The show’s title, a reading
, aptly describes this grouping of Ann Hamilton
’s object and video works from a practice of over 20 years engaging with the relationship between reading and writing, text and textile. Video, works on paper and sculptural objects in the exhibition demonstrate Hamilton’s interest in the visual and tactile experiences of written language. For Hamilton, we each read in an individual manner; we trace a unique line through the text that is individual, subjective, and for Hamilton, an act of drawing.
Elements from Hamilton’s large-scale, ephemeral installations often take new form as objects, prints, or video. Likewise, when the work originates as a standalone object, it is not uncommon for her to assimilate and amplify its presence into the installation practice. Several works in a reading
are evidence of this reciprocal process. For example, the book fragments seen throughout were first used in human carriage
, a commissioned installation for the 2009 exhibition The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia: 1860 - 1989
at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. A wheeled carriage housing two Tibetan cymbal bells rang intermittently through the space as it spiraled down the rotunda’s parapet walls. Upon reaching its terminus, the bell carriage triggered the drop of a bundle of reconstructed books acting as conceptual counterweights in a system exchanging weight for weightlessness, and sound for the silence of reading. By guillotining and then recombining books from multiple volumes, physical alignments were made between disparate texts to demonstrate the possibilities for meanings that can occur when a work in translation circulates within a culture far from its origin.
As the book weights were packed for shipment to the museum, they were scanned as a method for recording the inventory. A new body of work emerged as an edition of archival pigment prints published with Carl Solway Gallery. Also related to the human carriage
installation is carriage, constructed from book fragments to create a circular collar-like form of Elizabethan proportions.
pairs artifacts from human carriage and Hamilton’s 2010 installation stylus
at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, where multiple paper hands were available for visitors to wear. The hand figures prominently in Hamilton’s work: the hand that draws or makes, the hand that creates sound, the hand that reaches. Here a singular hand and a book weight come together. According to Hamilton, “the hollowness of the shell [of the hand], the implied hand’s rustle and motion, contrasts the silence and solidity in the strata of multiple texts that form each book weight. The hand’s reach connects us to what is near while the book’s conjoined texts transport us to the far away. Lightness hangs side by side weight. Gesture side by side stasis.”
Where the paper hand’s motion must be imagined in near-away
, two video works by Hamilton show it embodied and active. In clapclap
, a figure wears roughly made and slightly stiff papier-mâché hands like ill-fitting gloves. Split vertically between two screens, each arm swings in an awkward and unsynchronized attempt to clap across the divide of the screens’ edges. In the two-channel video piece follow
, 2011, a similar paper hand creates charcoal circles in a continuous loop. Hamilton states: “Drawn, sewn, or written, a line contains all the attention present in its moment of making, the rhythms of breath and body, the weather of hesitations and the stutter of the hand orbiting in the body’s immediate periphery. Folded, cut, or accreted, the line’s incessant horizontality returns to itself and takes a circular form. It is simple work; it requires the body to be slow.”
The print series ELOCUTION
was created when Hamilton served as the inaugural Arthur L. and Sheila Prensky Visiting Artist to Island Press at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis. She worked with students in the printmaking department to explore processes through which acts of silent and aloud reading become acts of writing and drawing. The essay Circles by Ralph Waldo Emerson structured the workshop. Students worked with selected fragments and singular words to reorder their sound and sense. The essay was spoken in alphabetical order and selected fragments were crossed back through the narrative body of the essay, weaving together making, drawing, and reading aloud. Inspired by circular diagrams from the 1912 publication by Frank Honeywell Fenno on the science of speech, the students, and then later Hamilton’s studio assistants, worked with the word lists from these exercises to generate personal drawings and diagrams. The multiple hands and voices that participated in the work register in individual impressions and through overprinting, echoing in cloud-like formations the sounds of their process.
Concordances figure prominently throughout a reading
, taking form as scrolls, newspapers, and video. Hamilton’s adaptation of the concordance form crosses a central spine of words with the horizontal lines of contextual source texts. For example, the scrolls from the event of a thread
draw from the literary writings of William James and Aristotle, while the newspapers from stylus
recontextualize digital news feeds from international English language publications. In the video form, the intimacy of reading the concordances is made visible through Hamilton’s trademark technique of recording word-by-word movement through the text with a handheld miniature surveillance camera. The footage is shown as a stream of video (I O
, 2011), and sometimes arrested, enlarged and printed as single frames (MIND
, 2013). Line by line, the concordance process and its reading is as much an act of finding as one of composition.
Ann Hamilton was born in 1956 in Lima, Ohio. She trained in textile design at the University of Kansas, and later received an MFA from Yale University. Among her honors, Hamilton has been the recipient of the 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 has represented the United States in the 1991 Sao Paulo Bienal, the 1999 Venice Biennale, and has exhibited extensively around the world. Her major museum installations include Park Avenue Armory (New York, NY), The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts (St. Louis, MO), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY), Contemporary Art Museum (Kumamoto, Japan), Historiska Museet (Stockholm, Sweden), MASS MoCA, (North Adams, MA), and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington D.C.), among many others.