Wall rubbing from Han-dynasty shrine
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