Susan Hiller

Art Catalogues

Susan Hiller Study for Alphabets I 1999
Study for Alphabets I, 1999. C-Type photography on Agfa lustre. 73.5cm x 50.5cm

For writing to be manifest in its truth … it must be illegible.
Roland Barthes

Susan Hiller’s works in CHORA are a kind of writing which appears to have some relationship with calligraphy. But the connection is allusive rather than imitative, for it is not rooted in form, but rather in gesture, creating what she has called “patterned utterance”. These luminous “graphisms” (as Barthes calls such words, in writing on the work of Cy Twombly), seem to resemble delicate Chinese ideograms or Arabic script. Yet this is not their ‘essence’. For, according to Barthes: “The essence of an object has some relation with its destruction.” For Hiller, the genesis of this ‘destruction’ or automatism was originally a way of escaping from the hierarchies of a male language system to a more feminine’ one, an open system, which she has denoted as being characterised by “fruitful incoherence”.

Without creating a false binary opposition between the Apollonian and the Dlonysian, Hiller, as did the Surrealists, uses her flowing marks to create a direct link with the unconscious. Like waking or breathing, they create their own rhythm and in so doing deconstruct the act of writing. So though still recognisable, it no longer forms part of a graphic code. Neither is it simply ‘childish’; for as Barthes states, a child strives in writing to join the code of grown-ups, whereas Hiller draws away from it, from defunct and essentially ‘male’ cultural forms.

What she has created are “conductors of graphic energy”, signs identifiable by line rather than letter. Her delicate marks cannot be reduced to mere communication. As Barthes claimed: “the painter helps us understand that writing’s truth is neither in its messages nor in the system of transmission which constitutes for current meaning but in the hand which presses down and traces a line, i.e. the body which throbs (which takes pleasure).” So that what is communicated is not a rational ‘reckoning’ but something closer to ‘a desire’.

Through the ‘non-signifying’ practice of mark-making we reach towards different spaces that within the discourse of the chora allow for more fluid readings. Meaning becomes not solely dependent on a series of external signs but also on a poetry of internal metaphor- for metaphor itself is an alchemical process of one thing transmuting, that is, giving birth to, another.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Susan Hiller 1999


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