I have an issue with time. I admit my role. I am the author of my own demise through my need to take part in the over scheduled, over-booked, say “yes” to every opportunity contemporary world. Staying present is a problem for those of us who plan life a year in advance, so slipping into a total awareness of now, experiencing the transcendent moment, took me unawares. I recollect the movement of cool air, the seesaw sound of accordions, the touch of rope in hand, my weight buoyed up with the return release of the pulley and the swirling cascade of cloud-like curtains surrounding me. The studied deconstruction of sweaters performed in silence to an audience of wooden pews while a second performer wordlessly handled spools in a fenced off space gently lowering me from revelry to meditation, punctuating my day’s journey with serenity. Ann Hamilton’s work at Municipal Pier 9 in Philadelphia settled quietly into my body offering me a singular moment. A moment I can revisit it in my mind for respite. Despite its many moving parts, Hamilton’s installation is fortified with stillness, and imbued with time.
At the start of December I attended a conversation between Hamilton and Maria Popova about Brain Pickings at the Fabric Workshop and Museum. They discussed Popova’s literary explorations as well as the motivation behind habitus, Hamilton’s multi-floor installation at FWM. In addition to Hamilton’s own sculpture and video work, this eclectic display of objects culled from Winterthur Museum, Philadelphia University, and various other local institutions includes Amish dolls, sewing samplers, hand sewn blankets and several collections of archival materials. Hamilton and Popova, both sagacious and quick witted, spoke for an hour and a half, exploring the common, Commonplace books, and cloth.
Hamilton related a conversation she had with one of the curators regarding blankets on display in the exhibit. She described them as common objects made by individuals for daily use that wouldn’t normally be displayed despite the fact that they are pristine examples. They are “too common” and the unexceptional are rarely taken out of storage. Hamilton uses the word common in many ways. It unites us, it denotes the objects as exceptional in their plainness, it elevates the ordinary, average, and commonplace to noteworthiness. She creates her collection of objects as a sort of Commonplace book installation. The Commonplace book, used for centuries as a way to collect and organize quotes, and ideas worth remembering is reinvented by Hamilton as a way of re-situating the importance of the every day.
Cloth was another topic Popova and Hamilton explored. Cloth: A Commonplace has been Hamilton’s active tumblr account collecting quotes and passages as a part of the habitus exhibit. Cloth, Hamilton asserts, is ubiquitous in our lives. There are few moments when we are not in contact with it. Obvious as this maybe, I had never noticed the extent to which cloth is ever present. Paying attention to the background, unobtrusive, underlying fabric of existence is the essence of Hamilton’s work. To that end, she told a story about her experience going to the chiropractor as a metaphor for a need to open up space inside of herself. She talked about this internal space as a place to be responsive as opposed to reactive. Responsiveness, Hamilton concludes, requires slowing down to, “pay attention to where your attention is drawn” and noting that one’s “personal context is woven into this experience”.
by Tania O’Donnell
Photo credits: Ryan Micolucci
habitus, Hamilton’s extensive exhibition on view at the Fabric Workshop and Museum through January 8, 2017.