Editor’s note: Artist Ann Hamilton’s installation ‘aeon’ has been extended and will remain on display in Mansueto Library through Sunday, Dec. 15.
During a visit to the University of Chicago, visual artist Ann Hamilton became enamored with the Oriental Institute’s collection of stone and ceramic figures—ancient but timeless, inanimate but strangely alive. To celebrate the OI’s 100th anniversary, she has transformed those figures into a public installation inside one of the campus’ most iconic structures.
In the fall of 2018, Hamilton spent a week in residency working with the OI Museum’s curators, conservators and registrars to make images of ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian artifacts using early-generation scanners. The images, enlarged to gigantic scale, are now affixed to the elliptical glass dome of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library Grand Reading Room, creating Hamilton’s new installation titled aeon, which is on display through October.
Printed on 160 sheets of semi-transparent film, each 2 x 2 meters, the 20 images Hamilton created are not intended to duplicate what might appear in a museum display case. She sought to reveal ineffable qualities of these objects through the use of scanners, in a unique hybrid of gestural drawing and lensless photography.
The unsettling liveliness of the images 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 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.