The works of Ann Hamilton often employ technological elements to isolate essential “gestures” of communication through sound, video, and digital images. This scanner’s specific software and contact image sensor (CIS) technology, developed in the 1990s, played an essential role in Hamilton’s decision to generate the ghostly images of the presepio dolls for Figura, on view in the Central Court. CIS devices produce lower quality images with a limited depth of field due to lower power consumption and LED lighting. In comparison to older, tri-linear charge-coupled device (CCD) devices, this CIS device brings into focus the points of contact for 3-D objects, while leaving the background blurry and indistinct. As a result of this property, Hamilton’s scans of the presepio dolls isolate their communicative gestures.
The scanner’s presence in the teaching gallery raises other questions about the relationship among three entities: contemporary artists who incorporate technological elements; the technologies which support these elements; and museums. Should technology, which will eventually become outdated like the CCD devices which preceded the scanner present here, be accessioned or conserved by museums as integral parts of the artworks that depend on them? Andrea Pitt, History of Art graduate student
“Artist-Museum Collaboration” Class, Fall 2012 & Spring 2013 (Nici Ashner, Rebecca Blocksome, Andrew Boyd, Grace Chin, Raechel Cook, Katy Darr, Michele de Chadenedes, Rena Detrixhe, Kelly Ghahramani, Bridgett Harvey, Whitney Mahoney, Johanna Mehl, Josh Meier, Pearl O’Brien, Sarah Travis, Kristen Watson, Anna Youngyeun)
Do these hands look familiar? They are from a project to catalogue through photography all the hands from artwork in Spencer’s permanent collection on view during the fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters. Assembled here as a book, the images offer new perspectives on selected pieces of art by focusing on gesture and the language of the hand.
The book’s title, Handbook, alludes to reference works small enough to be held in the hand that museums often publish of their collections.
Handbook is one of a variety of independent and collaborative research projects undertaken by KU students who helped artists Ann Hamilton and Cynthia Schira explore overarching themes they were considering as they prepared for An Errant Line. The students were enrolled in a special topics course in the Visual Art Department titled “Artist-Museum Collaboration,” taught by Mary Anne Jordan, professor of textiles.
Raechel Cook, Visual Art graduate student
“Artist-Museum Collaboration” Class, Fall 2012 (Nici Ashner, Rebecca Blocksome, Andrew Boyd, Grace Chin, Raechel Cook, Katy Darr, Rena Detrixhe, Bridgett Harvey, Whitney Mahoney, Johanna Mehl, Josh Meier, Pearl O’Brien, Anna Youngyeun)
Coverings serve many purposes: they provide warmth, protection, concealment, even decoration. In the museum context, thousands of objects are carefully covered in archival material and tucked away in storage for safe-keeping until they are brought out for exhibition. Ann Hamilton and Cynthia Schira began their research for An Errant Line by mining the Spencer Museum of Art’s expansive and diverse collection of art, craft, and anthropological objects. In doing so, they became intimately acquainted with the inner-workings of museum storage, which led them to explore how museum objects are subject to a continual process of ‘concealing and revealing.’
As part of the research for An Errant Line, students in Mary Anne Jordan’s special topics course were encouraged to explore the concept of ‘concealing and revealing’ by covering objects of their choice. The playful curiosity in each student response brings attention to both the covering and what might lie within. This book represents some of the student projects, which ranged from a gold-leafed version of the Cheez-it snack cracker to a classical sculpture clad in crushed velvet.
Rena Detrixhe, Visual Art undergraduate student
Rubbing from the Wu Family Shrines, South Wall
China, Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)
ink on paper, rubbing produced early 1900s
Gift of Mr. Laurence Sickman, 1981.0007.07
Ann Hamilton regards herself as a reader of architecture. The participatory roles of her audiences are often involved with reading either directly from texts or indirectly from visual representations. The stone engravings on inner walls of the funerary shrine of the Confucian scholar Wu Liang, created in AD 151, are a multi-sectioned and multi-layered message to read. The pictorial representations were to remind people of the ancient sages of Confucian morality, the basic code of conduct during Han; the images of Dong Wanggong and Xi Wangmu embodied people’s dreams of immortality.
The images on paper were originally on the walls, which turned the architecture into an information-carrying medium. According to Ann Hamilton, architecture is the skin of her site-responsive installation art and skin is the organ used to communicate with the outside world. Storytelling engraved on the wall in Wu Family Shrine is then like the skin sensing the outside world and bringing the senses to the inner body – the site-responsive artwork.
This ink rubbing turns specific but private communication between a functioning shrine and its worshippers into a functionless image for audiences freed of that time, geography, and purpose. In this way, the early 20th-century rubbing made in China functions as the prints of the presepio figures do for those viewing Hamilton’s artwork. Created to tell stories to 18th century Italians, the presepio figures are now decontextualized: they are collected by a museum at the University of Kansas and scanned into two dimensions, receiving a readership who is expecting something other than the original stories told by the figures.
Xing Zhao, History of Art graduate student
Artist unknown (United States)
Valentine card, mid-late 1800s
perforated paper, embossing, lithograph, hand coloring
William Bridges Thayer Memorial, 1928.7111
This Valentine card was once intended as an intimate show of affection between two individuals, but these emotions are now mediated through the lens of a museum collection and lend themselves more readily for appreciation of their aesthetic and nostalgic qualities. This process by which museums transform objects is a theme of An Errant Line.
The celebration of St. Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday goes back to the medieval period. It was believed that this was the day that the birds began to mate and thus an auspicious day to choose a romantic partner.
The popularity of sending Valentine cards, written on plain paper, began in the 18th century. In the 1820s in Britain and the United States paper made specifically for Valentine cards began to be produced. By the 1840s the commercially produced Valentine card had become popular.
The Valentine card on display is typical of the mass produced cards of the mid-19th century. The cards were generally made of flat paper sheets with embossed borders, and would contain a printed illustration.
Joshua Daul is a History of Art graduate student at the University of Kansas.
Lewis Wickes Hine
born Oshkosh, Wisconsin; died Hastings-on-Hudson, New York
Young Girl in Textile Factory, 1910
gelatin silver print
Museum purchase, 1971.0010
Hine’s invocation of the monumentality of early 20th-century textile production helps to highlight traits of Schira’s and Hamilton’s works in An Errant Thread. Both artists’ installations emphasize the materiality and tactility inherent in their media: computer-woven Jacquard cloth, for Schira, and Japanese Gampi paper and cheesecloth, for Hamilton. While different in material, Schira’s and Hamilton’s respective works explore the nature of cloth on an architectural scale. Schira’s installation features freely hanging monumental black-and-white woven panels that viewers can experience from multiple perspectives. Hamilton’s installation features large-scale images printed on Japanese Gampi paper and cheesecloth, which create a textural effect emphasizing tactility.
Lauren Miller studies History of Art as a graduate student at the University of Kansas.
Louis Comfort Tiffany
born New York, New York; died New York, New York
Anonymous gift, 1991.0022
This bowl and Ann Hamilton’s prints of the Spencer’s presepio figures imitate beautifully rendered textures but ultimately present an artifice. The colors on the rim of this Favrile glass bowl appear fractured as if covered by a hardened glaze that has small vertical cracks due to aging. But the glass bowl displays an illusion; the surface is smooth and the visual effect of the rim is caused entirely by the bowl’s iridescent color. A similar perceived texture is found in Hamilton’s printed scans of the presepio figures: while blurred in some areas, in other areas the images are hyper- illusionistic, displaying fully the physical texture of the materials from which the dolls and their clothing are made. Laura Minton is a History of Art graduate student at the University of Kansas.