Search This Blog

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Susan Hiller at Tate Britain

Susan Hiller likes to imagine and explore things most of us prefer not to think about. She collects seemingly insignificant materials (like postcards or wallpaper) and uses these to uncover facts about the subconscious and unknown, encouraging the viewer to take part in the process. Her evocative work has understandably had an important influence on younger generations of artists.

This exhibition at Tate Britain is Hiller’s largest show yet. I really appreciated the clear layout of the work. Exhibitions of this nature are often left unattractively to speak for themselves but these experiments are presented so beautifully that a much deeper interpretation is available to the viewer. What first may appear random, on closer examination is fascinating. ‘Dream Mapping’ shows the results of an investigation conducted by Hiller in 1974. She arranged for a group of people to sleep outside in ‘fairy rings’ (circles formed by mushrooms considered to be the entrances to Fairy-land). Each night they were required to note down their dreams in diagrams or text. I am a very erratic sleeper, and I regularly have unforgettable or confusing dreams so to read these results was enthralling.

‘Magic Lantern’ explores the body’s instinctive reaction to colour. A small dark room shows moving bright coloured circles, the headphones play horrific wailing sounds that make you feel like you are going mad. The vocal improvisations are interspersed with snippets of recorded sounds from empty rooms further demonstrating Hiller’s obsession with the paranormal.

‘An Entertainment’ is a projection of screaming Punch and Judy shows and another example of technology overload. The work was devised in 1990 and is a film collage of different shows from all over Britain. Hiller hopes to highlight the forgotten mythologies embedded in theatrical tradition. The synchronised screens blaze at each other - it is easy to get completely lost in the blurred images and loud abstract soundtrack.

I found the final rooms most haunting. ‘Witness’ is a terrifying, surreal installation with hundreds of little speakers hanging down from the ceiling each transmitting one person’s ghost story. They describe encounters with UFO’s, sightings, strange irregularities and other peculiar experiences. We stood in the middle of the shadowy room overwhelmed by the eerie atmosphere, there is a constant chatter of voices all in different languages. The voices gradually calmed to leave just one woman’s solitary voice speaking... it is unexpected and strange and sends a sharp shiver down your spine. I thought the whole idea was ingeniously inventive and affecting.

Continues until 15 May 2011, book here.


  1. Wow ~ I loved this post. After such a visit, I imagine a good glass of wine would have been in order ~ and preferably not in a spooky old tavern, either! Somewhere lit with spring sunshine instead! Got to love the Tate Modern for these thought provoking exhibits.

  2. Amazing!
    Would love to visit London again soon!