Stephen Hilyard

Катюша (Katyusha)

Катюша (Katyusha) is a three channel, 28 minute video piece based on material collected at Pyramida, a showcase community established by the Soviet Union in the Svalbard territory in the high Arctic. At its peak Pyramida was home to more than 1000 coal miners and their families. It was evacuated in two days in 1998 leaving a ghost town. Катюша (Katyusha) presents three fictional characters who personify different aspects of Pyramida. The Guide takes the form of a gray sea bird, the Northern Fulmar. As the piece progresses we discover clues to the identity of two Lovers, a ballet dancer and a basketball player. The elaborately painted floor of the basketball court in Pyramida is a central motif, as is the abandoned ballet studio in the northern most corner of the town—once the most northerly ballet studio on earth. Time becomes unreliable as the viewer jumps back and forth uncontrollably between two time periods. In the 1980s, the lovers meet as adolescent young pioneers in the idyllic summer forests of the Ukraine. After the evacuation, a mysterious love token is left behind on the tundra amongst the empty shells of Pyramida. The third unspoken time period is only hinted at—always skipped over, never shown—the time that the lovers spent living happily in a town built of dreams at the end of the world. The lonely voice of a Soviet “numbers station” recites the names of the missing.


Platform is pleased to feature the trailer for Stephen Hilyard's video Катюша (Katyusha). The full three channel piece was exhibited in the 2016 Wisconsin Triennial.

I love all waste
And solitary places; where we taste
The pleasure of believing what we see
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be. . . 

     —Percey Bysshe Shelley

“My work deals with the power of ideas and ideals. It identifies our various understandings of the profound as ideals. As ideals they are necessarily unachievable. Never the less we continue to strive for experiences of the impossible profound—such concepts as The Sublime, The Divine, or True Love. For me there’s something tragic in this yearning for unpresentable concepts, maybe even pathetic, but there’s also something heroic in the fact that, in the face of inevitable failure, we continue to live our lives and build our worlds according to these ideals, we continue to believe. Time and again we return to a re-affirmation of the profound. The artist and the mountaineer and the lover all know this.

“I believe that the key to understanding the inevitable frustration of our impulse towards the profound is the essentially subjective nature of all experience, even the most apparently profound and absolute. This underlying subtext of an internalized world model leads me to create work that aspires to the condition of a perfect simulation, without fully achieving it—subtle clues as the synthetic nature of the final product must remain. In this I have found the computer to be a particularly appropriate tool for art making. My interest in digital media remains focused on its ever growing capabilities to simulate the world around us, not as it is—but as we wish it to be. The subsequent undermining of traditional concepts of the reality and reliability are at the center of my work.

“Ultimately, my work is designed to remind the viewer that she is in the presence of artifice—that this work is attempting to present something of a profound nature, but that it is failing because of its connections to the concrete. In this the viewer might recognize her own condition.”

Stephen holds an M.F.A from the University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA). He is a Professor of Digital Arts at the University of Wisconsin Madison where he specializes in teaching 3D digital modeling and animation. Hilyard creates artwork in a wide range of media both digital and traditional, and his work has been exhibited internationally, including galleries in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, Perth, Sydney and London. Stephen’s practice has been supported by grants and fellowships from The Huntington Library, The Harpo Foundation, The American Scandinavian Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Wisconsin Arts Board and the Minnesota State Arts Board.