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Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - Page updated at 05:30 a.m.
The Henry's Gary Hill retrospective continues to challenge eyes and ears
By Michael Upchurch
Seattle Times arts writer
What better way for the Henry Art Gallery to continue its celebration of Seattle video artist Gary Hill's career than to follow up "Gary Hill: glossodelic attractors" with "Gary Hill: glossodelic attractors (part two)"?
Eight works new to this Hill retrospective were installed in early August, and several of them are eye- and ear-challenging in the best possible way.
In "Circular Breathing" (1994), sound and image tangle in a kind of complex music as five panels of black-and-white video seemingly trigger each other into existence, from left to right. Train-track rhythms, punched up or slowed down, accompany every shift in the visuals, creating constantly mutating associations between images, which can be as innocent as a young girl reading or as ominous as the loading of a gun. Wider and faster than the eyes can track or absorb, "Circular Breathing" works on a subliminal level, encompassing the whole world with its mix of humble and exotic sights.
"Switchblade" (1998-99) is another bracing eye-befuddler. As a distorted voice addresses various medical ailments and worries, two strobe-fast video sequences of a vulnerable male body in motion play in hectic rhythms against each other. One is projected onto the gallery wall; the other on an actual television set. The health concerns range from specific diagnoses to vaguer feelings of "something having been removed or implanted." The piece is viscerally concise in its perception of how the body is heir to changes that feel both gradual and, as something goes wrong, lethally swift.
"Depth Charge" (2009/2012), the newest work by Hill, is simultaneously dreamier and more exposed. While a ghostly blue guitarist on the gallery wall (Bill Frisell, distorted to the point of being liquid in appearance) serenades an abstract figure nearby — Hill himself, in a drastically altered state, describes what he's experiencing to his wife, who gently guides him through his "trip."
It's curious that Hill's work, which leaned toward the abstract or oblique early in his career, has become so naked and confessional in the last decade or two. One holdover from the earlier incarnation of "glossodelic attractors" is especially touching on this score.
It's "Up Against Down" (2008), a curious piece pro-jected in a cylindrical vestibule that's roughly 5 feet wide and 25 feet high. Inside this cylinder, six HD videos of portions of a naked male body (Hill served as his own model) strain in some kind of isometric resistance to unseen forces. A pressured rumbling soundtrack seems to make the feet, back, hands and head quiver. It may not have been Hill's intention, but the piece poignantly calls to mind the struggle with which we hang on to our existence before being overcome and reaching our end.
For all the high-tech gadgetry that's involved in his creations, Hill is an artist who, with increasing delicacy and intensity, focuses on human frailty and wonder with humanistic warmth.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com
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