Edinburgh Art Festival 2014 interview: Susan Hiller on cosmic storytelling project Re-sounding

This article is from 2014

Edinburgh Art Festival 2014 interview: Susan Hiller on cosmic storytelling project Re-sounding

‘I’m interested in cultural phenomena, no matter how crazy or weird they seem’

Susan Hiller brings a new film work to Summerhall this festival as part of an exciting visual arts programme that sets the bar for venues across the city. Re-sounding combines audio effects from the Big Bang and other cosmic phenomena with stories told by people who think they have seen visitors from outer space, and also explores references to dreaming.

‘I’m interested in cultural phenomenon, no matter how crazy or weird they seem,’ Hiller says. ’We don’t take dreaming seriously enough. Dreaming is the hinge that lets us go from an understanding of everyday waking life to some other kind of understanding. It gives us two kinds of being, and some of these people are getting into that area without being mystics or mad. They’ve just had a surprising thing happen, and they’re desperately trying to tell us about it.

‘They’re trying to find a language to explain an experience, which is of course very difficult. Many of their experiences have to do with phenomena of light. They tell these stories in a scientific way because that’s how we describe things – we don’t know how else to do it.’

The film also uses audio effects from the universe such as static and reconstructed sound from the Big Bang. ‘I consider science to be an ideology – I don’t know if it’s telling the truth – and I find the idea of the Big Bang rather perplexing,’ Hiller says. ‘Everything is there to be questioned, and as human beings we are struggling to find out everything about who and what we are and why we’re here. These are perpetual questions – there’s nothing new about them. Science is the most acceptable answer to most of those questions and I suppose that’s what attracts artists to it.’

Hiller has also worked with Summerhall’s curator, Paul Robertson, relating her earlier work to work by other artists in his collection. ‘I’ve done a lot of work with famous modernist artists who used occult or esoteric ideas or techniques but never admitted that they did – for example Gertrude Stein or Joseph Beuys. Paul has a collection by a lot of these artists and we decided to relate my show and the underpinnings of it to some things he’s been collecting. It’s a shared interest.’

Hiller has shown in Edinburgh before, both with Richard Demarco and as part of the Ingleby Gallery’s 2011 Edinburgh Art Festival show, Mystics or rationalists?, and says she is looking forward to taking part in Summerhall’s festival exhibition programme.

‘This is an experiment for me,’ she says. ‘I’m willing to engage with the public, and this is an opportunity to do it. If my work opens some doors or questions, then that would be enough for me – I don’t need it to be validated. You can only get validation from museums, this show is more about relating to the public.

‘Summerhall is a strange and interesting place – it’s very adventurous and they have very good artists there who accept the fact that it’s unusual, casual, crowded and eccentric and all those things, but it’s a wonderful enterprise that all these things are going on at the same time – it’s extraordinary really.

‘Edinburgh has a great atmosphere in the festival, but people get very speedy. If some of my work slows them down a little then I’ll be really happy – that would please me a lot.’

Summerhall, 560 1590, 1 Aug–26 Sep, free.

Susan Hiller: Re-Sounding

A new installation combining sound frequencies and visual patterns translated from cosmic microwave background radiation with eyewitness accounts of supposed extraterrestrial phenomena.