Ann Hamilton , Phora, 2005; Courtesy of the artist

Ann Hamilton , Phora, 2005; Courtesy of the artist

A review of Phora by Michael Beyser

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Upon entering the lobby at the Burchfield Penney Art Center right now, the visitor finds the lobby dominated by a huge installation on the wall above the visitor’s desk. A grid of over one hundred poster sized images covers the entire length of the wall from the second floor to the ceiling. The images are fuzzy representations of facial features on an enormous scale, leering out from a shadowy matte black background. Mouths, teeth, lipstick, eyes, ears, and noses descend on the viewer like a scene from a B grade horror movie from the 1960s.

There is something malevolent about the installation, even though the faces often appear to be smiling or, at worst, indifferent to the spectator. Adding to the ambience is a continuous loop of distorted sound in a low tone. Unrecognizable and source unknown, it adds to the experience of being completely overwhelmed as the images and sound combine to eliminate all other environmental features from the viewer’s experience. The intensity may be temporary, but when standing still, gazing upward while the hallway it is easy to forget the moment while viewing this installation.

What we are seeing is Ann Hamilton’s Phora, or at least the lion’s share of the images that were featured in a 2005 installation at La Maison Rouge in Paris. 102 of the original 130 images have been reinstalled here. The images, originally taken with a miniature video camera at very close range, are of religious statuary. This is not evident, however, and the overall impact on the viewer is one of being surrounded by a throng of people – people that are just too close for the viewer to feel at ease. Their intention is not clearly laid out, which adds to the unsettling effect of the piece. This leaves each viewer to experience their own emotional reaction and form their own ideas about what it means for them.

Michael Beyser


Michael Beyser is a student in Beth Hinderliter's "Themes and Issues in Contemporary Art" fine arts course at SUNY Buffalo State.