Very seldom are we confronted with the fundamental ideologies we were introduced to as children. One of the first things a child is taught is the five senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. While most of these senses are softly explored and evoked throughout visual artist Ann Hamilton’s new hardback, Sense (Radius Books), the latter—that of touch—serves as its overarching motif. The feather of a bird, the scarf of a doll, the hands of a stranger...Hamilton redefines the word ‘palpable,’ orchestrating a storm of sensory stimulation.
“How could I ever describe it in words,” Hamilton begins the ensemble with, setting the tone for what’s to follow—a collection of inexpressible works that do not call for the clarity associated with written description. Works that target one’s soul rather than one’s mind. Works that instead of begging the question, rather, answer the question. The color palette throughout the book paints a picture, one created intentionally by Hamilton. “The greys, the blue-greys, the desaturated pinks of twilight create the weather of the book,” she shares. “Twilight is my time of day—there is less light, but you see more.” In tandem, an overall feeling of respite and contentment permeates throughout the book, almost as if to identify with, and tap into, each reader. For we’ve all been the leaf left lying along the sidewalk, the residual rubble remaining after a storm.
Throughout, Hamilton defines and reimagines the idea of ‘sense.’ She likens it to cloth’s hand, a daily walk, the soft underside of a bird, and the press of a body against a membrane. In doing so, she almost anthropomorphizes her subjects, attributing life and value to them. “I am drawn to the fold of the fabric,” she explains, “to the press of a sleeve or shoulder, to the curl of a leaf drying, to the weight and vulnerable underside of the birds who were once alive. Each is a fixed moment in a river of change.”
Sense is a compilation of works accumulated over many years, stretching across multiple mediums, including photographic portraits, flatbed scans, and more. This latest title adds to Hamilton’s already extensive artistic repertoire, re-establishing her as the multi-media maestro she’s known as today. When asked at which point she felt the book in its entirety reached a state of completion, Hamilton replies, “This book is the consequence of the time and processes of its making. I also recognize that it could have been or could become ten other books, related but different. I love the process of sequencing the images, how when you change one image everything changes, how two images, sitting accidentally, side-by-side, changes both images and creates something wholly new.”
When asked about the responsibility of the viewer in experiencing Sense, Hamilton aptly responds, “How we pay attention is everything. Perhaps the felt qualities of these images—their sequences and their relations—is a slowing down, is a registering, is a settling into the sense of things.” And with that, we are met with Hamilton’s primary objective behind the book—to cultivate attention in the hyper-distracted whirlwind of information in which we live, to appreciate the unrelenting storms, and their imprint on everything and everyone.