June 6, 2019 - Wexner Center for the Arts - Barbara Hammer: In This Body
June 6, 2019

Wexner Center for the Arts

Barbara Hammer, Evidentiary Bodies (still), 2018 (detail). Three-channel HD video installation (color, sound). Dimensions variable; running time: 9 mins. 30 secs. Courtesy of The Barbara Hammer Estate, COMPANY, New York, and KOW, Berlin. © The Barbara Hammer Estate.

Barbara Hammer
In This Body
June 1–August 11, 2019

Screening Series: June 6–20, Thursday nights, Barbara Hammer: The Body in Film

Wexner Center for the Arts
1871 N. High Street
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio 43210
USA

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In 1993, Barbara Hammer came to the Wexner Center to introduce a screening of her first feature, Nitrate Kisses. Through this film and more than 80 others, the filmmaker created a new cinematic language, one grounded in an unabashedly candid approach, a joyful concentration on the female body and its physical experience, and a profound sensory connection with audiences.

That visit introduced Hammer to the center's Film/Video Studio, a residency program that offers production and post-production support for artists working in film and video. She would return to the center in 1994 for her first Film/Video Studio residency, to utilize staff and equipment for the documentary Out in South Africa. Three more residencies would follow between 1997 and 2005 and, in 2017, financial resources were provided to Hammer through a multiyear Wexner Center Artist Residency Award.

Organized by Jennifer Lange, curator of the Film/Video Studio, Barbara Hammer: In This Body reflects the long, close, and collaborative relationship between the artist and the Wexner Center. The exhibition affirms Hammer’s sustained interest in the female body and the themes of illness, aging, and mortality—before and after she was diagnosed in 2006 with ovarian cancer, the disease she died from in March 2019. It further reveals how her life in film and her life with cancer became inextricably entwined. The artist found creative fuel in her own illness and, with her trademark boldness and generosity of practice, she shared her experience to provoke conversation and collective empathy.

One part of the work supported by the Artist Residency Award and Film/Video Studio is Hammer’s final film, Evidentiary Bodies (2018). The centerpiece of In This Body, the multichannel installation immerses its audience in the corporeality of the artist in the last year of her life, using images of Hammer’s own body as a projection surface.

Visitors pass through curtains of X-ray films onto which CT scans of Hammer’s torso are projected to find walls filled with multilayered imagery of the artist. Her figure moves through a process of struggle and acceptance, set to an emotionally charged score made in collaboration with cellist N. Scott Johnson. Though its focus is on the end of life, the work is powerfully physical and profoundly beautiful.

In This Body positions Hammer as a true interdisciplinary artist, with a fluid, intuitive practice in which formal strategies repeat and imagery and materials are shared across works. Through samples of her collage (the series What You Are Not Supposed to Look At), photography (the series Chest X-ray), and sculpture (Cancer Bones), tactility emerges as a common bond. Even where the body of the artist isn’t explicitly represented, her hand is apparent in pieces that foreground process.

The work for which Hammer is best known is also represented at the center through several film/video events in June, beginning with No No Nooky T.V. (1987). Her playfully subversive short about the social constructs informing common perspectives on women and sexuality screens throughout the month in The Box, the Wex’s dedicated exhibition space for video.

In the Film/Video Theater, Barbara Hammer: The Body in Film offers three programs curated by Lange around the themes of human fragility and impermanence (Mortal Bodies, June 6), the artist’s interest in the experience of touch (Sensual Bodies, June 13), and Hammer’s drive to “find the political,” as she described it (Political Bodies, June 20). The last of these programs includes the return of the film that first brought Hammer to the Wex: Nitrate Kisses.

Before she passed, Hammer entrusted four filmmakers to use the remainder of her Artist Residency Award to complete four of her unfinished films. Deborah Stratman premiered Vever (For Barbara) at the 2019 Berlinale. Lynne Sachs recently finished A Month of Single Frames. Mark Street and Dan Veltri will complete the remaining two films, with all works screening at the Wex in September.

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