Ann Hamilton is a visual artist known for her large-scale multimedia installations, flowing fabrics and the immersive atmosphere of her work. Hamilton has filled Pier 9 along the Delaware River with a field of spinning curtains, creating an interior landscape within which, suspended in time, a visitor can be both lost and held. habitus, organized by the Fabric Workshop and Museum and part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, is on view now, free and open to the public during scheduled hours. habitus also includes a corresponding exhibition of historical objects—including literary commonplace books, textile sample books, dolls, and needlework portfolios—at The Fabric Workshop and Museum from Saturday, September 17, 2016 to Sunday, January 8, 2017. We caught up with Hamilton earlier this summer to discuss her interest in fabric, Philadelphia’s textile history and the character of Pier 9.
Ann Hamilton (photo by Michael Mercil, courtesy of Ann Hamilton Studio)
FringeArts: What was the inspiration for this installation?
Ann Hamilton: The Fabric Workshop and Museum began as a place for making. Initially they made a home for students, interns and artists to silkscreen. Pulling color across a screen transformed the surface of a white cloth. The process repeated made a whole room and changed the way you feel. It is an institution that like FringeArts trusts artists and believes in the power of acts of making and transformation and this is an inspiration.
More specifically, the Fabric Workshop and Museum is rooted in the history of cloth, textile related processes and productions. They make a place for artists to explore and extend their vocabularies, to ask “what-if?” My history also begins with a cloth on my lap and so this project began in response to our shared legacy and collaborations by exploring Philadelphia based textile collections and local industries who have been in production over several generations. Littlewood Dyers does vat dying of raw fiber for a whole host of clients including the intense purple in a Disney costumes and the deep blue/black of Navy wools. The several hour tour of Littlewood, a highlight along with the loom and weaving production at Langhorne Carpet Company—where the scale the reeling of thread and the looms that have been in operation for decades—are inspiration for several project to come. Watching a raw material become a single thread, join other thread to become a warp or weft of a cloth or carpet holds for me all the possibilities for making; sewing and writing are for me two parts of the same hand. In the former the hand directs with subtle sureness a needle through a cloth up, down, up then down again and again and again, a running succession, the trail of thread making one out of what was once two. The pace is regular like walking, like writing. It keeps the body busy so the mind can wander.
Ann Hamilton, (habitus • doll ) Doll, 1800–1820. Papier-mâché; Wood; Linen; Cotton; Paint; Silk. Courtesy of Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Gift of Katherine Gahagan, Michael H. du Pont, and Christopher T. du Pont in memory of A. Felix du Pont, Jr., 1999.19.1.
I have long been drawn to textile sample books—the cloth fragments, the hand written notes, the folio sized pages, their gorgeous unintentional compositions, and find in them a relation to the fragments of writing, inspiring to the collector, intentionally gathered into a commonplace book. The liquidity of the copied out text in the handwritten books, or the cut and paste of more contemporary versions are sources stitched into thinking just as the bits of cloth pasted into the textile books imagine a larger cloth or garment. We were shown beautiful swatch, sample, and dye books in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection, Winterthur Library, and Philadelphia University whose archives contain so much of the city’s textile history. The project will include examples from each of these collections. As well as commonplace books from Rosenbach Library, the Philadelphia Free library and others. The history and tactility of these objects began the project.
FA: What was the process from initial idea to installation?
Ann Hamilton: A project always begins with an intuition, a hunch, a half formed question – these direct the research and through an associative and often circuitous process the project forms from trying to understand them. The challenge is to trust the process and remain open to change, to keep putting your needle down into the cloth and see what is drawn up from underneath. I suppose it is a little like fishing. You have to wait and see what you will find and in waiting you have to pay attention to everything.