Ann Hamilton is one of my favourite working artists today. Last week we made a special trip to Seattle to see her new work for The Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington. Titled ‘the common SENSE’, the exhibition begins with the taking of a folder. Within this folder we are asked to create our own collection of texts and quotes from the many spread throughout the museum allowing for a self curation of the show and the development of a personal narrative relationship to what has been shared. We are invited to collect and view, touch and refrain as we wander through the spaces and to watch as others do the same.
Drawing from the museum collections, Ann Hamilton has created a montage of objects which stand in glass vitrines, to accompany these, stacks of texts (which change each day) are available to be collected and organized as they create thematic connections between the spaces. The collecting of quotes is a process I use in my own art practice and I have known many others from artists to writers and musicians who do the same. This act, usually reserved for the notebook, becomes a performative act of assimilation into the exhibit.
In three of the gallery spaces a salon style installation of scanned images fills the room. The scans of stuffed animals from the museum collections, blur into an ambiguous background as the scanner shows detail only where feather or skin connected with the glass surface. Once again we are invited to take and rip from the wall the beautiful composition of images. Our own nature is put on view as we take from the images on the walls and the texts on the tables. What can we reach? How much will we collect? How will we rip? Do we want what we like or what is most rare? The ways in which we interact with the installations reveal our human nature. Will you stay or leave, hoard or pick, read or scan?
The work throughout the gallery documents the relationship between humanity and animals including the ways in which we have collected them as specimens and, in later rooms, how their bodies have provided us with warmth and sustenance and song. It is an exhibition of many layers, examining ourselves, our collecting, our relationship to the outdoors and our relationship to the gallery/museum. My own interests in reading and writing and how these relate to the visual narratives of our lives, were definitely engaged in this exhibition as they often are by Ann Hamilton’s work. I am still considering the relationship between collecting and giving that was central to the show and perhaps to any art or museum exhibit. Her work makes me jealous but also excited to be working at the intersection between text, place and the tactile. While we could have spent many more hours perusing this exhibition after two had passed by in a flash we exited the gallery. It was Easter weekend and the doors had to close but we were returned to a beautiful spring day in Seattle.