Chris Hill

June – August 2019

As a resident at the Agosto Foundation and through the support of Vašulka Kitchen Brno, Chris Hill is creating the Learning from the Bees—Navigating a Personal Archive structured around the documentation of a 20 year old personal archive of diverse narrative fragments.

In June through August 2019 Chris Hill was a resident with the Agosto Foundation, her project also being supported by Vasulka Kitchen Brno. Project field research took place which involved interviewing individuals; creating postcards and postcard texts; and structuring content and laying out her forthcoming book. 

Learning from the Bees —Navigating a Personal Archive is comprised of interviews (a focused exchange that is situated culturally and historically): excerpts from interviews conducted with two individuals involved in the parallel culture pre-1989 in the Czech Republic and interviewed again in 2019; other unpublished interviews from mid-90s; and, from 2018-19, a range of contemporary Czech cultural participants, including beekeepers and apitherapists. Postcards (private messages that participate in public space): Postcards often reflect on the local while simultaneously referencing travel; they inevitably participate in distribution via established networks, and may be re-distributed through idiosyncratic "archives" like second-hand shops.

Postcards used in the project include those found in the CR in the mid-1990s and additionally ones created with images/messages that comment on beekeeping (husbandry of a social insect, cultivated in central Europe and transported to North America by European immigrants). Interview and postcards exchanges will further map cultural appropriations between central Europe and the U.S. (e.g., reflections on Czech Indian/cowboy communities pre-1989). The final project will be a book. In the book the diverse narrative fragments will be laid out as two separate but parallel streams (interviews, postcards), inviting reading across these elements when situated together on the page. The exercising of this media curator's archive, examined across the distances of time/geography, seeks to articulate a sense of health through cultural practice or culture as health. Working as a media arts curator in the 1980-90s alternative U.S. arts culture (Infermental 7—Buffalo NY, 1988; Surveying the First Decade, 1996) Hill received grant support (mid-90s) to teach in the Czech Republic and research pre-1989 Czech parallel culture. Less than a decade post-11/1989, questions about communications—what, how, and to whom—were deeply felt subjects for interviewees.

"During this period I began to think about cross-cultural exchanges as related to the body's immune system that fundamentally has to discriminate between "self" and "other," and then decide whether to eliminate the "other" (infection) or accommodate a useful "other" (microbiome of the gut, pregnancy). Reflecting on my curatorial work with media art histories during radically shifting cultural climates in the U.S. (late 60s, early 70s) and then in central Europe (post 89), I also became interested in the "life" of the media archive—how do documents and the narrative fragments associated with them come to be strategically remembered, re-performed, or forgotten (Living Archives, FCCA, Prague, 2001)."

Hill currently teaches the Cinema of East Central Europe, a course at CalArts that reflects on these culturally situated issues. While working in the Czech Republic Hill also became fascinated with the beekeeping shops she stumbled upon in Prague and Brno.

"I didn't understand the intended use of the odd, often homemade items in the these shops, but recognized beekeeping as a technology, new and mysterious to me but centuries old, that had evolved for humans to harvest bee products cherished for sweetness, nutrition, light and medicines. Back in the U.S. some years later I started keeping bees, overcame my fear of being stung, and found many parallels between beekeeping, media arts and health. Bees are travelers and communicators. They commonly fly within a 3.5 mile radius of their hive to forage for nectar and pollen...Back at the hive with their sweet resources, they perform a dance for their sister foragers that communicates the distance and direction of their discoveries. An individual bee’s news is danced and then evaluated by small audiences, and further communicated through a decentralized “emergent collective” decision-making process, that guides the entire hive’s daily actions and seasonal survival...The capacity for a community to speak to each other in public—to seek diversity of information and knowledge...is a measure of its public health."

Chris Hill taught at FaVU (Brno) in the mid-1990s, and published interviews with individuals involved in Czech parallel culture before 1989 (Walking Trips in Czech Lands, 1996). She has curated an extensive video art and alternative media collection Surveying the First Decade (1996) that has been distributed to museums and universities internationally by the Video Data Bank. Her recent publications and media work have investigated documentary media on the U.S. incarceration crisis, work of contemporary artist that re-embodies experimental film and grassroots video projects of the early 1970s, tactical media initiatives in response to an educational community emergency, and beekeeping. She is a media curator, artist and educator, and is currently teaching and serving as Associate Dean in the Film/Video School at California Institute for the Arts.