Art Installation Location: The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, 1100 E. 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637

Dates:  September 18 – December 15, 2019 (recently extended to December 15)

Hours: The installation will be open to the general public on Saturdays from 9 to 11 a.m. Visitors without a UChicago ID can enter to see the installation by obtaining a visitor pass from the ID and Privileges Office in Regenstein Library, which is connected to the Mansueto Library.

The view from inside Mansueto Library of aeon
The view from inside Mansueto Library of the “aeon” exhibit. (Photo by Tom Rossiter)

Ann Hamilton’s project aeon is a temporary installation in the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library Grand Reading Room in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

The OI is one of the world’s leading interdisciplinary centers for the study of ancient Middle Eastern civilizations. Its world-renowned museum houses the largest collection of artifacts from the ancient Middle East in the United States, including more than 350,000 artifacts with roughly 5,000 on display. The majority of the collections come from the OI’s expeditions in the Middle East during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

In the fall of 2018, Hamilton spent a week in residency at the OI imaging hundreds of objects, mostly from Iraq and Egypt. Her photographic process was unusual; rather than a camera, she used two kinds of scanners: a small early-generation flatbed desktop scanner and a handheld wand scanner, both designed with a shallow depth of field for documents, not three-dimensional objects. To use the flatbed scanner, Hamilton placed small figures on its glass platen and scanned. In contrast, Hamilton guided the wand scanner over the surface of the objects to produce unique images, in a hybrid of gestural drawing and lensless photography.

This process makes the figures seem strangely lively, quickened by the light. The images record the movement of the scanner’s light across the figure over time, but the sense of movement accrues not to the photographic process, but to the figures themselves. This unsettling liveliness echoes a fundamental quality imparted to the figures by their makers millennia ago. The Egyptian Ushabti were placed in tombs in larger numbers, journeying with the entombed person to the world beyond, ready to spring to life as his servants. The Mesopotamian figures were deemed so much alive that they were given food and drink, since the care given to these effigies had direct consequences for people in the underworld.

The glass ceiling of the magnificent Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, with its state-of-the-art technology and award-winning, contemporary design, gives aeon its form. High in the dome and backlit by the sun, these ancient figures seem to stare down at the viewers, deriving agency from their lofty position.

The importance of the Middle Eastern collection at the University of Chicago Library is recognized by scholars throughout the world. The Library shares the Oriental Institute’s commitment to rigorous explorations of the world’s history and is pleased to celebrate this important centennial by hosting Ann Hamilton’s aeon in Mansueto Library and the exhibition Discovery, Collection, Memory: The Oriental Institute at 100 in the Special Collections Research Center in Regenstein Library.

Ann Hamilton

The view from inside Mansueto Library of aeon
To celebrate the OI’s 100th anniversary, artist Ann Hamilton has transformed stone and ceramic figures into an installation in the Manseuto Library. (Photo by Tom Rossiter)

Ann Hamilton (b. Lima Ohio, 1956) is a visual artist internationally acclaimed for her large-scale multi-media installations, public projects, and performance collaborations. Hamilton uses common materials as a means of addressing the knowledge that comes from language and touch, creating site-responsive installations for individual and collective experience.

Hamilton has received the National Medal of Arts, MacArthur Fellowship, Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, NEA Visual Arts Fellowship, United States Artists Fellowship, the Heinz Award, and was selected to represent the United States at the 1991 Sao Paulo Biennial and the 1999 Venice Biennale.

She received a BFA in textile design from the University of Kansas in 1979 and an MFA in Sculpture from the Yale University School of Art in 1985. Hamilton currently lives in Columbus, Ohio where she is Distinguished University Professor of Art at The Ohio State University.