A forest of dreams has sprouted at Portland’s Centennial Mills. Artist Ann Hamilton’s work, “habitus,” first created for Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum, has come to town as part of Converge 45, gallerist Elizabeth Leach’s project to show Portland’s best and brightest contemporary art talents to an audience visiting the region for the Seattle Art Fair and other summer draws.
Hamilton, whose home base is in the Midwest, has created a cluster of 12 giant silhouettes that billow and shift in the breeze blowing up from the bank of the Willamette River. Married through a meticulous musical system of pulleys and wheels, they offer an otherworldly respite amid the last weeks of summer.
When Converge 45, Leach’s brainchild, offered Centennial Mills as a canvas, she considered the cavernous interior of the old mill house, but ultimately landed on the mill’s outdoor pavilion, hemmed between a busy street and rail corridor and the river.
Approaching the installation, the first thing you experience is the soft, dusty, red-orange dirt floor, a strong contrast to the dozen ghostly 20-foot forms seemingly floating above the ground.
Perch on one of the benches lining the edge of the pavilion, and the outside world seems almost comically fast by comparison.
“I think one of the things that happens when you sit here is that you feel the spaciousness of time,” Hamilton said. “The subtle feeling of the fabric with the air and the way that the mechanisms respond … it’s a kind of slowness that we don’t allow very often in the speed of our day.”
Hamilton’s intention involved plotting the drape and movement of the material as well as the the textile shapes’ layout within the space.
“Really they’re just distributed to give you lots of room to walk around … and so the piece is the relationship and the forms of attention that those two kinds of experience engender,” she said.
Every detail is hand-worked, from the soft, spongy feel of the pulls (or sallies) Hamilton devised to drive the motion of the forms, to the sounds created when the pulleys drive air through various wind-powered instruments, like old accordions or harmonicas.
“The way the system works, you hold on and you pull, and you have to let go,” she said. “The letting go is something that’s really not as natural a kind of gesture as holding on. And so that is something that is very interesting for me to learn from the project.”
Hamilton, who’s worked extensively with cottons and silks for her massive installations, found her material from the most unlikely source: Tyvek.
Tyvek is a high density synthetic fiber used to cover homes or buildings during construction.
“One of the reasons we chose Tyvek was because it was so light,” she said. “But also I knew I was going to be installing in the pier and I didn’t know how the weather would be. So I wanted something where we didn’t have to worry about it, didn’t have to worry about dirty hands touching it or any of the things that if you’re using fine silk would obviously be a concern.”
“habitus” is on display at Centennial Mills through Sept. 16.