Earlier this month, members of the IIMBY team visited the Henry Art Gallery on the University of Washington campus. The museum is easily accessible for a large number of people, as it is at the heart of the University District, which is always a bustle with a multitude of people. The gallery currently houses a show by the artist Ann Hamilton entitled the common SENSE, which runs until late April 2015. It was a pleasant surprise upon walking in that the themes of the exhibit revolved around words, such as ‘touch,’ ‘connection,’ and ‘place.’ These are ideas that we interns are exploring in the IMB project with our research about sense of place.
The way the show functions is that interspersed with artifacts about language, animals, places, and the connections between the three are 8.5×11” sheets with copies of excerpts of various texts, all related in their themes of connection, place, and touch. Visitors are encouraged to take with them copies of the passages that speak most strongly to them, or with which they feel the strongest connections, thereby perpetuating the connection with the show, even after having left the physical building. These passages are replenished as they are depleted, ensuring that there is sufficient choice for all viewers.
Each of us who were there had a unique experience with the show, and connected with it in different ways. This is how, I think, an effective art exhibit should operate–each viewer experiences it fundamentally differently from any other viewer. The three of us interns who were there each felt a particular affinity towards a different aspect of the show. Allison described a sense of nostalgia, especially when viewing the animal-skin and animal-fur clothing artifacts. She recounted how she felt upon seeing a fur coat similar to one that had been in her family a few generations, and was eventually made into stuffed animals for her and her brother. Taylor expressed an interest in the life-and-death aspect of the artifacts presented. He also mentioned the animal-fur artifacts, but his thoughts centered on the aspect of the animals affecting their surroundings even after their deaths. I was very much intrigued by Hamilton’s use of language throughout the exhibit. She
made me think a lot about the symbolic nature of communication, and how ubiquitous it is in society. The show left me in such awe that I immediately went home and started writing what was meant to be a collection of my thoughts, but eventually ended up an 1800-word rumination on the symbolic nature of language. Here is an excerpt (the entire thing can be found here):
Communication through language, be it written or oral, is ubiquitous in every society, but rarely do we stop to think about just how truly remarkable it really is. We don’t think twice about the fact that, in a basic conversation, each participant manipulates his/her mouth and throat in such a way as to make what amounts essentially to arbitrary noise, and the listeners receive these noises and understand instantly what was said and what those words mean. It seems simple because it comes naturally to us; we do it on a daily basis without even having to think. Really, though, one could almost say it’s miraculous. Humanity has evolved perhaps one of the most complex communicative systems in history, and it is perpetually amazing how we can keep track of such an expansive vocabulary and grammatical structure, and use it to better our lives.
The show ends with an opportunity for visitors to contribute personally to Hamilton’s show. There is a photographer in the
building whose job it is to take snapshots of those viewers who want to contribute. We each participated in this aspect of the show; we were photographed in various poses behind a translucent screen. Our photographs were to be added to a collection associated with the show, thereby preserving the give-and-take, living feel the exhibit put off.
$1.25-$2.50 (bus fare), $10 general admission, free for UW students, free (for everyone) first Thursday of each month
From Klondike – Bus #s 71, 72, 73, 74
From Ballard – Bus # 44
From Columbia City – Light Rail to Bus #s 71, 72, 73, 74 OR Bus #7 to Bus #48
From West Seattle – C Line to Bus #s 71, 72, 73, 74
- The Henry regularly needs volunteers like you for exhibition openings, artist talks, performances, family programs, receptions, and special events. As a Henry volunteer, you get free admission to events, meet people in the field—and earn our everlasting gratitude. Interested? Please email email@example.com.
–Chris, In My Backyard intern