Susan Hiller to extend her 'Homage to Joseph Beuys' with new participatory art project

By Culture24 Reporter | 14 March 2016

Susan Hiller seeks museums and galleries to help her realise a participatory art project based on Britain's Holy Wells

a photograph of Susan Hiller leaning against a document case in a studio
Susan Hiller© Carla Borel
Artist Susan Hiller is planning to extend her Homage to Joseph Beuys series with a new participatory art project focusing on pilgrimage and the holy and sacred wells of Britain.

For the last 40-odd years, the American, London-based artist has been collecting Holy Water from sacred sites across the world, displaying her samples in glass bottles within antique medicine cabinets in a homage to German artist Beuys who had his own penchant for displaying particular things in vitrines. 

Hiller is renowned for a diverse practice that encompasses installation, moving image, photography and performance as well as a lively interest in the occult. Her varied output was celebrated with a major show at Tate Britain in 2011.

She is currently taking part in the Connect! programme, which sees artists team up with cultural venues, museums, galleries or heritage locations to make participatory events for the bi-annual Museums at Night festival.

The programme sees museums compete via a public vote to win their chosen artist, and has already resulted in a variety of artists making participatory art in locations across the UK - from Grayson Perry at York Museum to the photographer Rankin at a 'heritage allotment' in Nottinghamshire.  

a photo of an open medicine cabinet with old fashioned bottles in it
Susan Hiller, Mistress of the Animals, Homage to Joseph Beuys© Susan Hiller
Now the search is on for a suitable location for Hiller’s art project focusing on holy and healing wells.

“A Brahmin in India told me many years ago, “All water is Ganges water”, and therefore sacred,” says Hiller. “With this in mind I would like to suggest trying the experience of being a pilgrim, instead of a tourist, by journeying somewhere to collect a special water sample.

“Selecting a sacred well site to visit, researching it, planning the journey, documenting it and passing on advice about good places to eat or best means of transportation to the site, as pilgrims did in the Middle Ages."

Participants will be encouraged to choose a container and means of preservation for the water and to share the experience and describe the site to others.

“All these focused actions in unfamiliar circumstances, through visiting any of the numerous holy wells in Britain, may bring about an unusual shift in perspective,” adds the artist.

a photograph of a cluster of fans on pendulums hanging in a darkened room
Susan Hiller, Witness 6© Susan Hiller
Britain has its fair share of holy wells, with Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Essex and Hertfordshire being particularly rich in the mysterious underground springs or bodies of water. 

Hiller will, however, be bringing her own, peculiar surrealist sensibility to this Pagan and Christian tradition, as she plans her participatory artwork.

As for the winning venue and their participants, they have the chance to become part of a canon of work by an artist described by Nicolas Serota as “one of the most influential artists of her generation”.

  • Museums, galleries or heritage sites who want to work with Hiller should head to the Museums at Night website. The closing date for applications is Friday March 18.
  • Susan Hiller’s participatory art event will take place during the October 2016 edition of the after-hours festival.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More on Susan Hiller.

Susan Hiller's other London show brings the paranormal to Timothy Taylor Gallery

The other side of Susan Hiller at Tate Britain

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