Friday, September 11, 2009

Image and Text: Ann Hamilton

The following text is directly from the transcript of an interview I did with Ann Hamilton in the Spring of 2005. It was from a series of phone interviews I conducted with Leonid Lerman, Ann Hamilton, Scott Adams and Jerry Martin on the Relationship of Image and Text.

Ann Hamilton creates large scale multi-media installations and is based in Ohio. Her initial response here is to the question "What is the relationship of image and text."

Well that sounds like a twenty-year question. I mean, I have continued to work with text and image work, and I probably will. You know, I don’t think I am done at all. It's like probably just phenomenologically and the sense that I am really interested in how we know things through and inherit language and other somatic kind of experiences and the joint between those, the way we privilege one over the other, the possibility of language becoming tactilized. All of those things continue to be probably like one of the main underlinements a lot of...a lot of the work.

So, you know that early piece at DIA (Beacon) called Tropos, which is a biological term, but which means to turn toward light, like a plant turning towards light, having a strong internal response to an external stimuli...I really thought of also as related to the efforts to language one's experience to bring words which might generate response to the outside but come from the inside and extend out. And so there were two ways in which language was present in the material kind of expanse of that piece.

There was someone sitting with a hot wood-burning stylus and so as they read the book at the table they would singe it and that would in some ways obliterate it but not totally. It would transform it, which was something that became interesting to me; in that the book now holds the trace of the individual reader: everybody's hand was very different and everybody had their own books to read. Also, the printed text became smoke. It was reabsorbed by the material of the hair, which formed the ground of the piece. So there was this whole, kind of, you know, material state of change. And then also at around the perimeter there was someone speaking. And I worked with a man who had ectasia, an actor who had had a stroke. And we made a recording and I asked him to read several texts but what became more present was not the text but actually the efforts to come to speech, because while he could read the text it wasn’t necessarily what came out of his mouth. And so, the piece was all structured around that kind of liminal edge between language and not language, between language and material.

I was very interested in thinking about the origins of the alphabet and I was reading some things about that and thinking about oral space in relationship to written space. And I think that I was thinking about how an alphabet, which is all made up of standard parts, right?..A, B, C, D...and that in relationship to the...kind of nonrepeatable, idiosyncratic individual forms of each of those pebbles. Well, I mean oral space isn’t material space in the same way. You know, I think something that’s written, it's like, has an incessant horizontality. We, at least in the alphabet that we use, inherit always in a linear thing and the thing about spoken words is that they are spatial and they disappear unless they are recorded, obviously. But the...I guess the fixedness of the printed word creates a very, and the linearity of it, create a very particular circumstance for our perception. You know the, would you say the tyranny of the line?...I don't know. And, I think part of the interest in orality's impossible now for us historically to really imagine a culture that doesn't inherit a written form. But it's really interesting to think about a time when all things were remembered orally and it was in theirrepetition. And I think the...the kind of things I've been interested in, partly is the way perhaps, oral…the repetition of something oral, embeds itself or embodies itself in your experience in a way that is very different than something that's read. You know, like it's, it's embedded physically perhaps in a different way.

I think part of the attraction to oral space is that if it's live contingent, unfolding in the presentness-quality. You know, most recently in a lot of the work that I have been doing, is I've been doing things where the recorded sounds actually moves physically through the space in relationship to you also moving. I am doing a series of spinning speakers where, probably I am going to do another project with Meredith Monk and…I am really interested in how with one voice on, each of these speakers that spin like tether balls around you, you have a spatial...the work is spatialized in a different's very different than like surround sound. Sound goes in you in a way that something written doesn't. I mean, I think that we do not have, we don’t put up perceptual borders to sound in the same way.