Susan Hiller | USA

The Last Silent Movie, 2007

21 min

Courtesy of Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

“The Last Silent Movie” opens the unvisited, silent archives of extinct and endangered languages to create a composition of voices that are not silent.

They are not silent because someone is listening. The work sets free some of the ghosts and spectres haunting the unacknowledged unheimlich of sound recording which allows us to hear the words and voices of people now mostly dead, and of languages some of which are already extinct.

In The Last Silent Movie, some of them sing, some tell stories, some recite vocabulary lists and some of them, directly or indirectly, accuse us, the listeners, of injustice. Thus they challenge the spectator and listener to react to their voices, to relate to their cry and to be transformed from a passive spectator to a listener who internalizes the message of the voices.

The turning point of the spectator is a critical stage changing his or her status from a passive bystander to an involved actor, from a stranger to a relative and from a neutral person to an active performer.

Just as, according to Levinas, the encounter with the perspective of the ‘other’ enforces mutual responsibility, so the encounter with the voice expressing distress, creates a mutual pledge of human fabric which binds us to one another.