New York

Amy Hauft

Berland Hall

Over the past few years Amy Hauft has used architectural systems, maps, and time lines to examine humanity’s attempts to order and name a world we poorly understand. While in one piece Hauft investigated Southern California water politics, and in another she installed a carpet of sod in a Brooklyn gallery, her concern is not so much ecological as epistemological or even psychological. She asks what our ways of mapping say not only about what we know but about what we want to know. You Are Here, 1990, grappled with the inconceivably short time span of humankind’s stay on earth in relation to geological history. A collection of clocks, showing the different times in various cities around the globe at a given instant, jarred most people’s commonsense notions of “now.” In You Are Here, the title directly engaged the viewer’s position in relation to the cosmos.

In more recent installations Hauft used herself as the measure of all things. Last year at Berland Hall she marked the gallery wall with her own annual growth in height and paired these measurements with a time line of historical events; in the recent installation, entitled If this is true, 1991, she listed the names of everyone she ever met (as recollected without the aid of diaries or other documents) in chronological order, at her eye level, around the room. The names were then ingeniously entered in limited-edition Rolodexes and card-file boxes, which will perpetuate the project after the installation is dismantled. The sparse entries of the early years (“1958: Mom, Dad, Aunt Thelma; 1959: Bob”) soon gave way to catalogues of first names and the occasional “Mr.” and “Mrs.”

Hauft’s intriguing feat provoked all kinds of speculations about her life, while in fact revealing nothing about the names listed or the nature of Hauft’s relationship to them. We knew only when they met and not, for instance, whether they were mere passing acquaintances or lifelong fixtures in the artist’s life, or whether the encounters were positive or negative, stressful or stimulating. Then, of course, there was the irresistible temptation to start playing such games with one’s own past—dredging up long-forgotten names and perhaps comparing quantities with Hauft’s rather modest catalogue. Consistent with her earlier projects, the artist here employed chronology and quantification in order to point out the absurd inadequacy of such devices in dealing with the complexities of a life full of dynamic interactions.

A second aspect of the project, which addressed the architecture of the space, meshes poorly with the first. After inscribing the names in pencil directly on the walls, Hauft covered the surfaces with pale yellow architectural tracing paper. The loosely hung sheets billowed in places, obliterating names and suggesting lapses in memory. But Hauft then wandered off on a different tack, drawing an analogy between the necessary approximation of her list and the limitations of any attempt to “map” a space, even when the scale of the map matches that of the designated site, as it did here. Moreover, the attempt to evoke a “skin” or membrane, as if we were perhaps entering the artist’s body/mind, was weakened by her choice of a material (drafting paper) usually associated with office life and not with living, breathing bodies. These shortcomings aside, Hauft made a significant move in this installation away from her frequent reliance on quotations from literary and scientific authorities. Here she employed material of a psychological and personal nature in her ongoing meditation on our attempts to order the incommensurable.

Lois Nesbitt