Ann Hamilton (born 1956, Lima, Ohio) is an American visual artist best known for large-scale, site-specific installations that are labor intensive in both planning and construction. She also works in photography and video, and has collaborated with other artists in performance-based works and commissioned projects for public spaces.
Hamilton gained art world notoriety in the 1980s by creating monumentally-scaled installations that required the work of dozens of volunteers. The laborious processes were a result of Hamilton's tendency to use profuse amounts of materials and objects. The staggering numbers represented in these accumulations — 750,000 pennies, 14,000 teeth — belie the poetic nature of the work; the materials represent (either directly or metaphorically) certain historical aspects of the exhibition site discovered in Hamilton's research of the building or surrounding community. Another distinguishing characteristic of these installations was the inclusion of a live "attendant" who performed a repetitive action.
Hamilton earned a BFA in textile design at the University of Kansas in 1979 and an MFA in sculpture from Yale University in 1985. In some of her graduate school works she populated rooms with motionless performers in enigmatic situations, such as a person with head and arms buried under a tabletop pile of sand in lids of unknown positions (1984).
In Hamilton's professional career the scale of the work soon expanded to the point of requiring dozens of volunteers. The floor of privation and excesses (1989) consisted of 750,000 pennies layered in patterns and cemented with honey, while her 1991 installation indigo blue required the folding and stacking of over 40,000 blue work shirts. At the same time, she continued the practice of placing live performers (usually one per piece) within the installation spaces. In tropos (1993), a seated figure wielding a hot pen burned the words out of books.
The site-specificity of Hamilton's work goes beyond the construction of the piece for a particular physical location. Her process involves library research into the history of the site and its surrounding community. For example, the aforementioned indigo blue was commissioned for the annual Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; the mass of blue work shirts in the installation is symbolic of the indigo plantations and slave labor integral to the history of the city.
Hamilton has collaborated with performing artists to create theater-based intermedia works such as appetite (1998), with choreographer Meg Stuart, and Mercy (2001) with singer and composer Meredith Monk.
Cooke, Lynne. "The Viewer, the Sitter, and the Site: A Splintered Syntax." In Ann Hamilton: tropos [exhibition catalog], by Ann Hamilton. New York: Dia Center for the Arts, 1995. ISBN 0944521274