Ann Hamilton: Sense
Ann Hamilton refers to herself as a “maker” rather than an artist. Sense (Radius Books) reflects her maker instincts by presenting a collection of assembled materials that beckons the viewer to consider the fundamental act of creating and making of art.
Hamilton grew up in the midwestern United States and developed an early interest in textiles by spending time with her grandmother who engaged in knitting and needlepoint. She received a BFA in textile design from the University of Kansas, and later received an MFA in sculpture from Yale University. She is known for her large-scale site-specific installations, working across multiple platforms including multimedia installations, public projects and performance collaborations to produce sense intensive pieces, and engaging viewers on several levels.
The visual elements presented within the book Sense include fragments of images and texts, scans of textiles, leaves and birds, and photographs of people from her series ONEEVERYONE. When combined in this book, she offers connections between text and textile, language and experience. Sense, a collage of metaphors within the pages, traverses the senses and alludes to memories of time, smell, sound, and touch.
Linda Alterwitz: Sense speaks about the object of the book. Within are varying shapes of the paper with images of static objects, triggering within me memories of sensory experiences. Can you tell us more about this quiet complexity?
Ann Hamilton: David Chickey is really the genius on this. His understanding of book structure, paper, printing and binding process made this folding together possible. With binding different page sizes and paper weights came the possibility for a shift in scale, for one image to literally hold or lay over another and in this to contain within the book codex shifting relationships and interrupted rhythms. Not just “this” on one side to “that” on the other, but this and or this and that and or ……
Working in the studio with a library of images accreted from different project processes I was interested in how an image becomes a felt thing – has an object quality and isn’t just a digital reproduction of the original. In general, we found that if an image has gone through three physical transformations – of paper surface of scale, of texture, if it is scanned and re-scanned and then photographed again something happens – it does become a thing, like a book, in hand and those explorations are what made it.
LA: Sense, a hand-held publication, can be experienced over and over as opposed to a visit to one of your site-specific installations. Can you expand upon these two very different experiences?
AH: Both are immersive – one falls into a book – into the world between its covers – just as one enters the surround and atmosphere of an installation. One is portable and can be returned to the other can only be reanimated by photographs and memory so for me a book survives what an installation cannot. An installation depends upon an architecture to find its form and while many of my installations have in one form or another included books, a book is an object independent of a specific space. I think of a book as a democratic object. It can circulate by hand – find its way into new hands, shelves, tables, can and does connect the far away to the near and proximate. It has an intimacy that is visual and tactile and while very different from the materialities of an installation they share duration. This book of images and words, found and made, invites you to read forward and backwards, to linger, to determine your own time of attention. It proceeds at the pace of the eye and hand. Moving at the pace of the body walking, an installation similarly invites you to follow the time of your own attention and in this sense, both differ from film and theatre where – often seated – an experience unfolds in front of you. In both a book and an installation your motion and attention are part of figuring and forming the work.
Ann Hamilton has, throughout her practice, used videos and still images as part of her larger installation works, though they have rarely been the singular focus of a project. This publication brings together vocabulary from four bodies of image-based work produced over the last five years and includes photographic portraits as well as lens-less contact scans of ornithological taxidermy, fabrics and garments, and objects from various personal and institutional collections. Reprocessed through multiple printings on tissue Gampi and newsprint, the images emphasize the tactile nature of their substrate and Hamilton’s material hand. The work’s physical presence is reinforced by the textured surface of the book’s pages and scale shifts. This volume thus becomes an art object of its own; repetition, the atmospheric nature of the images’ shallow depths of field, and the intuitive connections made between different bodies of work create an almost film-like cadence that renders the felt qualities of touch.
In a time when successive generations of technology amplify human presence at distances far greater than the reach of the hand, what becomes the place and form of making at the scale and pace of the individual body? How does making participate in the recuperation and recognition of embodied knowledge? What are the places and forms for live, tactile, visceral, face-to-face experiences in a media saturated world? These concerns have animated the site responsive installations that have formed the bulk of Hamilton’s practice over the last 20 years. But where the relations of cloth, sound, touch, motion and human gesture once gave way to dense materiality, Hamilton’s work now focuses on the less material acts of reading, speaking and listening. The influence of collaborative processes in ever more complex architectures has shifted her forms of making, wherein the movement of the viewer in time and in space now becomes a central figure of the work.
Born in Lima, Ohio, in 1956, Ann Hamilton received a BFA in textile design from the University of Kansas in 1979 and an MFA in sculpture from the Yale School of Art in 1985. From 1985 to 1991, she taught on the faculty of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Hamilton has served on the faculty of The Ohio State University since 2001, where she is a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Art.
Among her many honors, Hamilton has been the recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, Heinz Award, MacArthur Fellowship, United States Artists Fellowship, NEA Visual Arts Fellowship, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture, and the Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. She represented the United States in the 1991 Sao Paulo Bienal, the 1999 Venice Biennale, and has exhibited extensively around the world. Her major commissions include projects for Waterfront Seattle (upcoming); Park Avenue Armory (2013); The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St. Louis (2010); The Guggenheim Museum, New York (2009); Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto, Japan (2006); La Maison Rouge Fondation de Antoine Galbert, Paris, France (2005); Historiska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2004); MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts (2003); The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. (2003, 1991); The Wanas Foundation, Knislinge, Sweden (2002); Akira Ikeda Gallery, Taura, Japan (2001); The Musee d’art Contemporain, Lyon, France (1997); The Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (1996); The Art Institute of Chicago (1995); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1994); The Tate Gallery, Liverpool (1994); Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1993); The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1988).
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