Xing Zhao, Finding Form in Architecture
Ann Hamilton’s site-responsive installation, as part of An Errant Line with Cynthia Schira, is conceived specifically for the Central Court, an area that occupies the physical and social focus of the Spencer Museum of Art. Large-scale images of 18th-century Italian presepio figures were printed on Japanese rice paper and affixed with magnets to line the walls. Coloration and other details of the figures were selectively overlooked by the scanner, leaving the resulting prints to be mainly black and white, with an unevenly pink background and small chunks of vivid green, red, yellow and blue dotted here and there. Faces are blurred while hand gestures become the most eye-catching parts.
Italians are famous for talking with their hands. They use hand gesture for emphasis in oral communication to lend expression the word alone lacks. As a result, the installation is soundless and loud at the same time.
Each presepio figure is spliced together from multiple sheets of paper, partly detached from the wall; figures are split in the middle horizontally, vertically, or both, which adds another layer of liveliness to the composition. The cross-bedded placement of the prints, the fading pink color on each piece, and the variation of frontal, profile and back postures of the figures work together to create a lively rhythm, as if the figures are spinning and moving along the wall like in a ballroom. The pink satin-covered Liszt piano and the reddish, rich-in-pattern Italian marble on the ground collectively reinforce the illusion of an ongoing ballroom party.
Ann Hamilton once said, “My work is not anything outside the architecture. It finds its form when it meets the architecture.” The architecture cannot be merely interpreted as the space. Rather, it is also the history, anthropology, and moving participants, all of which finalize the term “architecture” as it is used in Hamilton’s definition.
During the opening evening, when masses of viewers entered the Central Court to see the artwork, they fulfilled the function of the Museum for art viewing, vitalized that space as a locus for socializing and gathering, and joined the ballroom concert of the presepio figures. Therefore, the artwork was made complete, finding its form in the architecture.
Xing Zhao, History of Art graduate student, University of Kansas