(tropos • books) | 1993
Private collection, New York
In this work Hamilton continues her investigation of reading as literal absorption— erasing mechanically reproduced letters with the measured sensory, repetitive acts of the body and adding a new mark of unmaking, or rewriting, the page. For her installation tropos at the Dia Center for the Arts, New York in 1993, in a room with a floor covered in horsehair, an attendant read each line of text silently while at the same time, with an electric burner in hand, burned each line from the book as it was read, causing the air to fill with acrid smoke. For Hamilton, the smoke itself is part of the language of remaking, for “the transformation of the text — printed word— to smoke is reabsorbed as smell by the hair of the floor; thus word is again materialized.” The large sum of books in the resulting collective object —48 in total—reflects the duration of the installation, which was in situ for nine months. Each reader chose a book from a selection that Hamilton had purchased from The Strand, New York’s landmark secondhand bookstore. She did not choose specific subjects, but rather selected the books for the form of the pages. None of the books had either chapter headings or headers and footers—therefore, there were no indications of chapter title or authorship at the top and bottom of the page. All pages were numbered.
Part of Hamilton’s decision in picking books without the identifying lines of text was to deny visitors, reading over the shoulder of the attendant, the possibility of readily identifying the subject matter of each book that personally had been chosen by the reader. The visitor thus focused on the act of reading as opposed to the particular text. Given the number of different readers, and the number of books remade over a considerable period of time, “one sees the trace of time in the weight and individual mark or rhythm of each reader’s hand.”
Photo credit: Thibault Jeanson
Text excerpted from Ann Hamilton: An Inventory of Objects. New York: Gregory R. Miller & Co., 2006. Joan Simon