Video (color, sound)
Original format: 2-inch reel-to-reel
Running time: 32:00 min.
This tape is the first of Hill’s works for which he deliberately wrote a screenplay. The title defines the piece’s starting point: Alice in Wonderland asks her omniscient father why things get in a muddle. They then talk on a metalinguistic level (i.e., about language using language). A glimpse through the looking glass reveals an inversion of the customary order of things. The father ingests the smoke from his pipe, Alice does not so much blink her eyelids momentarily open as stare wide-eyed, and the playing cards fall out of the air in an orderly manner into the girl’s hand. The language of the two protagonists is strangely slurred and partially incomprehensible. Gradually the reason for these phenomena becomes clear. Almost all the passages are being played and spoken backwards, and the tape can likewise be played backwards, with the result that at first sight the action appears plausible. This also explains why at second glance the movements of the protagonists’ bodies look strangely mechanical. Hill makes phonetic notes of the texts spoken backwards by Alice and her father. At the end of the tape, when Alice is standing in front of the looking glass, the letters of the subtitle (“Come on Petunia”) logically regroup as “once upon a time.”
Gary Hill: Selected Works and catalogue raisonné, edited by Holger Broeker (Wolfsburg: Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2002), GHCR 50, pp. 113 – 115.
Performers: Kathy Bourbonais and Charles Stein
Spoken text from Gregory Bateson's, "Why Do Things Get in a Muddle?," from Steps to an Ecology of Mind.
Additional excerpts from Lewis Carroll’s "Through the Looking Glass."