The lift of a chin. The flash of an eye. The brush of a hand. The gestures are both intimate and declarative, public and private, interior and exterior—like whispered secrets held in confidence.
Last spring, artist Ann Hamilton spent weeks in St. Louis photographing nearly 300 people through a translucent film of thermoplastic polyurethane. Participants included students, faculty, and staff in the Brown School at Washington University, as well as members of the larger St. Louis community recruited by three partner organizations: U.S. Vets, Better Family Life, and the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County.
The result is O N E E V E R Y O N E · St. Louis, a 33-panel public art project installed in the Brown School's Thomas and Jennifer Hillman Hall—and the latest installment in Art on Campus, Washington University's percent-for-art program.
Though located across the Danforth Campus, all Art on Campus commissions are accessioned into the permanent collection of the Kemper Art Museum, part of the Sam Fox School.
Other recent projects include Spencer Finch's East Meets West in Karl D. Umrath Hall; Jaume Plensa's Ainsa I at the south entrance to the atrium for the Olin Business School's Bauer Hall, and Ayşe Erkmen's Places outside Samuel Cupples Hall II.
"The aim is to create a world-class collection of original, site-specific works that reflect the University's intellectual activity in all its depth, breadth, and diversity," said Leslie Markle, the Kemper Art Museum's curator for public art. Markle said Hamilton's process, which depends on the active collaboration of each sitter, reflects both the social justice mission of the Brown School and its culture of respect for individual experience and agency.
"Positioning herself and her camera on one side of the membrane, Hamilton guides sitters on the other side using only her voice," Markle said. "Each touch of a face, a hand, or an object against the film is revealed in focus, while the sitter's gesture or body outline is rendered more softly, the shallow depth of field a result of the membrane's optical qualities.
"In these images contact—which engages the sense of touch more than the sense of sight—is made visible."