New York

Ann Hamilton

Louver Gallery

Set within a context of deactivated artifacts relating to her past performances, Ann Hamilton’s new installation, malediction, 1991, is unusual if only because she seldom exhibits in a gallery context. In order to see this piece, one must first pass through a dense layer of musty stained rags wrung into wads and strewn across the gallery floor. The unsettling feeling one has with each step one takes is the product of the combined awkwardness of treading upon art (especially when it takes the form of white rags that dirty with every footprint) and walking on uneven ground.

Malediction is an ascetic environment,that is not morphologically minimalist, but is rather emotionally and atmospherically spare. One enters the installation as if from the rear. A quiet garbled voice issuing from a temporary wall filters into the room. From one vantage point. it seems to come from beneath a wicker casket lid. The voice utters an apparent existential stream of consciousness delivered in a hushed monotone. We see Hamilton herself seated on a high stool before a table with her back turned toward us at the entrance, her otherwise passive appearance broken only by the repetitive movement of her arm toward her mouth. Is it Hamilton’s quiet voice that we hear coming from the basket as she speaks through a microphone like a ventriloquist? Before her, dense layers of white cotton cloth are piled against a gallery wall like a barricade.

The viewer must approach Hamilton from behind. Experiencing malediction is like entering a monastic ceremony in which we are cautious not to disturb or frighten the sitter. Witnessing her performance, one feels as if one is violating her privacy and concentration. She is completely silent as she slowly molds handfuls of dough in her mouth. Each morsel becomes a tiny sculpture. Rarely swallowing, she places each doughy sculpture into a long wicker casket—the one to which the lid near the installation’s entrance belongs.

It is disturbing to note the degree of Hamilton’s intense concentration upon so rote a task. We stand in the room, yet because we are not noticed, it is as if we are not present at the performance. We are invisible—transformed into specters—and our invisibility enables us to walk up to her and watch her perform with scientific objectivity, no longer self-conscious about our own presence and our fears of disturbing her.

With each mouthful of bread. Hamilton wets her palate with a sip of water. A strange dialectic emerges between mythological symbolism and a more general human, biological activity. The Christian symbolism of bread and wine, body and blood, matter and spirit are hinted at, but, at its most effective, Hamilton’s symbolism preempts any overtly religious reading. Hamilton sat in her plain dress mechanically performing her methodical task for the duration of this month-long exhibition. One must consider the nature of the ban or curse referred to in the title of this work. For an artist who habitually exhibits in alternative rather than commercial art spaces, Hamilton’s 30-day performance might even be taken as a form of penance by which she confronts the burden, the guilt, the ultimate contradictions one experiences when participating in the commercial art world.

Kirby Gookin