together, and like psychical researchers such as Frederick Myers, she clearly distinguishes her interest in the psyche and anomalous phenomena from Theosophy and Spiritualism. Hiller dismisses spiritualism, séance and telekinesis in her reflections on the case of Konstanin Raudive’s unexplained voices of the dead. As with her work Dream Mapping, closely modeled on a telepathy experiment made by psychical researchers, Hiller’s work with Raudive involves a “dash of irony[5]” which gives a “certain grace and intellectual liberty to the proceedings.”[6] Guy Brett expands further: “Hiller was not a New Age devotee, nor a scientist subjecting a lunatic-fringe phenomenon to rationalist ridicule, but an artist using metaphor to gain insight into certain enigmas of art and life.”[7]

witness

 

 

[1] Luckhurst, Invention of Telepathy, 148-80, 156.

[2] Luckhurst, Invention of Telepathy, 151; Michel Foucault; “Two Lectures,” Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, trans. Colin Gordon et al. (New York: Pantheon, 1980) 82.

[3] Buck, Moving Targets, 24-6, 24.
[4] Kent, 138-53, 151.

[5] Hiller also extends intellectual irony to her experience of automatic writing in the Sisters of Menon. “…I certainly didn’t want to leave it [automatic writing] in the wonderful realm of the occult, although it’s an area I’ve always been ironically in love with.” See: S. Morgan, Stuart Morgan interviews.

[6] Guy Brett, “Analysis and Ecstasy,” Susan Hiller: Recall, Selected Works 1969-2004, ed. James Lingwood (Gateshead: BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art [co-produced by Museu Serralves, Porto and Kunsthalle Basel], 2004) 33-8, 34.

[7] Brett, “Analysis and Ecstasy,” 33-8, 34.