Susan Hiller

Delfina, London

The Guardian, 9 Jun 1999

Picture a young girl. She is hunched at a kitchen table. Imagine seeing her, by the force of will alone, slide three glasses along the tabletop. The short glass moves out from behind the taller one. Then the empty jam jar begins its tussle with friction, edging haltingly forward. Finally the tall glass slips fitfully along, towards the end of the table, inevitably closer. Closer. It falls. Imagine the girl's face, already tilted at a miserable angle, letting its cheek come to rest on the table. The table begins to vibrate. Gently at first, progressing to violent shakes. These are strange visions. Imagine seeing them. Chances are you already have. The blackened gallery space at Delfina is filled with five large-scale laserdisc projections. Each is taken from a mainstream movie, each of which portrays a girl with telekinetic powers. These are not famous films, though. No, these are the forgettable ones that turn up in the small-hours of Saturday night scheduling. The kind you watch half-asleep, and then half-remember years later, unsure if you saw it or dreamed it.

These are the films we have all already seen: the collective forgotten. Only their few frames of paltry cinematic 'magic' kept us on the sofa instead of in bed. And it is these frames that the London-based American artist Susan Hiller has captured, and skilfully re-edited into potent little two-minute loops. Auditory accompaniment is silence, at first. Then a gentle drumming starts, followed by tambourines, then hand-clapping. As the films climax, so the music crescendos and stops or, rather, is stopped, by a painfully loud screech of white noise. Amid this visceral, mesmeric experience, questions of meaning seem stifling. How can we approach it? Perhaps we are to take the psychoanalytic angle. Fantasies of telekinesis could be read as upsurging memories of infancy. Is this the impression that Hiller, with her background in scientific academia, is hoping to bring to us? Or is it that these unsettling girls represent society's fear of childhood sexuality: an uncontrollable power developed during adolescence? (The only males on display are scientists running in horror.) Hiller herself has suggested that the work is actually about the power of art: how the artist transforms objects in a mysterious way.

In fact Psi Girls is all of these things, and it is precisely this rich ambiguity, this refusal to be pinned to a simple statement, that makes it so strong. Perhaps, after all, these psychic powers do reflect the powers of art; through art we have imagined telekinesis, and somehow made it real. So which is more potent?

— End —