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Art project makes partners of Wexner Center for the Arts and University Libraries

"when an object reaches for your hand" connects across campus.

Connections, dotted lines and networks. That’s the inspiration behind a partnership between the Wexner Center for the Arts and The Ohio State University Libraries.

Ohio State Professor of Art Ann Hamilton’s latest project, “when an object reaches for your hand,” is at the heart of the collaboration between the two university organizations that sit at opposite sides of the Oval. Hamilton, a two-time Wexner Center Artist Residency Award recipient, is the architect of the exhibit, but the connections between the library and the center for the arts run deep.

“All the credit goes to Ann, who is just an expansive thinker to begin with, and has worked with the library previously. I think her work naturally lends itself to questions of circulation and distribution and access,” said Johanna Burton, director of the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Burton also shares a network and a connection to Damon Jaggars, vice provost and dean of University Libraries. Jaggars served as a peer mentor to Burton when she joined Ohio State in March.

“[The university] paired us very thoughtfully because I’m a recent transplant from New York and so was he,” she said. “I'm also an academic and one of the reasons I wanted to come to the Wex was the proximity to the rest of campus and to thinkers and to places like the library.”

Jaggars said the two organizations are natural partners behind the scenes in technical areas like digital collections, but they also share a passion for programming in the public space.

“The Wex curates in the contemporary art space, and the Libraries curates broadly across the disciplines. It just makes sense for us to engage in conversations as they develop programming and vice versa. We are fortunate to have Johanna’s leadership at Ohio State to help nurture these types of partnerships,” Jaggars said.

This latest project is an immersive experience that lives in both the Wexner Center’s gallery and in the stacks at Thompson Library. Hamilton, graduate students and studio assistants used scanners to create ethereal images of objects from various Columbus campus special collections that are rarely seen by the public. The images, together with scans of objects from personal collections, are presented in book-form stacks on tables in both buildings.

Both Burton and Jaggars said there is great value in displaying contemporary art in the library to enrich the lives of the students who study there.

“Yes, the library is a place of ideas that have been codified,” Jaggars said. “But it is also a place where ideas are created. That is what research is. Research is looking to what has been done before and building on it to create new knowledge. That happens across all disciplines including the arts.”

Burton said the exhibit in the library can also shake up expectations.

“I think art can function in a couple of different ways. If you know you’re coming to a museum and you’re going to encounter something, you are already primed and ready for a certain kind of experience,” she said. “[This exhibit] allows for people to encounter something without feeling uncomfortable or feeling nervous that they don’t get it. It’s just something that they encounter and then they get to realize, ‘Oh, wow, this thing, what is its function and why is it here?’”

As Hamilton’s exhibit winds down at the Wexner Center for the Arts at the end of this month, it will live on at Thompson through April 28, 2020. “when an object reaches for your hand” is part of the university’s 150th anniversary celebration.

The exhibit is likely one of many more collaborations between University Libraries and the Wex.

“One of the prime reasons for my coming [to Ohio State] was thinking about the natural pot of talent that is here, and that students are this natural audience for everything that we do. They are naturally curious about artistic practices that are experimental in the way that we’re talking about,” Burton said. “So I just see infinite possibilities with those kinds of partnerships and I hope this is just the first of many with the library. [Damon] is just one of those people who is super easy to collaborate and he loves doing this kind of stuff.”

The exhibit, HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin, is open at the Wexner Center for the Arts through Dec. 29.

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