BY Frieze News Desk in News | 30 JAN 19

Artist Susan Hiller, Explorer of Consciousness and the Occult, Dies Aged 78

The ‘paraconceptualist’ best known for her explorations of esoteric subjects has passed away

BY Frieze News Desk in News | 30 JAN 19

Susan Hiller. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London

London-based artist and ‘paraconceptualist’ Susan Hiller, best known for her investigations into consciousness, dream states and paranormal activity, has died at the age of 78. The news was announced by Lisson Gallery in London, which represents the artist. A short statement from the gallery confirmed that she had passed away after a ‘short illness’. 

Hiller was born in 1940 in Tallahassee, Florida and graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in 1961. She received her doctorate in anthropology from Tulane University in New Orleans and moved to London soon after, where she connected with various British conceptualists and minimalists. Throughout a career that spanned five decades, the artist employed photography, video and sculpture to explore esoteric subjects including attempts to communicate with supernatural beings and experiments in automatic writing. She is loosely connected to the British conceptualists of the 1960s and 1970s and was included in Tate Britain’s survey of the movement in 2016. She also worked as a curator and taught as a Baltic Professor of Fine Art from 1999 to 2002 at the University of Newcastle. 

Her work often played into her anthropological background, with one of her most well-known works being a commission for the Freud Museum during the 1990s in which she collected Australian productions of aboriginal cave paintings, essays on HIV/AIDS and ceramics in an attempt to highlight the cultural biases of Western civilisation. ‘I'm interested in things that are outside or beneath recognition, whether that means cultural invisibility or has to do with the notion of what a person is. I see this as an archaeological investigation,’ Hiller said in a frieze interview with Stuart Morgan in 1995. 

In a statement, Ann Gallagher who organized the artist’s Tate Britain retrospective in 2011 said: ‘Her presence, her sharp intellect, her wisdom and her friendship will be much missed by so many.’ Andreas Leventis, Lisson Gallery’s associate director said working with the artist was ‘a privilege, an education, and always inspiring.’ Discussing the artist in 2007, Brian Dillon wrote that Hiller’s explorations were in a realm ‘half-way from the conceptual to the affective, a space that since the start of her career Hiller has made her own. ’ 

When asked what she could imagine doing if she wasn’t an artist, in a 2011 questionnaire with frieze, Hiller responded: ‘There’s nothing wonderful I can’t imagine doing, since the power of the imagination is limitless. I can imagine being a dancer or having an apple orchard or …’