Ann Hamilton

"It seems so fitting that it took so long to have made it because I don't think I could've even understood that that's what was happening."
-- Ann Hamilton

View Spark segment on Ann Hamilton. Original air date: July 2007. (Running Time: 14:35)

Ann Hamilton's eight-story tower, built on the grounds of the Oliver Ranch in Geyserville, Calif., is more than just a work of art to be observed. With its cylindrical walls, staggered windows, open ceiling and winding stairways, the space also serves as a unique venue for performance art. Spark visits with Hamilton and Meredith Monk for the unveiling of "The Tower."

The product of almost nine years of discussion and three years of construction, Hamilton's tower was inspired by a 16th-century Italian well that led farm animals down to water via one staircase and -- because they couldn't turn around on their own -- back to the top via another. Yet unlike a well deep in the ground, Hamilton's work rises high above the landscape.

In the structure's center, a reflecting pool sets the stage for the two spiral staircases, which shaped like a double helix never connect or cross each other in a seemingly M.C. Escher fashion. Adding to the illusion, the 128 steps in each of the staircases get progressively narrower as they ascend.

Poured from more than 2,000 tons of concrete and sandblasted for an instant antiquing effect, "The Tower" features windows in various shapes and sizes that, much like the holes on a woodwind instrument, allow sound to escape. At the same time, these openings provide an unconventional seating schema for audiences.

"What interested me about the form of the double helix in this situation is that it means that one stairway can be a moving performance and one can be a static or moving audience. But you're wound within each other, in the same space," Hamilton explains.

Steve and Nancy Oliver's 100-acre ranch has become one of the most prestigious private art preserves in the country over the last two decades. Hamilton's tower is the 18th site-specific structure that the Olivers have commissioned on their Sonoma property.

Based in Columbus, Ohio, Ann Hamilton earned an M.F.A. in sculpture from Yale University. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1993 and was the 1999 American representative to the Venice Biennale. She is a faculty member at the University of Ohio.

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