Ann Hamilton

View of “a reading,” 2013–14.

In recent years, Ann Hamilton has created environmental installations at the Park Avenue Armory in New York and at the Pulitzer Foundation in Saint Louis. In a recent departure from her site-responsive practice, Hamilton organized “a reading,” a collection of objects and editions at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, Oregon, providing the occasion for a highly focused examination of her working methods, Conceptualism, and her unique approach to literature, language, space, and materials. The exhibition is on view until January 11, 2014.

I AM ALWAYS TRYING TO FIND A PROCESS, or a procedure, where the words and the experiences are mutual forms of making. This generates a space where I can lose myself—immerse myself in a process whose particularities are fully absorbing and matter completely, but can then fall away and not matter at all. This is the paradox, where particularity arrives in abstraction.

Words and materials: The two always exist in a felt relation to each other. They are two sides of the same coin. A word has its own particular feeling on the tongue. Like a line in a palm, it is its own experience. The difference between the tactile experience of words and the tactile experience of things like cloth and clay is a space we are always straddling. Listening is one kind of experience. Reading silently another. Reading alone or reading together, or reading out loud, yet another; or reading with a pencil in your hand. Seeing words on a page copied out by your own hand, still another.

When I first began reading and erasing in public, I perceived a huge gulf between a word and an experience. There was always this problem of “what” particular text in relation to “what” particular process or act of reading. I was interested—and still am—in material acts of reading, how conditions of space and time make different experiences possible. Over time, the selection of particular texts to copy, to sew in a cursive hand, or to read out loud has been increasingly important and a significant center in my work. Through words I am led to materials. Perhaps materializing acts of reading in the work is my way of making time and space dwell in a text. For instance, I run my fingers across the weave of a cloth, recognizing materials and material processes in which acts of reading might become acts of writing and forms of embodiment. These, in turn, might become words in hand.

Making is powerful. I learned this while watching my grandmother take a line of yarn and loop it up and around a needle, then pull it through another loop, and another loop, and then loop after loop to make, in time, a sweater, which not only made me feel beautiful, but also kept me warm. Later, when I was just entering high school and at a summer camp, I was given the choice to go on a directional hike with one camp leader or, with a different camp leader, to hike nondirectionally—to hike to “nowhere.” I didn’t realize then that this was as much a philosophical question as a practical choice. One hike would hurry us along a path. On the other we would wander the side paths, follow wherever our attentions might lead, perhaps never arriving, yet taking the chance or opening the possibility of finding something wholly unexpected and wondrous along our way. Making can be nondirectional—if you let it.