EJ Hill’s "A Monumental Offering of Potential Energy"

Studio Museum

EJ Hill

A Monumental Offering of Potential Energy ​(installation view), 2016

Installation and durational performance, 492 × 108 × 85 in.
Courtesy the artist
Photo: Adam Reich

At The Studio Museum in Harlem, performance artist EJ Hill lays on a low rectangular platform. Behind him is a model roller coaster adorned with purple neon lights. Hill is a 2015–16 artist in residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem, and this piece, A Monumental Offering of Potential Energy, is part of Tenses, the exhibition that culminates the three artists' eleven-month residency.

For this installation and performance piece, Hill will lay on a wooden platform during the hours that the museum is open. The artist’s still, prostrate figure contrasts sharply with the initial playfulness of the neon lights. His posture evokes imagery of Black men who have been killed by police violence, the photos and videos that routinely appear in the media and serve as a painful testimony to a modern reality of Black life. However, Hill’s eyes are open, and although his figure references images of victims of police brutality, he appears in this gallery as an active and engaged force.

The tension between Hill’s prostrate form and the active engagement suggested by the performance are at the center of this work. While his physical figure evokes concepts of death and mortality, it also calls us to attention. While standing in the gallery space, we are compelled to pay attention to the urgency of the issues he evokes. The shock of seeing him lying on the platform forces us to confront our own thoughts about race and mortality. There is a way in which his still, silent figure sends a louder message than speech or movement ever could.

When the day ends, Hill will rise from his platform and walk out of the museum into the city. And this eventuality, this promise of future movement, is also an important part of his piece. In getting up each day, Hill transforms what is at first an evocation of death into a celebration of life.