Ann Hamilton (American, b. 1956)
(aleph · video), 1992
Installed: 3-1/2 x 4-1/2 in. (8.9 x 11.4 cm)
Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund; restricted gift of Susan and Lewis Manilow and Howard and Donna Stone
Ann Hamilton, who represented the US at the Venice Biennale in 1999, established her artistic career with labor-intensive, multidimensional installations that explore communication and perception as processes embodied in a kind of physical, body poetry. She pursues a means to externalize what is felt and sensed in her art, focusing on “the importance of the information that comes through our skin.” Hamilton transforms humble materials and imagery into metaphoric portrayals of experience, of attitudes toward existence. Her works ritualize mundane gestures, imagining simple objects and actions on an enormous scale, with an abundance of individual and communal labor.
Using the mechanism of one sense to trigger the perception of another, Hamilton shifts our registry of sense to unexpected parts of the body. Hamilton, who comes from a background in textiles and received her MFA in sculpture from Yale University in 1985, focuses largely on speech and the acts of speaking and hearing, often transformed through silent rituals into mute, poetic gestures. In her 1991 installation malediction, the artist sat at a refectory table each day over the course of two weeks, filling her mouth with mounds of raw bread dough to make molds of the hollow cavity of her mouth, as if giving form to her muted speech. In tropos (1993), a year-long installation at the DIA Foundation in New York, the act of walking through the large exhibition space offered a surprising and poetic excursion through the realm of the senses.
Hamilton has increasingly interwoven moving images into her happenings, performance pieces, and process-oriented works. These four small, untitled videos—her first works relying exclusively on video—can be installed as a group or separately as individual works of art. Each monitor is set seamlessly into the wall (the compact mechanics are hidden within the wall). Each video displays a close-up, tightly cropped image loop of the artist rolling pebbles around in her mouth, allowing water to spill into (or out of) her mouth, onto her throat, and into her ear. Her simple, isolated gestures are repeated in a continuous loop. The four images focus on the points in the body where language is based, where speech is uttered and received. In (aleph · video) (1992/93) the mouth endlessly rolls around its capacity of small round stones, denying the possibility of speech. Yet, as in malediction, speech is re-formed, imagined anew having texture, weight, and is capable of movement. Rather than annihilating speech, Hamilton awakens our sensation of communication by means, paradoxically, of the sensuous, that is, tactile (often with erotic associations). Water, in the place of language, fills and spills from the cavities of sound, forming a presence sensed and experienced “through the skin.”