Ann Hamilton at Gemini G.E.L.
By Shana Nys Dambrot
July 10 – September 19, 2017* (see note at the end about dates)
Qualities of tactility and physicality are not typically primary in considering print editions. But in ways both literal and illusionistic, that is exactly what’s called for — both in imagery and objecthood — in new works by Ann Hamilton made in collaboration Gemini G.E.L., where they are currently on exhibition. Highlighting their printmaking processes to the point of narrative, each of the three very different series has a unique way of privileging materiality, while also remaining assertive in aspects of content and meaning.
A suite of large works, some single-panel and some four-panel, present like ghostly vintage portraits, memento mori of the animal world. With visual profiles of glimmering daguerreotypes and auric rayograms, these images result from photo-scanning taxidermy critters. The way scanners work means only what is touching the glass is captured in focus, creating layers in an epic depth of field so evocative as to approach trompe l’oeil. Enlarged and close-up, detail-rich swaths of feather and fur not only appear touchable but fairly beckon the outstretched hand. The feathers look absolutely painterly, the fur exudes a tickle, and don’t even get me started on the poignant adorability of tiny paws that appear outstretched in prayer. The emotional impact of the work, which is considerable, takes its time to unfurl. One first notices a quiet beauty, gets lured in close by the proliferation of convincing textures, and finally understands the poetic mortality of the animals’ bodies.
The series is related to a 2014-15 University of Washington Henry Art Gallery show during which Hamilton had a fellowship that came with access to the natural history museum and special library collection archives — including among much else, animal specimens. Issues of preservation, replication, and what it means to be lifelike result in a kind of interpretive, allegorical zoology. The enterprise flirts with a surreal hyperreality, but defaults to embracing the artifice of the project, not unlike taxidermy itself. In all of this the subtly visceral power of these regal, melancholy images offers a perfect platform for existential contemplation, as well as a more conceptual exposition of the relationship of image to object inside the picture plane.
Hamilton saw them framed so as to highlight the heft and natural lay of the paper, which is to say, floated inside the frames, only tacking down the top edge so that the bottom has a slight flirtatious curl at its edge. This is especially apparent in the four-panel composite works, where the central intersection casts a full on shadow and forms a white cross within the boundaries of the overall picture. Each image is done in two versions — a cool blue and a warm sepia. Noticing the differences which that shift enacts upon the effect of the imagery is one more way in which one’s attention is captured and contemplation extended.
Another completely different series comprises about 20 works in a collection of unique cloth and word collages on book endpapers. All are about 9 x 11 inches, aka book size, reinforcing how collage in general is inherently physical and dependent on existing materials. There is an echo of the taxidermy work’s allegory of death and preservation, archive and artistry, myth and mystery. Discarded books live again with new messages and new fields of pictures and letters, patterns and textures; repurposed without losing component materiality.
Three new blind-embossment etchings also offer text and texture, in yet another unique configuration, conceptually and stylistically. Organizing salient texts on human and animal rights and consciousness according to a typographical configuration known as concordance, Hamilton creates spinal word clouds embossed to a degree of bas relief and animated by the gesturality of hand-applied ink. Elements of physicality and tactility are even more inherent in the process than was true in the screenprints. These works retain the object quality of typewritten pages, making their messages feel declarative, even as they whisper you in to get a much closer look. Hamilton has a history with making words into objects, expanding all the way into pavilion-scale sculptural installations. These are far more intimate. It requires one’s full attention to absorb the philosophical meaning anchored in the self-expression of ink and paper.
*DATES: Basically, the show is in both exhibition spaces at Gemini. The new animal prints are downstairs and then new books and words prints are upstairs in the Gehry annex. The show upstairs comes down August 18-27 while they have the staff show, “Moonlighting,” but the Hamiltons downstairs remain on view. After the staff show, the upstairs Hamilton works will get reinstalled and the entire Hamilton show as it is now will live again in its original form until Sept 19.*