The current psychology view seems to insist that we have two attention systems: one wondering over and around the perceivable is a friendly support for wandering around this exhibition to get a better focus. The other snaps our focus to anything that stimulates the senses: e.g. a loud noise.Many of the images Tony Hill made available for this essay are surveying what is there. I asked for only three to snap out of that all over viewing.
On entry a warmth of yellow mixed with orange tones presents the artist as a painter.
On the two adjacent walls are prints of drawings from the same year, Hill says they are for “structures, situations and colours”.
Intriguing use of the term “situation” – something I recognise in much later lens based work. Here they face some: On the left six cibachrome prints, Hand Shapes exhibited in Octagon Gallery in 1981, are reminiscent of an image on the stairs of the Ludwig Collection at Aachen. Sorry – unable to locate that. In relation to the Modernist’s call for”originality” – long before calls that it is a myth, Ludwig van Beethoven wrote to a young pianist: The true artist is not proud, he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun. ( July 17, 1812 in Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations , 1951)
On the right, a memory from visiting Venice, A Lover’s Kiss, 2009, Inkjet photograph.
On leaving the bay of silence: Too many doors! In some cases amassing the sameness is essential to weave a net capable to capture multitude of thoughts and judgments.
From this viewing point the denouement slips out effortlessly. The recycled useful objects keep their appearance but not their function, instead, they appear to have a conversation not unlike the hybrids of people and sacks installed by Juan Muñoz, Conversation Piece (Dublin) at IMMA, 1994.
The number of the doors installed in the middle of this gallery works well to do that, but not so well by occupying so much exhibition space and by blocking views.
Turning away from the doors the installation intoxicates with diversity: a small blue wooden “high relief”, narrow as a crack in a wooden fence, one of many “sticks” in the exhibition, stubbornly optimistic that its size is not undermined by the large wooden ladder wearing a cardboard square in colour of dry soil.
The twin slide projection inside plywood cavernous, door -less, cupboard, also blocks the view at the smaller two- dimensional items on the walls.
This shot of the Renaissance Ladder (2013) which the catalog entry calls “installation” opens a link to Duchamp, who located the art between the artist’s will and the viewer’s attention. Dr Jamshid Mirfendersky in his catalog essay points out that Hill’s art requires “aesthetic attention”. That is what stimulates a “focus” that will differentiate this sculptural assemblage from a similar one in your garage or a shed. At the height of Modernism theoreticians entertained the significance of ” not just a retinal response”, hoping to shift the aesthetic experience away from seeing. The current research on attention (e.g. Nilli Lavie, University College London) proposes that attention is a limited resource and that filling all its slots leaves no room for distractions. The two objects – one, the square, purposefully made by the artist, the other an object of common utility – leave empty slots, thus inviting distractions from your treasured creative thinking.
Snapping out of the first encounter with any work of art depends on the creative analogy a viewer brings to it. In her catalog essay Dr Antje von Graevenitz turns to the analogy between alchemy and art, with imaginative focus on the orange square evoking hues from the depth of the Earth, namely sulphur: “…seeing them in an alchemical way, then both objects might be part of a rather symbolic language: the square with its colour orange seems to be like sulphur directing to the volcano, to fire and the sun, the square-pictures hues or earth seem to be fetched from the ground.” She also writes that it is” a humorous image with serious suggestion”.
Tony Hill often undermines the serious idea with detachment from it, possibly to avoid heavy handed accent of persuasion or propaganda. He does not preach, he takes the risk to entertain with the highest abstraction.
I observed these “sticks” from all angles and distances… and was rewarded with actually slips of meaning, once of pristine determined three-dimensional form chiselled out of precision, once, from a side view, flat and fluid and temperamental like abstract expressionism ( albeit on a small scale).
This composite variant of Hill’s vertical sculptures was given the whole wall at he garden window. The empty surface around it intensified its visual power. It filled all the slots of my attention while harmoniously allowing a kind of reverence, known from encounters with votive objects. Blue waterfall cut out of its natural surroundings, yet keeping its magic connection to the world…
Hill’s choice to allow the seen fragment of the world to resonate with our associations, analogies, memories, comparisons, playful guesses, does not preclude closed composition.
The next two examples of photographs on a similar theme provide me with a question: how is his body and mind doing two operations at the same split of the second? One is to hold the twig (with one hand) in a particular relation to the horizon, the other is to direct the lens to capture it( with the other hand).
In my catalog essay I called it mindfulness -as in filling all his slots of attention with that simple trinity of eye, hand and mind – recommended already by Leonardo as the necessary condition for mute poetry.
Thanks to Dr Riann Coulter for sensitive curating of a more complete survey of Tony Hill’s art practice, as he puts it from 2017 until 1972.
Images courtesy Tony Hill.