Art project fosters connections

"Across the miles and across the Oval"

A visitor interacts with the art installation in Thompson Library.

Internationally renowned artist Ann Hamilton’s current project – on view at Thompson Library and the Wexner Center for the Arts – offers an intimate glimpse into University Libraries’ vast collections and provides a wealth of connections, between people and institutions, across the miles and across the Oval, even within yourself and your memories.

The project, when an object reaches for your hand, presents images selected from hundreds  of objects chosen from often-hidden university archives and personal collections – from fossils, fabric and puppets to medical tools, teapots, shoes and stones. “I became interested in the nature of the things we as individuals collect in our own environment and the things an institution collects in its archives for research purposes,” says Hamilton, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Art. “I wanted to give these things a form that’s visible and sharable.”

The objects’ scanned images, which have an ethereal quality, are presented as prints in book-form stacks on tables on Thompson’s second level and as part of the Wexner exhibition HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin. Visitors are encouraged to share in the experience and connect with the objects by taking prints for themselves and sending to someone in the mail. Concurrently in the library, Hamilton is photographing individuals from Ohio State and the local community through a semi-transparent screen as part of her continuing portrait series, O N E E V E R Y O N E. In both instances, a shallow depth of field creates a tactile nature of the images, making touch visible in the portraits of people and objects.

“When Ann brought the idea of extending the exhibition from the Wexner Center to the library, we felt it was very important for several reasons,” says Damon Jaggars, vice provost and director, University Libraries. “We want to incorporate more art into the life of the library, making it not only a place where students learn, but also to expose them to our cultural heritage. Ann’s project supports her vision and also shows her process of creating and art-making. Having that happen in a library where people are also creating knowledge is powerful.”

As a collaboration between the Wexner Center and Thompson Library, the project connects the institutions, too.

“There’s a spatial link with the Wexner Center on one end of the Oval and Thompson on the other,” says Johanna Burton, director, Wexner Center for the Arts. “Through this collaboration, the two institutions are holding hands across campus.”

Hamilton adds, “Think about the library as a house of words. And the Wexner Center as a house of images. They may speak to us differently and touch us differently, but they reach out to all of us in spaces where multiple disciplines cross paths every day.”

And people are taking notice.

“It’s adding a different kind of energy in a very busy place, and creating a lot of curiosity,” Jaggars says of Hamilton’s photo-taking process in the library’s first floor atrium. “People are walking by and taking the earbuds out of their ears to find out what’s going on. That’s what active inquiry looks like.”

Hamilton enjoys the connections with students and others, too. “There couldn’t be a better place to set up,” she says. “I love crossing paths with people working and studying across so many disciplines."

Ultimately, many of the photos will be published in a book in honor of Ohio State’s sesquicentennial. Many of Hamilton’s images, meanwhile, will migrate from the Wexner Center to Thompson in January after the Wexner exhibition closes. They will be on view in the upper levels of the library’s bookstacks.

“There’s a significance to moving the exhibition across the Oval to the library,” Hamilton says. “It’s like returning a book that has been out in circulation; the images whose objects come in large part from university collections are returning to their home, where they’ll continue to live and hopefully circulate by mail.”