I spent the month prior to the exhibition in Cape Cod. It was January, and I would lay in bed all day,
watching Fraiser with the dog. At 4:25 each afternoon I would walk downstairs and take a generous
shot of whiskey. I wasn't discerning about whose outwear I was putting on: Tryn's jacket, Nick's
gloves, a previous renter's wool cap. The dog and I would walk to the beach to watch the sunset. I
would use the same large plastic Red Sox cup as my tripod, pushing it face-down in the sand, and
setting my shitty video camera on top. Some days it was almost temperate, and then others were bitter.
Sometimes I talked to my mother on the phone, telling her I was fine. One day it snowed on the
beach, not as much as I wanted, but still.
This was the plan all along. The only perfect shot of the sunset I got : precisely half a sun
disappearing - the moment of its exact disappearance indiscipherable. These horizons do not exist.
Like the moment my Dad stopped breathing, as I was watching Friends on mute. I meant to go home
that night, but got too tired and moved to the couch, out of his eyeline. I felt guilty about making him
watch Friends, and later worse that he died to it.
I think I caught him before he passed. His breathing was over, but he was still warm to the touch. I
stayed until he seemed unrecognizable, a new thing. I made a phone call to California, and sat in
silence. I tried to make sure he was no longer him and then got the nurse.
And I realized I knew nothing.
FEAR IS THE GREAT MOVER IN THE END
My father used to be a Geronotologist. His time was spent with the elderly, managing their end-of-life
care. Before I was an artist (or knew this as what I would become), I asked how he decided what to
do with his life. He answered without hesitating that he wanted to deal everyday with what he feared
the most : death.
I have often thought about this statement and wondered what it means that
I am an artist, and what it is I fear.
THE FEELING OF JOY WHEN SUDDEN DISAPPOINTMENT COMES
In the midst of grief, I wanted beauty. A flesh-pink Austrian curtain hangs from a gold chain. It feels
bunched and grotesque. But, more importantly, beautiful. Maybe it was only possible to give myself
complete permission to make something this indulgent in the midst of tragedy. I kept thinking of a
Rimbaud quote : Oh! the banner of raw meat against
the silk of seas and arctic flowers;
/ (they do not exist).
I needed the sensual to assert itself alongside the melancholic. More specifically, sex and love.
Additionally and, if possible, the absurd.
THE PALM AT THE END OF THE MIND
Four coffin or (more optimistically) door sized panes of glass are arranged to form a semitransparent-
body-column. I am particularly pleased that this pseudo futuristic coffin peacefully
coexists with the real pine-wood-box in the room. This piece is a landscape. An endless and infinite
landscape. But it became other things too. A container, an obstacle, a monument, a claustrophobic
Dan Graham, a portal, a ghost of one's self.
I felt beaten to a pulp once I got back to LA. Avoiding my apartment and roommates, grateful and
tired, I stood in the sliding glass doorway of a cheap beach motel. The following morning, Orly
called to confirm my Past Life Regression session for that Friday, which had been scheduled months
ago at my father's recommendation. I cancelled.
FINDING IS LOSING SOMETHING ELSE
A pile of salt sits in a puddle of water against a wall. The source of the spillages are unclear. Perhaps
the wall itself is crumbling, or the salt has been brought in from the ocean scene of the video. Over
the course of the show - as the water dries - the white outline of the puddle becomes more and more
visible. The effect is both geological and physiological. It is at once a dried up landscape and
elemental figure (i.e. pillar of salt). There are several biblical references, Lot's wife, salt of the earth,
the Dead Sea where I once traveled as a teenager with my Mother and Stepfather.
On the other hand, Robert Smithson.
This sculpture has the smell of the beach, and is saltwater, in parts. I think of the body's insistence on
water and the small pink sponges (on popsicle sticks) that we were allowed to wet and wipe on my
father's lips and tongue. He asked for beer once and then after a swab stated, in such a childlike way
that it ached, "Strroonng".
ALL GOES ONWARD AND OUTWARD, NOTHING COLLAPSES
An oblonged cardboard box, approximately the size of my body, lays atop a grey faux velour curtain.
The curtain stretches out from the wall in a manner which is almost cartoonish, and hangs off of a
brass-coated ADA approved grab bar. The box itself is sweating and collapsing due to the
functional steamer running inside it.
Each morning I come in to refill and switch on the steamer. I feel as if I'm tending to someone with a
fever, ritually. The cardboard body heats up, becomes drenched from the inside out, then shrivels and
cools. By the end of the week it looks worse-for-wear; though not as bad as I expected. I am both
proud nurse and disappointed spectator.
BE WET WITH A DECENT HAPPINESS
I sit back in darkness and silence (in front of an audience). We wait together, though I do not feel a
part of them. Again, the sound of the ocean - first soft then hard. Later, people will describe it as a
storm, but this is not intentional, only lucky. I wonder if I have made the piece too long, but there is
nothing I can do about it now. I wait in the dark for some sort of cathartic experience,
but it doesn't come.
My therapist says that when we experience a loss of this magnitude it is like passing through a
doorway which others can not follow. I am nervous that the singers won't come in on time, but they
do and I am shocked by the beauty of their voices. This I did not plan.
THERE WILL NEVER BE AN END TO THIS DRONING OF THE SURF
No one completely believes me, but : I bought the coffin before I knew my Dad was going to die.
I put it on my debit card, and I began to sleep in it soon after. It just made sense at a certain point. I
was previously sleeping on the studio floor next to it, worrying about dirt and spiders. In the gallery,
it was filled with water and played the sound of the ocean -
I don't think I'll sleep in in again.
And then there is the radio piece. A bureaucratic reiteration, another two weeks spent discussing the
most personal parts of my life with strangers over the phone. My father is dead : please forward his
mail, cancel his cable, put everything that was once his in my name. And then later : I am an artist, I
so desperately need your help with something that is only of importance to me, I am not able to
properly explain what it is I do. Both before and after, station managers and programming directors
asked me what it meant. I felt unsure about telling them the real reasons, not wanting to seem
manipulative or self-pitying. In the end, the best I could come up with was the explanation that, even
though I do not, my Dad believed in the miraculous and the unexplained. This gesture was
my attempt at that, a last bend to his will.
A clip of the ocean plays on several stations in the area - classic rock, major hits, slow jams, Christian
rock, local spanish radio - interspliced with commercials and dedications throughout a desert valley.
Static mixes with the ocean, erratic and undistinguished at best, a piece that does not know its
purpose or function.
But still. A flimsy miracle.
Mary Hill is an artist living in Los Angeles.