Ann Hamilton, "Habitus"
As with many of Ann Hamilton’s installations, Habitus elicits dueling feelings of calm tranquility and extreme exuberance. The exhibition, a restaging of her suspended curtains with their rope and pulley systems originally commissioned by The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, finds a new home in Portland as a part of 2018’s Converge 45 programming. On view at Centennial Mills along the Willamette River until September 16, the space fills with noises one associates with water, and the powerful winds that come ashore bring their own life to Hamilton’s fabric pieces. Opposing this natural order, Centennial Mills also borders the train tracks that run parallel to the river, each passing train reminds the viewer of the industry surrounding the work. The circular curtain systems, commonplace pages, and the found 1970s model of Portland all serve to remind the viewer of clothes, home, and social systems.
Walking through much of the outdoor space, the viewer is surrounded by Hamilton’s large, circular curtains, blowing in the wind. As the viewer walks between, in, and around them, they cannot help but feel surrounded by something larger than themselves. This sense of surrounding, at least for me, is one of swaddled calm — even when the winds thrash the curtains, there is still a sense of protection. The viewer is able to further activate the curtains by activating the pulley systems, some of which will also play bells and other sounds as they are pulled. While this activation was most likely more successful during the original showing in Philadelphia, where the space appears to be more covered from the outside elements, the process of activation still attracts viewers to a sense of play.
As with other installations, such as her 2014 A Common S e n s e at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, Washington, Hamilton collected (via public call) commonplace pages about the city, habitats, home, and places of dwelling. Lining two long tables to the far side of the exhibition, the viewer is invited to walk the rows of texts and encouraged to take a copy of any and all pages that speak to them — thus assembling their own reader on habitus. As I walked these isles for myself, I was filled with energy and excitement as I found texts I was familiar with, as well as texts that would change and influence me in the future. As a viewer who has seen both A Common S e n s e and Habitus, I have now gathered two readers built from her installations, which she referred to in the Henry Art Gallery show as “Readers Reading Readers.” I do feel that the commonplace page system was stronger at the Henry, where the viewer was given a folder to compile their readers within, something that would be incredibly helpful in the windy Centennial Mills space.
Building off this notion of commonplace readings, Stephanie Snyder, Curator and Director of Cooley Gallery at Reed College, organized a reading performance within the space on August 12. Snyder invited eight individuals to read their own writings or other inspirational writings of others. This event, billed as a reading and relaxation event, animated the dialectic of the calm and exuberant feelings I felt within the space. Portland writers such as Sam Hopple, Kris Cohen, and Derrais Carter read a great range of new and old texts that caused the entire group to think and contemplate while surrounded by a magical piece.
The day of the opening, August 10, Ann Hamilton and outgoing Guest Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds held a conversation at Reed College. They discussed the process and “work of making artwork.” The two, having worked together in the past (during her 2012-13 show the event of a thread show at the Armory in New York), discussed Hamilton’s wide range of work — including a new piece that opens at the World Trade Center subway stop on September 11 of this year — and placed heavy importance on the processes and energies of the artist. Hamilton and Edmunds brought the work to life in new ways.