Black/White/Text, 1980

NTSC, sound, black and white

The tapes Black / White / Text, Electronic Linguistic and Sums and Differences were collected by Gary Hill under the title Selected Works II. The are structured by real or simulated interactivity of electronic image and sound. The artist conceived Black / White / Text as a simultaneous mathematical progression of sound, image and text. The basic, simple elements used are both the rectangle which refers to the monitor screen, and syllables. Their multiplication leads to a final visual and auditive complexity. Like the tower of Babel, this sheds the initial forms and references as well as the understanding of the formal conclusion of the work.
The image develops from a single rectangle to multiple concentric rectangles. These are then pushed into perspective until finally, enlarged to a scale up to and beyond the limits of the screen, they are deformed by undulation into a formless chaos.
The text describes what is happening on the screen. Its form is constructed using a process of doubling the number of syllables in a sentence, compared with the previous sentence. It simulates thefeedback of the image. The first word is "rectangle", and its multiples which are linked in the following order: "rectangle", "within a rectangle", "the frame of reference within a rectangle", etc.
The sound is structured by the vocal forms of the text, first chanted by a single voice, then two voices in canon, followed by a trio then a quartet, also in canon.
Image and sound are placed in parity and develop in a similar manner, multiplying at the same rate and at the same time. The final complexity deconstructs the rigidity of the mathematical process and the geometry. Through its melody and rhythm, the vocal music dominates the formless, abstract image.
Gary Hill used this linguistic labyrinth again, in an installation called Glass Onion, achieved immediately after Black / White / Text. Four monitors are placed on the floor in a pyramid form. Their disposition represents the mathematical schema of the evolution of the form of the rectangle in the videotape. The voice off chants the syllables of the word "rectangle", which determine the image and represent the feedback process. A camera zooms in on the central screen where the tape is playing, and sends the image to the other monitors. When a spectator enters the space between the screens, the rectangle feedback is interrupted.
With Black / White / Text the notion of text, an underlying and much questioned notion in Gary Hill's work, appears in the video medium's own time, structured by different languages and forms of expression: written and spoken language, musical language and sound, as well as technical procedures (feed-back, the synthesizer and even the video line analyser as in Sums and Differences).

Thérèse Beyler