Picture Story, 1979

NTSC, sound, colour

Picture Story shows the different stages in the creation of an abstract composition, its process and its origin in language codes (letters and words) and their properties of form.

At the end of the tape, the image is a construction of brown lines on a light blue background, where the figure of an ox is shown. It appears, first the right way round, then turned left to right, then top to bottom. The composition comes together progressively through the tape. The process and its origin, determined by the properties of form of four letters of the alphabet, are exposed by the text spoken in voice off: "Four letters in the alphabet possess a quality significantly different than the others. When upside down or backwards their character remains the same. The letters are H, I, O, X or HI OX´ further more O and X may be turned 90 degrees in any directions and still contain their original meaning."1
A yellow rectangle ranges across the screen, its movements determined by the properties of the letters. It settles in a position defined by the logic of the image's composition. Then it shrinks to a thick dot or a line along which a hand makes a brown stroke. Concepts relating to the creation of an image appear, written one after the other in the rectangle: "scans", "triangle", "vertical", "envelopes", "concept", etc. The changes in orientation that this geometric form undergoes rob the words of legibility and meaning, underlining the formal nature of the signs it is made of.

The tape is punctuated with a slow rhythm, where the tempo is marked by the moments the statement appears simultaneously in three different languages: the voice off, the written word and the abstract stroke.

The drawing of an ox appears on the screen which is blue streaked with brown strokes. The figure is the result of an association of ideas, drawn from assembling the letters HI OX into a sentence with meaning. The animal is moved in relation to the properties of the letters, while the voice off speaks them, saying the last sentence of the text in an uninterrupted flow.
The title of this tape introduces the idea of a story of the image. In Gary Hill's video works from the end of the 1970's and the beginning of the 1980's, this means narration (by image and text) and the genesis of the image in language (music and language) and the mental processes. In fact, Picture Story, shows the progressive stages of creation of its own image, and describes the process. The rotating electronic bar in Processual Video describes the temporality of what is being spoken in voice off. In Black / White / Text the sung text describes the evolution of the image in feedback. In its form, by doubling the number of syllables in a sentence in relation to the preceding sentence, it takes up the doubling process employed in the visual sequences.

Structured by rhythm of language or music, Gary Hill's works offers a study of contextual and conventional forms. When the artist turns over the rectangle with the words written inside, the loss of convention transforms these signs into plastic objects, less than significant. Linguistics differentiates the signified, which is the meaning, and the signifier or sound or graphic of the word. In Tale Enclosure, singing breaks down the words and text into detached syllables, and meaning goes while sound remains. The sound signifier is used instead of the signified and determines when images appear. In Ura / Aru, by overturning formal order , using symmetry , two signifieds are associated to the same group of letters. The linguistic form of Gary Hill's work is a decomposition of the signifier and the signified: the sound or graphic signifier organises the image, while meaning or signified finds its relevance on a more general level of the work or the medium.

The elements of the composition of Picture Story refer to two distinct points of creation of the image. The first is represented by the properties and subjacent forms of language codes. The second has to do with mental processes: the image of the ox results from the association of ideas between the letters (united by a shared property and presented in alphabetic order) and the sentence they make, in an unexpected manner. The emergence of an image is also dealt with in the narration Processual Video, in relation to perception and memory.

Thérèse Beyler

1 "Four letters in the alphabet have a quality which is largely different from that of the others. When they are turned upside down or from right to left, their character remains the same. These letters are H, I, O, X or HI OX; furthermore O and X can be turned at right-angles in any direction without losing their initial sense."