The piece requires a room 20 feet deep and 40 or more feet wide, plus total darkness.
  • Courtesy Gary Hill
  • The piece requires a room 20 feet deep and 40 or more feet wide, plus total darkness.

There are several unmissable spectacles in Gary Hill's survey exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery. There is a talking maze you walk through. What it says depends on which way you turn. Giant videos also respond.

In Psychedelic Gedankenexperiment (German for thought experiment), Hill is seen on a large screen, wearing a goofy white lab coat and lecturing in near-gibberish about the revolutionary creative potential of LSD. It is near-gibberish rather than total gibberish because he's written a text, reversed the sounds of the words and recorded himself reading it backwards, then reversed the recording so it is "normal" again—at a few hightly distorting times removed. While you watch him, you may sit on stools of foam carved in the shape of LSD molecules. They are not stable.

The Stranger staff tackled these pieces and others in the exhibition in this week's paper ("The Stranger Does Acid With Gary Hill").

But nobody wrote about one of my favorite pieces. It's easy to miss Searchlight.

The ocean in the wall.
  • Courtesy Gary Hill
  • The ocean in the wall.
The piece is installed at the heart of the exhibition, in a darkened room.* It has a slight antique air, a feeling as low-tech as a mariner's poem—rare for Hill's work. In the middle of the room, facing a long wall, an aluminum tube mounted on a tripod looks and moves like a slowly roving telescope that scans 180 degrees across the wall. When the tube at its center point, facing perpendicular to the wall, a circular image of the ocean appears as if it has been discovered there. The image dissolves into pure, diffuse light as the tube moves in either direction.

You know intuitively—it is common sense—that the ocean revealed on the wall is nothing more than a projection coming from inside the tube. But the illusion is so false that it inspires a response of almost pure love. Sounds coming from speakers hidden in the wall deliver ocean sounds that are most localized and clear when the image comes into view. Of course there is an ocean in that wall.

*The whole exhibition is up through September 16, but you only have until July to see Searchlight. It's one of the pieces that will be swapped out then to create a second iteration of the show.