This is an interview by writer Katelynn Dunn with 2020 artist-in-residence LaMont Hamilton.
Katelynn Dunn (KD): I’d like to jump right in and start with the first question: What does limitation mean in your work, or how do you surpass its idea in your practice?
LaMont Hamilton (LH): How can I answer that? Limitation. The first thing that comes to mind is an aversion. I kind of love this idea, because it’s so subjective. Limitation compared to what? If you were to have a very specific will or idea, limitation doesn’t really come into play. It speaks of a lack. And if you are operating with a sense of lack, then of course you will have a ceiling or walls with which you will have to contend.
One could say my approach to sonic work for the past few years comes from a place of limitation. I do single takes, and I deal from there. I work with what I have. I don’t go into Ableton, pull up all these things and have a surplus. I don’t even start from an idea. I start from a gesture. I utilize the idea of improvisation in my work almost as a principle. I have a photography background, and my photography was very much the same. I would work with a large format camera. I would work with one or two shots, one sheet of film on each side. It makes you think more about what you are going to do. You really have to make a connection and see deeply. Then, trust your instincts and your feelings when it’s happening, when you know it is right. I know when it feels right, and then I work with that. And that is my abstruse answer on limitation.
KD: That mirrors these conversations in a way. When you approach an art practice and fix these factors, such as refusals, into your process, it’s like writing out the uncontrollable limitations which turns everything towards your agency’s purpose instead.
LH: Something that is inherent in limitation, in my opinion, is a silence. With that silence opens up a space of reflection. If you have surplus, it’s like you have too many options, too many things to deal with. Then, you have to figure out what you’re going to use. I think it opens up more than what it hinders. Not to get too crazy in this, but it’s kind of where my mindset is right now.
The beautiful thing about limitation is that it has room for expansion. Limits are never, or I don’t think, physically, if you think of any realm, if you think of science or whatever, an end all be all. Limitation always has room to expand, whereas something that is limitless is almost impossible to fill.
KD: I agree with the parallel to silence, which is something that is in itself of the environment almost at a zero baseline, if that makes sense. If we think of those as equivalents in the way that you spoke about them, then it also means that a limitation could be a starting point. I think that is a positive way to think about things.
Going into your approach to your medium, I am wondering how you decided to use feathers in the work, J.W, R.H, H.D, E.R, NHP (whispering of the self to the self), 2019. I felt that it was an interesting choice visually, from a sensorial viewpoint, and maybe sonically as well.
LH: There are historical references to ostrich feathers especially in mythology, but I can’t profess that I am fluent in that. The whole idea was sensorial. The idea was to build off of a piece I did at The Drawing Center for my Open Sessions residency.
I made a large-scale poem titled On a Stairway Beneath the Eyes, 2018. It is written fully in braille, and it expands maybe 60 or 75 inches. It’s a pretty considerably sized piece. From top to bottom, the writing was probably a good four feet. For the braille, I punched holes into foam paper then placed it onto the wall to create the text. My main idea was to invite a different type of perspective into The Drawing Center, which is very sight-focused. I wanted to invite the blind or visually impaired to come into the space. Principally I wanted them to be able to engage with the artwork from their own perspective. The braille opens up another type of understanding. It completely allows us to dive into this other abyss of imagination. I really like the work to be ephemeral, and I really like the work to be multi-sensorial.
With the feathers, it’s kind of similar. This installation was at SculptureCenter. People engage with sculpture as a hard object that you cannot touch, but this was something that had to be engaged. To go to the next part of the exhibition, you had to walk through them. This was about the softness or floating of the feathers as you move through them. You could barely see anyone walk through it. These are huge feathers. It almost felt as if they were not there. However, they are there if you really close your eyes and go through them. The idea was to open up the senses and allow more people to engage with the work.
KD: There is another recent work titled, To Hear the Earth Before the End of the World, 2020. What actually constitutes the end of the world? I am asking this from an understanding of the sensorial aspect that is considered when making an environment. From that perspective, would the end be a means towards another world?
LH: I expanded the title of Ed Roberson’s book, To See the Earth Before the End of the World, with the author’s blessing. The implication is not actually the end of the world. It is to hear, because there are many worlds. I’m not talking about in a multidimensional way. We may be here on the same Earth, but my world and your world are completely different. What I am envisioning as I compose these pieces is not to open up to anyone. I would rather them be able to draw their own conclusions from what they hear. It’s been really amazing to hear what the audience hears and experience when they listen to the work.
Hearing is an opening that is to sense. That is why the stillness of the work has a slowness. It has an undulation. It has stats and various sounds and frequencies that are modulated in unfamiliar ways. It is all to create a space in which one does not have anything that is recognizable to say “that’s water,” or “that’s a bird.” It really allows one to be in an abstracted, imaginative space. I am far more interested in those very places where people go rather than people getting my perspective. Everybody is telling everybody something. There are a lot of opinions in the world. This is to let people formulate from their own perspective. The reason why the work has such low frequencies, and high frequencies, low sound and high sound, and inaudible, and infrasound, and all these different things, is to conjure just that, feeling. You see that as being a theme in my work. I want people to engage in my work. I don’t even think of it as my work, it is what is coming through me. I want people to feel the works in a way that enhances and furthers my sense of feeling. Them being able to experience this, they get a sense of my feeling, and it creates an expanse. That is what I am more interested in.
KD: As you were talking about To Hear the Earth Before the End of the World and its expansiveness, I am wondering why you decided to have the piece performed, and how did that come about?
LH: It was supposed to be a live performance, but I had to open up another way of imagining how to deliver the piece to people. It builds on this performance that I did at Issue Project Room with a good friend of mine and collaborator, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, with a composition by Julius Eastman. While imaging the live performance, I thought about how I wanted the sound to really move into your bones. It is a fact that sound can actually do so. There would be no visuals or anything like that.
I wanted to think of another way in which that type of feeling could be delivered. I invited another really good friend of mine, Brontë Velez, to perform–I don’t even want to use the word “perform”–to engage with the piece. It was improvised in the most beautiful way. There were no rehearsals. We had discussions about what they were feeling. We listened to the recording before the show, but there was no direction, nothing like that.