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Indepth Arts News:

"Largest Gallery to Re-Open with an Installation by Ann Hamilton"
2003-12-13 until 2004-10-31
North Adams, MA, USA United States of America

MASS MoCA will open a new work commissioned from one of the world’s great installation artists for one of its most dramatic installation spaces. Ann Hamilton’s corpus will be on view through October 2004. Rather than fill the football field-sized Building 5 gallery with objects—as Robert Rauschenberg, Tim Hawkinson, and Robert Wilson did in previous installations within the same space—Hamilton will animate the volume of the space with sound, light, and millions of sheets of paper that will fall from the ceiling over the course of the ten-month installation.

“Ann is probably the best known maker of site-specific installations in this country, if not the world,” said Joseph Thompson, Director of MASS MoCA. “Being in one of her evocative installations engages all the senses: they are experiential, immersive, kinesthetic, and, in this case, grand, liturgical without liturgy.”

Hamilton will engage the space by introducing three kinds of elements into the main gallery, one of three, in Building 5. First, in the rafters high above the gallery floor, she will place forty pneumatic mechanisms that lift and release single sheets of translucent onionskin paper. The machines will move at the pace of breathing, inhaling to pick up the paper from a stack, exhaling to drop it. With the passage of time, the paper will accumulate in piles on the floor. Secondly, twenty-four large horn-shaped speakers will slowly descend and ascend from the rafters to meet the papers on the floor. One voice will be present in each of the downward facing speakers, and the twenty-four voices will often speak in unison. As the speakers lower into the gallery, they will form a central aisle that disappears as they move upward. Finally, every pane of glass in the gallery’s several hundred windows will be covered with red or magenta silk organza. The light filtering through these windows will provide the only illumination in the space, suffusing it in color. The combination of the light filtering through the windows, the implied aisle in the long nave-like gallery, and the voices speaking together will begin to suggest the intense, almost otherworldly experience of being in a great cathedral.

Beyond the long gallery with its many crimson windows, Hamilton will install four spinning speakers in a dark square gallery. These speakers, emitting the sounds of calling voices, spin in different directions and speeds in circles above the gallery visitor’s head. These breathing sounds were originally created by Meredith Monk for the performance mercy, a collaboration with Hamilton in 2002. Upstairs from this space, in a gallery with a balcony that overlooks the long gallery, Hamilton will place thirty handsome heavy benches made from wooden beams like those in Building 5’s rafters. In fact, the beams were harvested from the building when a floor was removed to create the long double-height gallery. Aligned like pews, the benches will surround a spinning video projector hung from the ceiling in the center of the room. The video image of a line of text unfolding at the pace of reading will scroll over the gallery’s three walls and then pass over the top of the balcony, emitting a beam of light into the large room beyond it.

Throughout the entire installation, Hamilton makes direct and veiled references to language and the body, beginning with the title, corpus, which denotes both a body of text and physical body. With characteristic deftness and subtlety, Hamilton explores the sensual acts of speaking, hearing, writing, and reading.

Ann Hamilton is a visual artist whose multimedia installations have won her wide attention and critical acclaim. She is known for creating temporal environments that are rich in accumulated materials and innumerable traces of the hand. She represented the United States in the 1991 Sao Paulo Bienal and the 1999 Venice Biennale, and has exhibited extensively in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. Her major museum installations include The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1988); The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. (1991); Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1993); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1994); The Tate Gallery, Liverpool (1994); The Art Institute of Chicago (1995); The Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (1996); and The Musee d'art Contemporain in Lyon, France (1997).

Each of Hamilton's installation works is responsive to a particular architectural space, and each requires a performance from the artist and the audience. But whether virtually clearing a space of everything but its own and the viewer's presence or working with a host of media that may include video, audio, photographs, sculptures, live performers, animals, and plants, Hamilton's poetic installations offer tangible, poetic correlatives to a site. Her sensory environments are a duration, a process, and an accumulation of presences. With each, Hamilton invites viewers to actively experience those moments when knowledge is absorbed, particular moments are felt, and collective memories are retrieved. 

Ann Hamilton was born in Lima, Ohio, in 1956. She earned a BFA in textile design from the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and an MFA in sculpture from the Yale School of Art in 1985. In 1993, Hamilton was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship as well as an NEA Visual Arts Fellowship. She also was the recipient of the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture, the College Art Association's Artists Award (both 1992), and had earlier received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award and a Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. 

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