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Ann Hamil­ton’s the com­mon sense • the an­i­mals

When you look at 17th- and 18th-cen­tury en­grav­ings of cab­i­nets of cu­riosi­ties, those en­cy­clo­pe­dic col­lec­tions of flora, fauna, ex­ot­ica, and other ob­jects — pre­cur­sors to mod­ern nat­u­ral history mu­se­ums — they of­ten de­pict spec­i­mens sus­pended from ceil­ings, ar­ranged sa­lon-style along the walls. Those his­toric cab­i­nets are one frame of ref­er­ence for the com­mon SENSE • the an­i­mals, artist Ann Hamil­ton’s in­stal­la­tion in SITE 20 Years/20 Shows: Sum­mer. Adorn­ing the walls re­served for Hamil­ton’s pro­ject are printed scans of cane toads, spot­ted ki­wis, black­tail deer, pi­geons, pea­cocks, wood­peck­ers, star­lings, lynxes, and a host of other crea­tures. But the an­i­mals are not rep­re­sented in their en­tirety, as whole spec­i­mens. Rather, the viewer only sees a part of each, such as a wing, a paw, or a soft un­der­belly. “My in­ter­est in this pro­ject started when I was do­ing a tour of the Burke Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral History and Cul­ture at the Univer­sity of Washington and I saw some of the an­i­mal skins be­ing pre­pared,” Hamil­ton told Pasatiempo. She no­ticed how the ex­trem­i­ties of cer­tain spec­i­mens in the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion were re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to the hands of hu­man be­ings. “I was do­ing a lot of read­ing about an­i­mal/hu­man re­la­tion­ships and touch and how touch is the sense that’s com­mon to all crea­tures,” she said.

Each dig­i­tal scan in the com­mon SENSE was made us­ing older-model scan­ners, re­sult­ing in ghostly cap­tures where the most de­tailed, in-fo­cus el­e­ments are those an­i­mal parts that were in di­rect con­tact with the scan­ner plate, while the parts that were not in di­rect con­tact are faded and blurred. “We laid the an­i­mals on these flatbed scan­ners that are re­ally early gen­er­a­tion,” said Hamil­ton, who did a res­i­dency at the mu­seum in or­der to have ac­cess to their bi­o­log­i­cal spec­i­mens. “What I like about that is that the color is a lit­tle wonky, but also they have a very shal­low depth of field. This imag­ing process al­most makes touch vis­i­ble. I worked with the col­lec­tion man­agers and had free ac­cess to their study col­lec­tion.”

Hamil­ton’s pre­vi­ous SITE in­stal­la­tion was part of the art venue’s inau­gu­ral ex­hibit in 1995, which in­volved po­si­tion­ing a rail­road car on the tracks that run along­side the build­ing. The com­mon SENSE is also an am­bi­tious un­der­tak­ing, as a small army of vol­un­teers is nec­es­sary to col­late all the ma­te­rial. Mul­ti­ples of each scanned im­age are printed on newsprint and made into thick pads of vary­ing sizes. The pads are af­fixed to the walls. Visi­tors can tear off a sheet from each pad and take them home. “It’s an of­fer­ing,” she said. “You can take one of ev­ery im­age and you’ll start to see the pads be­ing de­pleted. They’re set as high as peo­ple can reach. The idea is that, even­tu­ally, you could have places where there’s no im­age and when it’s gone, you can’t re­mem­ber what was there.”

But Hamil­ton’s pro­ject isn’t about the ex­tinc­tion of species per se, so much as it’s about the de­ple­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment that sur­rounds us. In some cases, Hamil­ton scanned the en­tire un­der­sides of the an­i­mal spec­i­mens but split the im­age into two parts. “That’s partly be­cause it feels in­creas­ingly like ev­ery­thing is frag­mented. The en­vi­ron­ment is frag­mented. We ex­pe­ri­ence things in­creas­ingly in parts and not in wholes.”

The pro­ject sug­gests that, as con­sumers, the more we take, the more we also lose. “It’s the com­pli­ca­tion of the na­ture of ex­change,” Hamil­ton said. “It’s about all the com­pli­ca­tions of touch and also all the com­pli­ca­tions of a gift. It’s not meant to be a fin­ger-wag­ging thing. It’s more meant to be about the ways in which we touch the world.”

Vo­cal­ists from the Santa Fe Opera Ap­pren­tice Singers Pro­gram ser­e­nade the an­i­mals to pi­ano ac­com­pa­ni­ment ev­ery Fri­day at 5:45 p.m., through Au­gust 28. Hamil­ton, along with the Univer­sity of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery di­rec­tor Sylvia Wolf, dis­cusses her work in “My Life in Art” at the Ar­mory for the Arts Theater (1050 Old Pe­cos Trail) on Satur­day, July 18, at 11 a.m. The talk is $10, with dis­counts avail­able. Tick­ets can be pur­chased online at www.site­santafe.org or at the door.

Ann Hamil­ton: the com­mon SENSE (de­tail)

Pea­cock 6; com­mis­sioned by the Henry Art Gallery, Univer­sity of Washington; dig­i­tal scans of a spec­i­men from the Univer­sity of Washington’s Burke Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral History and Cul­ture Or­nithol­ogy Col­lec­tion; cour­tesy the artist; left, Hamil­ton and vol­un­teers in­stalling the com­mon SENSE; photo by Kate Rus­sell, cour­tesy SITE Santa Fe.

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