This work is a twelve-inch vinyl record, blank on one side and recorded on the other, which is presented in a white sleeve that is housed in a handmade neutral and blue linen-covered hinge box measuring slightly under 400 by 400 mm when closed. The white record sleeve features a coloured label that depicts a disk on a turntable deck with a hand and pointing finger moving the record. The outside of the box has the title of the work embossed down the hinge, and there is an inscription on a white paper label attached to the inside of the box lid that includes a brief description of the work, the artist’s signature and the edition number, which is six in an edition of seventy-eight. The work can be exhibited in several ways, including on a table or shelf with the record still in the box, or with the record itself playing on a turntable that can be moved by hand, with the box displayed alongside it.
mneme was produced by the American artist Ann Hamilton as part of her installation of the same name that was on show from January to March 1994 at Tate Liverpool. The installation featured a series of three rooms in which visitors entered into and engaged with different sensorial environments. In the first room was a black display case with its glass clouded by condensation, while the second was filled with curtain-like fabric hanging across the room at intervals of one metre that visitors were required to negotiate their way through. In the third room, which visitors accessed via a lift from the ground floor to the top floor of the gallery and entered through an archway, an assistant stood in front of a small table on which was placed a record player. The assistant turned a record on the turntable using one finger and the space was filled with sound, which consisted of a phonetic ‘performance’ of the eight cardinal vowels – the basic aural components of all human speech. At times the recording slowed and blurred, creating what Hamilton referred to in 2002 as ‘animal-like’ sounds (quoted in Simon 2002, p.149). The edition of which Tate’s version is a part is a vinyl pressing of a recording of the sounds made by the manual playing of the original record during the installation in 1994. The edition took almost two years to complete and was made available to purchase in 1996.
The title mneme is derived from the Greek word for memory, and as curator Judith Nesbitt has observed, this ‘refers to the capacity of living organisms or substances to retain the after-effects of experience or sensations’ (Nesbitt 1994, p.33). The concepts of sensorial memory and experience, hearing, seeing and feeling were key to Hamilton’s mneme installation, which was ephemeral but was experienced bodily by visitors during its exhibition. As a material record of those events, the boxed record mneme enables audiences to encounter the aural significance of the work as the record is played and replayed in subsequent displays. In 2002 Hamilton said that there is often ‘very little’ that exists of her installations after they have finished: ‘For someone who was actually there, what survives is the memory of the experience. For me, it’s the stories that survive. The stories of the relationships that went into making a piece and into its public life.’ (Quoted in Simon 2002, p.12.)
After receiving a degree in textile design at the University of Kansas in 1979 and a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from the Yale School of Art in 1985, Hamilton started making performances and installations in the mid-1980s that often involved accumulations of different materials and smells, including pennies, animal teeth, flour, honey and beeswax, to create environments that emphasised an experience of the world that is channelled through the senses rather than the mind (see Nesbitt 1994, p.33). For instance, in her 1993 installation tropos, a sea of horsehair occupied the large floor space of the DIA Center for the Arts in New York, and visitors were invited to walk over it. In addition, a smell of burnt paper was given off by the careful searing of the words from pages in an old book carried out by a gallery assistant, and this was joined by the sound of a man’s voice reciting a poem. The labour of performing monotonous tasks is recurrent in Hamilton’s work and signals her interest in marking or mapping the passage of time, as can also be observed in the mneme installation in the slow turning of the record by hand.
Ann Hamilton, ‘Biography’ and ‘Objects’, Ann Hamilton Studio website, undated, http://www.annhamiltonstudio.com/, accessed 2 June 2015.
Judith Nesbitt (ed.), Ann Hamilton mneme, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 1994.
Joan Simon, Ann Hamilton, New York 2002, pp.146–9.
Supported by Christie’s.