Susan Hiller’s video Lost and Found is a composition of the recorded voices of people who speak extinct or endangered—and sometimes revitalized—languages. In the video we hear these voices addressing us in various ways. Some of them sing; others tell stories, recite vocabulary lists, reminisce, read the weather report or discuss car problems. But many of the anecdotes, songs, arguments, and memories that the speakers share with us also revolve around the theme of language itself, sometimes communicating a powerful sense of grief and loss, retelling to the histories of colonialism and modernization that led to the precarious state of their mother tongues. Throughout the work, a vibrating oscilloscopic line visualizes the unique sounds of each individual voices as they speak to us, providing also an indexical representation of the experience of speech as it reverberates through the human body. But while this experience of voice and speech is universal, beyond any gulf of time, geography or individual circumstance, it only accentuates the fragility of living languages and the immeasurable loss of any language that no longer is present in the body of living.
Susan Hiller (1940-2019), grew up in Florida. After a year in New York studying film and photography at The Cooper Union and archaeology and linguistics at Hunter College, Hiller went on to do postgraduate work at Tulane University in New Orleans with a National Science Foundation fellowship in anthropology. She conducted fieldwork in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize but became uncomfortable with academic anthropology’s claim to objectivity; she wrote that she did not wish her research to become part of anthropology’s ‘objectification of the contrariness of lived events’. During a lecture on African art, she made the decision to leave anthropology to become an artist.
Susan Hiller was based mainly in London since the early 1960’s. After several exhibitions of her paintings and a series of collaborative ‘group investigations’, in the early 1980’s she began to make innovative use of audio and visual technology. With a practice extending over 40 years, Susan Hiller is considered one of the most influential artists of her generation. Her work is found internationally in both private and public collections and her career has been recognized by mid-career survey exhibitions at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (1986), Tate Liverpool (1996), and Tate Britain (2011). This work Lost and Found was exhibited at Documenta 14, Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany (2017).