Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Ann Hamilton (American, b. 1956)

(linings · video), 1990

LCD monitor with color-toned image, 30-minute laser disk, and laser disc player

Installed: 3-1/2 x 4-1/2 in. (8.9 x 11.4 cm)

Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund; restricted gift of Susan and Lewis Manilow and Howard and Donna Stone

Ann Hamilton established her artistic career with labor-intensive, multidimensional installations that explore communication and perception as processes embodied in a kind of physical, body poetry. In her art Hamilton pursues a means to externalize what is felt and sensed, focusing on “the importance of the information that comes through our skin.” Hamilton transforms humble materials and imagery into metaphoric portrayals of experience, of attitudes toward existence. Her works ritualize mundane gestures, imagining simple objects and actions on an enormous scale, with an abundance of individual and communal labor.

Using the mechanism of one sense to trigger the perception of another, Hamilton shifts our registry of sense to unexpected parts of the body. Hamilton, who comes from a background in textiles and received her MFA in sculpture from Yale University in 1985, focuses largely on speech and the acts of speaking and hearing, transformed through often silent rituals into mute, poetic gestures.

Hamilton has increasingly interwoven moving images into her happenings, performance pieces, and process-oriented works. Linings, one of four small untitled videos—her first works relying exclusively on video—can be installed as a group or separately as individual works of art. Each monitor is set seamlessly into the wall (the compact mechanics are hidden within the wall). Each video displays a close-up, tightly cropped image loop of the artist rolling pebbles around in her mouth, allowing water to spill into (or out of) her mouth, onto her throat, and into her ear. Her simple, isolated gestures are repeated in a continuous loop. The four images focus on the points in the body where language is based, where speech is uttered and received. Rather than annihilating speech, Hamilton awakens our sensation of communication by means, paradoxically, of the sensuous, that is, tactile (often with erotic associations). Water, in the place of language, fills and spills from the cavities of sound, forming a presence sensed and experienced “through the skin.”