Georgie Hill works thoughtfully and methodically, building her works piece by piece, as if assembling the complex inner workings of a finely-tuned instrument, either musical or scientific—or both. Hill’s works resemble diagrams, although their function is as much lyrical as it is schematic. Her work is perhaps best interpreted in terms of verbs, rather than adjectives, as a sequence of actions taken by the artist: directing, measuring, repeating, sensing, connecting, superimposing. Likewise, the way Hill’s works are made involves multiple layers of painting that react and respond to one another. Her first layers are nebulous, chaotic fields of colour, resembling rain, clouds or other natural phenomena in their irregular, organic patterning. Next, Hill cuts into her heavy paper support with a blade, creating raised channels within which the paint flows, allowing her to render a second layer of sharply defined, precise linework while also bringing into play the raised edges of the incision. These lines are painted so that whenever they cross a tonal boundary in the background, their colour changes, injecting a self-reflexive, pseudo-random element to the work. Bahktin regards creativity as a fundamentally dialogic process, in which the artist speaks “in the language of another’s discourse,” and by doing so realises the potential of that other, makes them whole and brings forth the aesthetic object.1 This is the multivalent, circuitous view of the artist’s role depicted in Hill’s works; the shifting, prophetic territories they offer the viewer are also the terrain of the creative process itself, absorbing and being absorbed by the inexorable tides of future events.
Hill cites as particular influences on her practice the works of Hilma af Klint and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, both early modernists who dealt with pure abstraction while that form of art was still in its infancy. Hill’s work evokes ideas such as communication systems, zones of force or influence, or schematic descriptions of complex systems, all of which could equally be applied to af Klint and Taeuber-Arp’s works. Hill shares with af Klint a concern with the dynamics that underpin human experience, perception and thought, a desire to unpick the threads of the pattern that make up the phenomenal world. Viewed through this prism, Hill’s works could likewise be interpreted as diagrams, schematics or plans. She casts the works in this light when she refers to their status as “approximations of future events” and “systems, trends or prophecies.” The idea of “prophecy” is a potent one, in this context, containing both the idea of temporal displacement—a statement out of time, communicating with the future in the same way that af Klint’s occultist abstractions, unseen during her lifetime, gained new currency almost a century later—and the idea of a received message alien to the listener but susceptible to interpretation and exegesis.
The titles of all but one work in this exhibition are drawn from Doris Lessing’s 1971 visionary novel Briefing for a Descent into Hell. This text is difficult to summarise, but hinges on the inner world of an amnesiac professor and uses science fiction and fantasy elements as a framework to explore metaphysical and spiritual concerns, as well humanity’s impact on the environment. Hill’s work is similarly concerned with the way large scale events are reflected in the microcosmic realms of thought, memory and dream. Having experienced the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, she has a first-hand understanding of the natural world’s potential for instability, and the way such events become internalised parts of private psychic landscapes. This connection between the broad and the intimate, between exteriority and interiority, is crucial to Hill’s work. In the newer paintings, elements suggesting weather maps point towards climate change as a source of this internalised anxiety or fear. The work deals with the way complex, chaotic realities are modelled and interpreted through rational systems, and the disconnect that can arise between map and territory in these situations.
By injecting an element of chance and reflexivity into her process, Hill empowers her works to question monovalent, singular visions of the future, instead offering images of networks, congruences, and affinities—opportunities for dialogue and exchange. By invoking the earliest phases of the modernist artistic revolution, when ideas about the role and nature of art and creativity were still plastic and malleable, Hill is perhaps signalling the merits of flux and uncertainty, and the need to internalise this kind of flexible thinking in order to cope with an ever-changing present.
1 Mikhail Bahktin, “Discourse in the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (University of Texas Press, 1981), 347, cited in Deborah J. Haynes, Bahktin and the Visual Arts (Cambridge University Press, 1995), 14.