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| 1999

The United States Pavilion
48th Venice Biennale 1999
Venice, Italy
June 13, 1999-November 7, 1999

Ann Hamilton - myein
Materials: four skylights, glass and gridded steel wall (18’ x 90’), wood table, white cloths, mirrored glass, vinyl powder, auger system, electronic controllers, plaster, recorded voice, digital audio, computer, sixteen speakers


The word myein is an ancient Greek verb meaning "to close the eyes or mouth." Linked to the initiation rites enacted in medieval cults, the closing of the eyes or mouth refers to the secret status surrounding their rites. Across time, myein has come to stand for that thing which has not been, or cannot be, explained.

Hamilton's interest in the temple form as an idealized image projected onto civic space led her to engage the neo- classical building of the United States pavilion as both subject and object of the project. It was a meditation on aspects of American social history that, like weather, are present and pervasive in effect but which remain invisible or unspoken. Her self-given task was to make a place in which this absence could be palpably felt and to create a space simultaneously empty and full.



Ann Hamilton - myein


The dominant movements of the project were the downward pull of time and gravity and the incessant horizontality of landscape and writing. Outside the pavilion, a steel grid of rippled glass panes was built 8 feet from the building’s front, stretching 90 feet across its width, and reaching 16 feet up to its entablature. Like the horizon of Venice shifting constantly from solid to liquid, from land to water, so too the optical distortions of the glass wall blurred the solidity of the building and the edges of the surrounding garden. In liquefying the view, the glass screen also created a sense of movement, slowed and slightly suspended, in time.


Ann Hamilton - myein

As enclosed by the glass wall, the pavilion courtyard became an open fifth room or commons for the building. There, centered within the brick faced patio was the only singular object in the installation: a wood table with a dense surface of knotted cloth. Fist-sized knots (one of the earliest forms of record keeping) were pulled tightly against the table’s surface with their tails pulled through to fill the space between the four legs and slightly brush the ground beneath.

Around the perimeter of the four interior rooms of the pavilion, a chaos of smokefine fuscia powder fell and accumulated over material and aural texts: Selections from Charles Reznikoff’s project: Testimony: The United States, affixed in Braille to the walls, and from the corners, recordings of Abraham Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address spoken in phonetic code. By insinuating inclusion or exclusion the whispering voice of the recordings subverted the public character of the space, and like the powder, was both pervasively present yet out of reach. Spoken in phonetic code wherein each letter is spelled out as name or thing: Alpha for A, Indigo for I , Bravo for B and so on, the text could be deciphered only by notating in writing each coded letter. Originally delivered near the close of the American Civil War, Lincoln’s address extended a healing hand toward that primary schism in American democracy - the institution of slavery.


Ann Hamilton - myein


In Venice, this coded speech became as opaque and difficult to know as a reading of the white on white plaster dots, which lined the interior walls with the replication of an enlarged Braille text. The Braille rendition of Reznikoff’s Testimony: The United States 1885-1915 transferred to the walls of the pavilion the testimony of witnesses in court cases involving property disputes, accidents and acts of violence. These acts of description bear witness to things not easily seen or held within an idealized projection of democratic space. Although impossible to read as text, the constellations of plaster dots were marked over the 6 month exhibition by the descending fuschia powder collecting to stain, ring and make it more visible. Normally the act of writing replaces speech, but here speech and text are concealed by codes of sound and touch, and rendered opaque to evoke the unnamable legacy of grief in this accounting of the short history of The United States.


Ann Hamilton - myein


Photo credit: Thibault Jeanson, M. Gregolio/F. Beranez


Co-commissioners: Katy Kline, Helaine Posner
Principle Sponsor: The Fund for U.S. Artists at International Festivals and Exhibitions
Project Management: Zach Hadlock
Engineering: Marty Chafkin, Perfection Electricks
Sound: Ben Rubin
Photography: Thibault Jeansen
Architect: Clemente Di Thiene
Construction: Michele Marconati, Giammario Napolitano

For a complete list of all those who made this project possible, please click here.

page break Related Readings:
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