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A palpable hit

Woodstock expat video artist Gary Hill speaks this Saturday at WAAM exhibit panel

by Paul Smart
November 18, 2010 11:35 AM | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gary Hill, Wall
Gary Hill, Wall
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Considered one of today’s great artists for his pioneering work pushing video into more creative realms – as well as all that he’s done with installations, multi-platform pieces and the winning of practically every major artist’s award of recent memory, including a MacArthur “genius” nod back in the late 1990s – Gary Hill has mixed memories from the time that he spent in Woodstock in the late 1960s and early 1970s taking classes at the old Arts Students’ League and long-passed Woodstock Community Video communale.

There are the bits and pieces of local hitchhiking to and from $100 apartments and houses rented around town back when, including some scary episodes with redneck sorts late at night. There were long chess matches with then-fledgling newspaper publisher Geddy Sveikauskas, who started these publications around the time that Hill discovered videotape’s artistic uses. Then there was the two-week period between his reading his birth date as #35 on the Selective Service’s draft lottery and the moment he was dismissed, tripping on LSD, from the Armed Services office in Albany and had to hitchhike back to Ulster County again.

Hill’s Wall Piece, a video installation where he flings himself repeatedly against a wall, from 2000, will be the centerpiece of a major new exhibit up at the Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) through the coming month. It has been augmented with five new installations by former students and teachers at the recently demised INDIE Program for high school students run in the Onteora School District over the past ten years.

Hill will speak about his art at a special panel talk on CPW’s full “Frustration of Expression” exhibit with INDIE’s Russell Richardson, Marilla Abrahamson, Will Lytle, Anthony Morelli, Kaeli Smith and Taima Smith at the Woodstock Artists’ Association & Museum at 28 Tinker Street starting at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday, November 20. From 4 to 6 p.m., there will be then be an artist’s reception back at CPW, located down the street at 59 Tinker Street, concurrent with another reception at WAAM at the same time.

“When I was a senior in high school, I was looking at school pamphlets and saw this one on summer at the Arts Students’ League. That was 1969,” Hill recalled in a phone interview this week. “After that summer one of my instructors suggested I return. It was all very cold for me, coming from California, but I held on, working at an ice skating rink off Rock City Road there, washing dishes and selling jewelry I made.”

Hill’s discovery of video came when he stumbled into the old Woodstock Community Video project in 1973, with whom he later moved into a collective home in Rhinebeck before it lost funding in the later 1970s and Hill went on to work with a CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) Arts program at George Quasha’s Station Hill Press in Barrytown. Through his efforts in the new medium, the artist became one of the first coordinators for state arts funding for video artists at the time. He eventually moved on to teaching gigs in New York and Buffalo and the home that he has now maintained in Seattle for decades. Yet he has kept coming back to Barrytown, where he works on projects with Quasha – a renowned poet/visual artist/visionary – at least once a year.

Woodstock, which he now describes as “a great time,” has only drawn him back a handful of times since he left. Similarly, his “collaborative works,” as CPW has described its new show of pieces based on Hill’s own oeuvre, have also been few and far between – although he speaks fondly of one from last summer that he completed at a school in Canada’s Yukon.

Does the pioneering artist of the video realm have an interest in new media applications on smart phones and the like? “Smaller. Faster. More…It’s not really an area that interests me now,” he said. “To me, it’s an extension of image-as-virus. I’m trying to slow it down and mediate things.” And yet, Hill adds, he does see the new tools and access for creativity as being “very positive…The more we create, the better we are,” he says.

Chances like this to see truly historic art figures from here, back here, are rare – and welcome. For more on this Saturday’s November 20 talk by Gary Hill at the Woodstock Artists’ Association & Museum at 2:30 p.m., as well as the reception for his and various INDIE students’ and teachers’ work at the Center for Photography at Woodstock from 4 to 6 p.m. that same afternoon, call CPW at (845) 679-9957 or visit www.cpw.org.

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