Hello! Marian here, the Communications and Engagement Intern for the Henry. I recently had a chance to sit down with artist, writer, and daughter of featured artist Gary Hill, Anastasia Yumeko Hill in an interview for her upcoming talk at the Henry entitled, When Image Fondles the Tongue (and other experiments).
Anastasia is currently a PhD candidate in the Film and Media Studies program at the University of California Santa Barbara. Her work develops and explores ‘psychonautic media’ and models of alloperception. She also teaches video art at Cornish College of the Arts.
Anastasia graciously spoke to me about her own artistic journey and what it was like to grow up in Seattle as her father’s daughter. See below for the full interview.
Anastasia Yumeko Hill in a still from Gary Hill’s, “Remarks on Color” (1994).
What was the inspiration behind the title of your talk, “When Image Fondles the Tongue (and other experiments)?”
Well I think this will become clearer during the talk itself, but basically it came out a conversation I had with my dad a while ago. We were talking about the fact that I was writing about LSD from this very experientially based context but hadn’t experienced it myself first-hand. We were trying to figure out what it means to try to access a subjective experience through language as opposed to having the direct experience yourself. That is, what is the relationship between experiencing it first as a sort of embodied image that is later translated into language, versus experiencing it first through language, thus having language come before the image? So the conversation was about more than just that specific moment of anxiety that I was feeling about the fact that I was writing about something I didn’t have personal experience with. It was really more about realizing that this is a much broader question of how to use language to communicate experiences that are characteristically ineffable or unspeakable. Image Fondles the Tongue then is a poetic way of hinting at the idea that the image can either come first and then incite language into action, or it could go another way, and then the series of experiments are sort of looking at this ambiguous space in between those two actions.
What inspires you most?
That’s a hard question. Honestly— and this is with writing, video, or performance— a lot of times it comes out of a really small moment, or really specific word. I can only really speak from the experiences I’ve had at my department at school, but when I watch other people write I usually see them start out with an argument or a thesis, and then go from there. When I start, it’s usually a list of words that I think are interesting or that have nothing to do with each other maybe, but it’s sort of this intuitive draw I have towards them. Then somehow—I don’t know really how— that evolves into a structure of some kind. So, its little things, little words or little moments that kind of get stuck in your brain that you keep coming back to and somehow the action of returning to it over and over sort of accumulates more thoughts around it, and then that hopefully will become something that other people can engage with on some level.
How much of an influence does your father have in your own work? Did you always want to become an artist?
When I was a teenager I very specifically didn’t want to [become an artist] because everyone sort of expected that I would. My mom’s a chemist, and no one thought I was going to become a chemist. I mean lots of little kids draw and paint, but that’s mostly what I spent my time doing. I think people saw that that was the direction I was leaning towards, and I kind of actively decided that was not what I was going to do. When I was deciding on college I really had no sense of direction at all. The only thing I knew was that I was going to go to New York, and so I went to New York to visit schools and didn’t end up applying anywhere. Then I came back— and this was also a time when I was being really rebellious and running away and, you know, doing a lot of weird things—and somehow kind of impulsively I decided that I wanted to have a show at this gallery. I don’t think it exists anymore, it was a gallery for what they called “emerging artists,” and there was a parameter that you had to be between 17 and 25 years old . I wanted to have a show there and I proposed all these works, and they agreed. So then I had to learn how to do everything, and that’s kind of how I learned the technical side of video. Right after that I decided to apply to art school, and I did, and I got in, and it kind of went from there. So I guess on some level, yes, I kind of always knew that that’s where I was headed, but for a while I didn’t want to think of myself that way.
In terms of my dad influencing my work, I think people assume I’m more familiar with his actual work then I really am. I mean most people aren’t familiar with what their parents do at work, you know? So in terms of individual pieces, only more recently when I’ve looked further into his work have they had an effect on me. I think he influenced me a lot in a more general way in terms of being daring in how to think about things, and in that way my mother influenced me also. I think our dinner conversations have influenced me more than seeing his work. Hearing about his thought process or being able to see how an idea evolves into a piece, and just the thinking, more so than the objects or the moving images that are the product of that thinking, that’s what influenced me the most.
You are actually in your father’s exhibition, “Gary Hill: glossodelic attractors,” as the subject of the video installation, “Remarks on Color (1994),” which shows you reading Ludwig Wittgenstein as a young girl. What memories do you have from that experience? How do you respond to the work now?
I actually have a very vivid memory of Remarks on Color. We recorded it at Victory Studios, and I had to read all the way through without looking up. I wasn’t bad at reading, but I didn’t like to read when I was young, at all. I was excited that he asked me to be a part of it but I wasn’t excited about the act of reading itself. I was also very physically uncomfortable, which I didn’t really remember until looking at the outtakes. I’m taking these stunted breaths and touching my neck and saying that I’m dizzy. Just having to sit still for that long with a hot light in my face…if you’re an anxious neurotic person, it doesn’t take much to make you uncomfortable. At one point I did look up when I was almost done, so I knew that we would have to start all over again, and I just started crying. I was frustrated that it was hard for me to read in the first place, and when you are a little kid you have no perspective, so in that moment it just seemed like everything was over. To make me feel better and get me back into it, he took me outside to the vending machine and got me a Reese’s Pieces. Candy and TV were big bribing methods since I wasn’t allowed to have either very often, and he used TV in other pieces to get me to do what he wanted. So my memory from that piece was really about this hyper-awareness of my body. I don’t know why the Reese’s Pieces stuck in my mind, maybe just being comforted by that. I was also just happy to get to spend time with him because he was so busy when I was younger. It’s really weird to watch now. To hear my own voice, and to watch myself be so uncomfortable is really bizarre. Hearing him direct me and seeing our interaction is interesting because I didn’t remember that stuff at all until I watched it. He has my own birth on video tape, which I’ve seen. I’m probably more self-aware then the average person because I’ve seen images of myself throughout my whole life.
How has your upbringing in Seattle shaped you as an artist? Or has it?
I don’t know. I really don’t know what it would have been like growing up here in terms of art making if I wasn’t my father’s daughter. It’s kind of hard for me to separate. So, for me it’s a very weird position to be in because if you’re in the art world in Seattle, you know who my dad is, and you probably know who I am as a five-year old. So, it’s kind of an awkward place to be, but at the same time it feels like a big family. I’ve known a lot of our family friends for a really long time so it definitely feels like home in that way and it would probably be a lot different to be in a place where I didn’t know anyone trying to make work. But, in terms of Seattle as a geographic site, it hasn’t been particularly—not that I’m aware of at least—influential to me. I like working in cloudy weather, so it’s easier for me to work here than it is in California, but other than that, not really.
What future projects can we expect to see from you?
I hope to see my dissertation finished. That’s my number one goal and I’m sure my professors in Santa Barbara are also hoping for the same thing. I have some ideas for video and performance, but not in a concrete form. It’s really tempting to start making a bunch of work instead of focusing on finishing school and I’m trying really hard not to do that and to buckle down and finish writing. Then hopefully from there I can get back into making work here. We’ll see what happens.
Many thanks to Anastasia for her words. Make sure to check out her Multi-Media talk this Thursday, August 23rd, from 7:00pm-8:30pm in the Henry Auditorium.