Carla Tilghman: A Chair?
The experience of Ann Hamilton’s exhibition at the Spencer Museum of Art isn’t what I expected it to be. I knew that Hamilton’s work would focus on the Central Court, and I assumed that as an installation artist she would chose to fill, intrude, invade, and engage the heart of the Museum in an overt and physical way. She didn’t. When I saw the installation, I found that she had not filled the interior space of the Museum with objects. Instead she merely covered the walls with large two-dimensional prints, scans of three-dimensional figures. Nevertheless, the onslaught of implied interactions and crisscrossing gazes of these flat figures, as choreographed in the prints and their arrangement, do invade and engage the space of the Central Court. It becomes filled with the anticipation of gesture, the word not yet spoken, the memory not yet formed and the ghosts of the scanned figures.
The larger-than-life scans of the presepio figures emphasize their faces, hands and details of their clothing. The smokiness and blurring produced by using an obsolete scanner adds to the sense that these figures are only partially present. They seem to float just outside of clarity, having their own conversations, whispering across the often empty space of the Central Court, recounting stories we can only imagine.
And yet, as intriguing as I found the experience that Hamilton orchestrated, I felt ever so slightly disappointed in a way that Hamilton couldn’t have anticipated. I’ve lived in Lawrence for a long time and have spent years going to the Spencer. I remember the decade of the 90s when the Central Court was used only for receptions, not exhibitions. The walls were often blank or only minimally decorated, the space activated only during openings. Hamilton’s installation is reminiscent of those empty moments. The cloth surrounding the piano silences it; the whispering of the presepio figures is almost too quiet to hear, and they cling to and almost disappear into the walls.
I don’t want to stand and talk with the presepio figures; I want to sit comfortably for long periods contemplating them. I want to spend time with their whisperings and decipher all the details of their dress. Hamilton has created an exhibition that demands time for exploration. I’d like an armchair in which to do that.
Carla Tilghman, American Studies graduate student, University of Kansas