Reading Ann Hamilton
The Event of a Thread, 2012
How can the internal and autonomous act of reading be materialized? This is a question explored by Ann Hamilton in several of her works throughout her career. Hamilton strives to translate the practice of reading into a multi-sensory experience for the viewer, and she accomplishes this in many different ways.
For instance, in her installation work entitled tropos, 1993, a person burned text from a book line by line. The attendant read each line of the book before permanently erasing it, which signified the literal absorption of the written material. Hamilton often physically alters books in her works that explore the phenomenology of reading in order to emphasize the tactility of books and call attention to the process of reading.
In The Event of a Thread, 2012, Hamilton incorporated a set of readers who read into a microphone texts, written out onto scrolled paper, written by authors including Aristotle, Charles Darwin, and Ann Lauterbach. Hamilton discussed her inclusion of the readers: “Suspended in the liquidity of words, reading also sets us in motion….The rhythm and breath of someone reading out loud takes us to a world far away.” This incorporation of a live reader brings an audible and physical quality to the experience of reading.
Hamilton’s figura at the Spencer Museum of Art may not explicitly be about the process of reading but still addresses that cognitive process indirectly. Hamilton used a scanner to create the large-scale digital images of presepio dolls located in the Central Court. The scanner “read” the dolls’ intricate clothing and gestural poses to create the ghostlike final product. As one can see, Hamilton considers multiple aspects concerning the phenomena of reading and creates tangible works concerning the intangible concept of reading.
Lauren Miller is a graduate student in art history at the University of Kansas.