Over and Out: Christine Hill

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My stay in Venice is winding down. (After a week of running around this place, so am I.) For my last Biennale post, rather than offer final observations, I decided to talk again with an artist who has work showing here. Those are the people the Biennale is all about.

Christine Hill is an American, raised in Binghamton, N.Y., who has lived and worked in Berlin since 1991, with a six year interval in New York that began in 1998. She sees her art partly in terms of what Joseph Beuys called “social sculpture”.   In that spirit for years Hill has carried out an ongoing art project called Volksboutique. It operates through multiple activities, including large scale endeavors in which she temporarily duplicates whole institutions, including at different times a fashion show and a polling station — performance/installation pieces that satirize and reflect on the social structures and personal habits of mind we live by.

For one piece that she carried out in Manhattan in 2000, Hill oversaw the production of a pilot for a late night talk show.  She did everything from recruiting writers to casting an on-camera “sidekick” to playing the host.  For another, she created a temporary New York City tour guide business that charged real money to take real tourists around sites in Manhattan — the Tombs prison, a 99 Cent store — that the usual tour doesn’t get to. 

At the Bienalle she’s represented by a piece in Rob Storr’s international show called Minutes.  Actually it’s a conjunction of two projects. One part consists of what appear to be five steamer trunks. Each carries a different label: reception, production, accounting, management and public relations. All of them are standing open to display objects and outfits appropriate to that function. The trunks were first seen in 2003 as part of a five day show at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts called “Home Office”. Each day Hill opened one trunk, removed the items and set up the appropriate workspace in the gallery, where she then filled that function — receptionist, PR person, etc. — all day.

For the Biennale the trunks have been supplemented with a newly published book, also called Minutes, that includes an essay by the novelist Rick Moody. It serves both as an illustrated review of her Volksboutique projects and a furher example of them — a meticulously annotated diary of Hill’s daily activities during various weeks in 2006 and 2007. You can learn more about her work at volksboutique.org.

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Installation view of Minutes at the Venice Biennale

LACAYO:  How did you get invited to the Biennale.?

HILL: I went to The Maryland Institute and College of Art and Rob Storr was a visiting critic.  Later, when I moved to Berlin in 1991, he paid a completely unexpected visit to my house.  And we’ve had a dialogue since that time. Over the years he’s commented on my work. when we’ve run into one another. Then the invitation for the Biennale came last year.

LACAYO: How do you decide what to put in a show like this?  Does Storr come to you asking for a specific piece from the past?  Do you prepare something new just for the Biennale?

HILL:  When people started hearing that I had been invited to the Biennale they were like, “Oh my God, the Venice Biennale, that’s so huge.”  But I don’t usually think in terms of some big piece I’ve got to do. There is this over-arching project I’m doing (the Volksboutique) that’s punctuated by individual shows. Though I very rarely repeat pieces, these trunks have been shown before. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would just rather display a continuum of pieces that show how the larger work goes over time. Then there’s the book, which is the latest part of that continuum.

LACAYO: What are some of the things that the trunks mean for you?

HILL:  I think the trunks are about how I think about order. But not just how I think about it, how people in general think about it.  It also has to do with the idea of exporting ideas, and making them mobile.

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