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Artist Ann Hamilton’s collection celebrates connections at Ohio State

Photos of students, faculty and staff fill new book and video

A work of art based on touch in a time of physical distancing. A collection of photographs emphasizing diversity in a moment of intense racial tension.

The photographs captured in a new book from Ann Hamilton, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Art, are part of her ongoing public art project, O N E E V E R Y O N E. The 1,200-page newsprint book and accompanying video were created as part of The Ohio State University’s sesquicentennial celebration.

Copies of the book were intended to be given away during the spring celebrations and to circulate by mail. While sharing them in person is currently on hold, some were sent to select members of the university community and include a letter from President Michael V. Drake. Drake and his wife, attorney and Wexner Center Foundation Trustee Brenda Drake, championed the project.

“We are honored to help share Professor Hamilton's extraordinary work with the world,” said Ohio State President Michael V. Drake. “During a time of unprecedented challenge, it is a powerful lens through which we can better appreciate our shared humanity and celebrate that which makes us unique.”

The pages are filled with images of people photographed behind a translucent membrane that renders in focus only those points where the body touches the material surface. Hamilton describes them as “hidden, but revealed by touch.”

“The resulting portraits hold a sense of privacy and intimacy not possible in a time when we are so aware of every point of contact, of every surface we touch, or are, in exchange, touched by,” she said. “These figures, isolated and ethereal, are perhaps the ‘alone together’ we are living in this moment.”

Students, faculty, staff and other community members posed for these portraits in two of the most iconic locations on campus: Thompson Library and the Wexner Center for the Arts. The buildings rest at opposite ends of the heart of campus.

“We set up near the central corridor of passage in the library atrium and invited people to participate as they were walking or stopping by,” Hamilton said. “Already a social space, it was easy to insert our process into the flow of staff, faculty, students and visitors.”

Hamilton said it also allowed her to interact with a broad cross-section of the campus.

“The place and the process allowed me to interact and meet a much broader university than the one I interact within my department. Although each interaction was brief in duration each felt like an exchange. I was both moved and inspired by the diversity of people who stopped and were willing to help. I learned so much about the university and it was especially interesting to learn from some of the freshmen of their new interdisciplinary majors.”

The photos required hundreds of interactions between the subjects and Hamilton and her team. It was conceived and executed before the world was swept by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A human impulse is to extend our hands outward, to know the world through the reciprocity of touching things,” Hamilton wrote in a description for the project. “It’s become impossible to pass this book, made to celebrate the university’s sesquicentennial, from hand to hand.”

A video of its contents, page by page, with a house recording by jazz guitarist Bill Frisell becomes another form of sharing. The video is live now and copies of the book will be on sale at the Wexner Center for the Arts later this summer.

Everyone who was photographed is the subject of one or two and, even in some cases, three images in the book. Hamilton said that’s where the title O N E E V E R Y O N E comes from.

She said all artworks shift as the lens of the world we find ourselves in also shifts. While this project began in a pre-pandemic time and before the global protest for racial justice, one can’t help but read these realities into the hundreds of photos in the book, to see and feel the individual humanity of each person and a reflection of the diversity of Ohio State’s campus.

“It’s that same way I look out my window and what’s out there is the same, but how I see it is now different,” she said.

“When I am working so much is intuitive. All of my antennae are there all the time, reading the news, feeling the atmosphere, sensing changes, and all work is made from the time it is in.”

The work is made possible by The Office of the President, Thompson Library and the Wexner Center for the Arts.

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