Coming into his residency at the Studio Museum, EJ Hill was well known for his performance practice. In pieces like The Fence Mechanisms (2014), O Captor My Captor (2014), Complicit and Tacit (2014), and Untitled (2012), Hill uses his body as a means to assert his agency, vulnerability and dissent, within a society that would view it as a threat. However, alongside his performance pieces, Hill has been creating quieter, more solitary work—drawings, paintings, photographs and music. While exploring possible performance opportunities at the Studio Museum, Hill is expanding into these quieter creative avenues, fearlessly expanding his practice.
Much of Hill’s practive revolves around the body, specifically his own, as a way to navigate the challenging reality of his existence. According to Hill, his new Harlemite audience can directly relate to his body of work and his experience as a black person in the United States. Hill’s performances come about when feelings and ideas take hold, almost obsessively, and manifest themselves into physically demanding performances. In some, he jumps rope with the aid of a fence, boxes blindfolded with another artist, stands still for 120 minutes, or lies in bed at a store window display for 24 continuous hours with a partner. Conscientious with his performances, Hill is equally so in their documentation, carefully selecting a few images to distribute to the world. In this practice, the element of the rumor becomes an important component of his work. For Hill, secondhand accounts allow the works to live beyond him and take on different forms.
Beyond his performances lie quieter pursuits, namely a reawakened interest in a favorite childhood subject matter: rollercoasters. He has taken pen and pencil to paper, drawing intricate, delicate and detailed renditions of rollercoasters. Going over this new interest of his, Hill questioned how his drawings and performances connected. At first it seemed like a random childhood interest, but upon further reflection amusement rides take us out of ourselves with a rush of adrenalin, pushing us to the limit with their speed, height and loops. Between undulating rollercoaster tracks and physical performances, there exists the possibility of an out-of-body experience, pushing our boundaries and our limits. In addition to drawings, Hill has also tacked two very different bags onto his studio wall: a black Nike plastic bag and a large blue velvet-like fabric bag with yellow ribbon drawstrings. These new drawings and other endeavors are an effort to follow his creative impulses without censure, regardless of where they might take him.
EJ Hill remains a performance artist, but his residency at the Studio Museum becomes an opportunity to explore different creative avenues and a reach a new Harlem audience. Drawings and plausible installation works might seem quieter in comparison to his physically-involved works, but for Hill these quieter, creative avenues are no less thrilling. There might even be a bag installation piece in the works. Who knows?
—Zuna Maza, Fall 2015 Curatorial Intern