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  • Lacan Looks at Hill and Hears His Name Spoken: An Interpretive Review of Gary Hill through Lacan’s “I’s” and Gazes
  • S. Brent Plate
Gary Hill. Exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum SoHo. May 11 – August 20. Organized by Chris Bruce, Senior Curator, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle.

[D]esire, alienated, is perpetually reintegrated anew, reprojecting the Idealich outside. It is in this way that desire is verbalised. Here there is a game of see-saw between two inverted relations. The specular relation of the ego, which the subject assumes and realizes, and projection, which is always ready to be renewed, in the Idealich.

-Jacques Lacan1

Gary Hill’s video and installation art challenges a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) view of perception by showing the mediated nature of the viewing subject’s interaction with the artwork. Hill investigates the relationships between bodies, words, images, and technology. While much of Hill’s work in the past has focused on single-channel videotapes, his recent exhibition at the Guggenheim SoHo (11 May – 20 August) is a display of 13 room-sized installations, artworks within which the viewer’s body must move. Furthermore, by incorporating philosophical and literary texts (e.g., writings of Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Blanchot) into his videos and images, Hill manages to confront the incessant relationship of words and images in a striking ly original way in artistic practice.

Hill’s exhibition spaces are spaces of and about media (sing. medium) in two senses of the word. As the American Heritage Dictionary defines it, a “medium” is, “1. Something . . . that occupies a position or represents a condition midway between extremes. 2. An intervening substance through which something else is transmitted or carried on.” This dual definition makes it possible to consider the term ‘medium’ in aesthetic categories of form and content. Medium as content is “something between.” Medium as form is a “substance through which something else is transmitted.” Hill’s art investigates each sense of the term, and both of them together.

Though essays about Hill are pocked with poststructural references, Hill makes no explicit mention of Lacan in his installations or video works. Yet, Hill and Lacan seem to share affinities for what Lacan calls the “function of seeingness.”2 That is, they each explore the space of mediation between the viewer and the object viewed. This relation is a see-saw game of desire and projection, and is, finally, constitutive of subjectivity.

In the following i take Lacan’s theory of subjectivity and the interrelated notion of “the eye and the gaze” as an orienting point. From there i create a “conversational re-view” of Hill’s recent exhibition. As this exhibition included thirteen installations — each abundantly rich enough in content to summon its own essay — i will concentrate on only three particular installations.

The dense opening quote of Lacan serves as a preface to the following reading of Hill’s installations. Within the quoted passage resides the catalyst that is desire, the notion of projection, and a relation between the registers of the imaginary and the symbolic. In further comparing Hill and Lacan, i suggest that through the registers of the imaginary and the symbolic one of Lacan’s underlying motifs is to reconceive the relation of the word and the image within the realm of subjectivity. While it is clear that Lacan privileges the symbolic over the imaginary (and hence also, the word over the image), they each remain vital in the construction of the subject.

Turning to Lacan’s mediated view of “the function of seeingness,” there is found a distinction between the eye and the gaze. To clarify this distinction, Lacan provides what are perhaps the simplest of his diagrams (91):

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The first diagram portrays the geometral perspective set up in Renaissance schema (notably that of Alberti) of a singular point-of-view taking in the whole of the other (object) through the eye. As the agent of vision, the subject is the “Cartesian subject, which is itself a sort of geometral point, a point of perspective” (86). As the still point of singular perspective, the subject is affirmed in her or his...

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