Ann Hamilton’s O N E E V E R Y O N E
by Jessy Eubanks
The first time I went to see O N E E V E R Y O N E, it wasn’t there. It was early October 2016 and a group of student composers, including myself, ventured across campus to the newly christened Dell Medical School looking for inspiration for the 3rd annual Sound in Sculpture project taking place this April. A partnership between the Butler School of Music; Texas Performing Arts; and Landmarks, the public art program of the University of Texas at Austin, Sound in Sculpture is a concert series that presents on-site performances inspired by public art. All original scores are composed and performed by UT students. Standing in the sparkling new Health Learning Building, we planned to tour works in the Landmarks collection, but the site was so new the artwork hadn’t been installed yet.
We gathered around a laptop looking at a series of photographs by Ann Hamilton called O N E E V E R Y O N E. The project is based on the concept of human touch as the essential means of contact and physical care. Hamilton photographed more than 500 people from around the Austin community behind a semi-transparent membrane, where only the points of contact with the membrane can be seen in full focus. The rest of the figures’ details fade into a cloudy white-grey. Fourteen figures were printed slightly larger than life on porcelain enamel panels and will adorn the Dell Medical School lobby. I couldn’t really tell what seeing these panels in real life would look like at the time, but I remember thinking that the light grey would be a nice contrast with the darkness of the walls and a complement to the muted sunlight coming in.
Hamilton’s concentrated focus is akin to closing your eyes to better feel a texture or to hear a sound with more clarity.
We toured the building to see sculptures by Seymour Lipton and Marc Quinn (again with the help of a laptop, since the work was due to be installed later in the fall), encouraged to look for inspiration in the architecture as well as works of art on site. Gathered around the empty installation sites, we tried to imagine what sounds could be used to illustrate the art.
The second time I went to see O N E E V E R Y O N E, the panels were up. The large panels sit on the wall much higher than any person would stand, and drew my eyes further into the building. The once vast expanse of the lobby now felt containable. Though the live oaks in the courtyard masked direct sunlight, the white-grey panels seemed to provide a justification for the darkness, saying, “yes, this is right. We are all meant to be here”.
Hamilton’s photos are particularly meaningful in this setting. Although the art is communicated visually, sight is not the sense Hamilton has highlighted. In a medical building, where touch is so crucial to physical care, these nameless, sometimes faceless, members of the Austin community show us what touch feels like. Hamilton’s concentrated focus is akin to closing your eyes to better feel a texture or to hear a sound with more clarity. She guides viewer’s eyes, eliminating visual distractions.
For Sound in Sculpture, I chose to write music for O N E E V E R Y O N E because I was inspired by this multi-sensory experience. As a composer, my job is to illustrate with sound. Taking a cue from Hamilton, I want to guide listeners, eliminate distractions and show clear demonstrations of touch through sound. We can always learn from simply closing our eyes and feeling, and I loved that I had the opportunity to put that into music.
However, I couldn’t simply jump into illustrating this intricate dynamic of senses by blindly following a cool melody or harmony. In order to really get the concept across and show a clear relationship between
O N E E V E R Y O N E and the music, I needed to start with the concept. I chose instruments where touch could clearly be seen, and where primal intimacy and unity could be demonstrated. So, why not use touch itself as an instrument? Body percussion, which includes movements such as foot stomping, clapping and thigh slapping, persists throughout the piece as a metaphor for unity and primal touch. For diversity’s sake, I used contrasting instruments to express the individuality that makes up
O N E E V E R Y O N E.
We can always learn from simply closing our eyes and feeling
First, is the human voice. The most communal and primal instrument of all; almost everybody has a voice, and civilization has had a voice for a long time. Imagine our very distant ancestors sitting around singing as they beat drums. Singing does not require lyrics, but here I chose words to shape the form of the piece. Listen for phrases like “one everyone” a direct nod to Hamilton’s work and to signify unity; “behind, around, above, inside, we’re touching, holding all of our lives” for our primal urge to surround ourselves with touch; “you touch me, I touch you, you fix me, while I fix you” to reference the theme of medical and physical care.
Secondly, drums. But beating drums with mallets or drumsticks could distract from the concept of touch. For this reason I chose a cajon, a box-shaped hand drum with different snare and bass tones played by sitting on the instrument and slapping it with your hands.
…the white-grey panels seemed to provide a justification for the darkness, saying, “yes, this is right. We are all meant to be here”.
Lastly, wanting to keep my ensemble small, I added a final part to the mix; cello. Perhaps because of my first love–the violin–I find strings to be very expressive. But I wanted to show touch as intimately as possible and a bow, like drumsticks, would get in the way. So like Hamilton using the membrane to guide focus towards touch, I decided to partially abandon the bow.
Everywhere I look, I find additional components of Hamilton’s project.
O N E E V E R Y O N E has inspired essays compiled together in a free newspaper, numerous public events and even a 900-page, wordless book of images, which has been distributed freely around campus. And now, music. It’s genius how this expanse of work fits into the theme of collective unity. Everyone and one are the same.
I’m ready to be part of everyone, and next time I see O N E E V E R Y O N E, maybe I’ll see you there, too.
Sound in Sculpture is a featured event in Fusebox Festival. Five original scores inspired by works in the Landmarks collection will be performed at 6:30 and again at 7:30 at Dell Medical School on April 13, 2017.