How do names connect with objects?
That question is at the heart of a key work in Gary Hill’s new show at James Harris Gallery.
The Seattle-based artist is best known for his experiments with video. But he recently spent time at the Pilchuck Glass School, and the title piece of his exhibit, “Aloidia Piorm,” is one of the results.
It’s a 10-foot-by-20-foot installation consisting of dozens of transparent glass fragments, each of them labeled by Hill. The fragments themselves — cast-offs from other glass artists’ work — take no recognizable form, and the words Hill has coined to go with them are just as nebulous.
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Many are like something out of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” Others seem lifted from some future, post-apocalyptic English dialect. Together, they suggest a whole playground of verbal possibility.
A handful could be plausible last names (“Hykstra,” “Salgri,” “Lauvoy”), while others sound like things that should exist: a “glozzum,” a “bint,” a “kneer,” a tasty “frimnut.”
Still others resemble adjectives (“spusious,” “tiprous,” “inklit”) awaiting their introduction into the English language. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that some are names of prescription drugs (“Xanpon” or “Pyxin,” anybody?) while others describe actions of a detrimental nature (“deflindle,” “besloor”).
A few appear to be hybrids. Is “dorror” a mix of dread and horror? Could “yoing” connote someone both young and bouncy?
Finally, several seem like names for exotic breeds of pet rodents — “trimbles,” “gurings,” a “pouzle” — for folks eager to move on from commonplace gerbils and hamsters.
Just as Hill’s assembled glass objects invite you to project meanings onto them (is that a fish, a flask, a broken seashell?), so too do his words suggest a tantalizing array of possibilities. Their nonsense is unfailingly close to near-sense — and Hill delights in how a change of just one letter (“hysleria,” “prisn,” “andbell”) can push a familiar word into warped, evocative territory.
In essence, he’s exploring how phonemes assemble their way into agreed-upon meanings, while having fun, too, with all the things that can happen en route.
While “Aloidia Piorm” is the high point of the show, it has good company in “Sine Wave (the curve of the world)” and “Klein Bottle with Image of Its Own Making (after Robert Morris).” “Sine Wave” was part of the Gary Hill retrospective at the Henry Art Gallery last year, but benefits from getting a room (almost) to itself so you can hear its soundtrack better: the heavy breath of someone in a forest glade steadily moving back and forth a half-full glass of water perched at the end of a level plank.
“Klein Bottle” alludes to an item in the Seattle Art Museum’s collection, Robert Morris’ 1961 piece, “Box with the Sound of Its Own Making,” a simple wooden box equipped with the soundtrack of its own construction. Hill’s piece replaces sound with an eerie visual element. His sculpture is a curved glass trumpet that intersects with itself Möbius-strip style. Video imagery of the trumpet’s firing emerges from its base and, thanks to the reflective properties of the glass, spreads all up and through its form.
The show’s three other works are less arresting — although the “Fat Man” half of “Untitled (Fat Man & Little Boy)” is scheduled to take a dramatic turn when it’s dropped from the Rainier Oven Building at 1419 S. Jackson St. at 3 p.m. Feb. 15 (safety glasses required; information: 206-290-4360).
Sounds like a smashing event.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com