contemporary art, contemporary installation, sound art

Susan Hiller, Witness, 2000

February 7, 2011
Witness, 2000 (Tate Britain Installation shot). Original commission Artangel. © Susan Hiller. Image:Tate Photography/Sam Drake

Truth, it is sometimes argued, is an effect of discourse. And discourse in this case has given rise to a nebular, eerie-glowing alien life form. You cannot hear it, but it speaks many tongues.

We realise almost at once this is a sound installation. Those are not tentacles and suckers but speakers hanging from the ends of cables. The voices and languages are all human.

But the effect is extra-terrestrial. That is even before you tune into some of the narratives and work out they are all eye witness accounts of visits from UFOs or creatures from another world.

These witnesses do not often get heard. But their speeches are not unlike the on-the-ground tales we might hear down the phone from members of public on the TV or radio news.

Mainstream eyewitness accounts are given full credibility and help to construct our very sense of geopolitical reality. And of course history and law both depend on this sort of testimony.

So this far out piece by Susan Hiller raises a serious question: who gets called upon to witness and which scenes get an airing? If overlooked discourse can conjure a living, breathing alien, what else might it call into being.

Witness can be seen in the Susan Hiller show at Tate Britain until May 15. Read Laura Cumming’s review in the Observer.


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