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The Embodied Art of Ann Hamilton (video)

I’ve never witnessed anything like the conversation Ann Hamilton and Krista Tippett had at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Thursday night. There was a spark of the infinite in the way she spoke. It took my breath away and made my heart hurt, but just for an instant.

What I felt is a little hard to explain in words, but maybe this will help. Here’s a video from one of Anne Hamilton’s exhibits, “The Event of a Thread.” The woman shown at the 23-second mark seems to be having this same experience. Did you see it?

I felt it in the live audience too. There’s a sort of wave of recognition, a moment of big, incomprehensible yet familiar beauty that hits you and then releases you.

I was both in the room and outside of it. Enraptured by presence, awakened to the felt sense of being there — then, in that exact moment in time — and at the same time inhabiting this invisible world that seemed to assemble itself out of the emptiness she spoke into. Ann Hamilton had the kind of presence that is so brimming with aliveness that you almost feel like you’ve become a part of one of her living exhibits.

Too often we relegate great art as something to be looked at and left at the museum door. This is a different world. This is art you breathe in. This is embodied art, imagination animated by vitality. You are not just looking, or feeling, or hearing, or speaking; you are all of that and something more — you are its center.

The great gift of Ann Hamilton’s art is the window it gives us into this breath-taking, gut-wrenching world of ordinary life observed by a maker. The people walking within her creations seem to be seeing life for the first time. The life that is so present, but so unnoticed by most of us. The realness, fullness, together/aloneness that is being in the world. It is a glimpse into what the world looks like. The world we could see if our hearts and our eyes were wide open.

It almost felt like she was creating as she was speaking. I’m reminded of a midrash of Genesis. It supposes that creation is not something that happened once and then never again. Creation is ever unfolding. And I guess in this way, like Ann Hamilton said, we are all makers. We all continue the creation with every ordinary extraordinary moment.

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