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Central Library, Seattle

Site-Integrated Commissions

For the selection of the artists to undertake the site-integrated commissions within the library, an advisory panel was formed comprising arts professionals, library staff, a member of the architects' team, and the project's art planners, Cusick and Lowe. Each of the seven panellists was asked to recommend artists whose work they felt was particularly appropriate for this project. A group of these recommended artists was retained following a further process of selection carried out by the arts planners, and that final group of artists was invited to confirm their interest in the project and to submit their qualifications.

28 artists responded to this invitation, and in December 2000 the advisory panel recommended four artists to the Library Board. Ann Hamilton, Gary Hill, Gabriel Orozco, and Tony Oursler are all USA-based artists with an extensive international record of exhibitions and commissions (though Seattle-based Hill is described as a "local-boy" in a city newspaper). Local art critic Emily Hall considered this choice of artists to be "a coup for a city whose main museum's collection largely ignores topnotch contemporary art."

During February 2001 the four artists met architect Rem Koolhaas for an orientation of the proposed building design. Gabriel Orozco later decided not to proceed with his proposal. The three remaining artists developed their specific proposals during summer 2001.

Ann Hamilton: Floor of Babble

The first sentences of books in 11 different languages have been hand routed by Amish woodworkers in low relief into the maple boards of the floor of the foreign language resources section of the library. The texts are set backwards like a bed of wooden type. (The floor has proved to be a particularly popular feature of the library.)

Ann Hamilton (b.1956) was born in Ohio, where she still lives. She is internationally acclaimed for her astonishing sensory installations, combining sound, text, video, books, accumulated found objects, and sometimes live animals or people. In 1996 she made a permanent work for San Francisco Public Library from disused library catalogue cards.

Gary Hill: Astronomy by Day (and other oxymorons)

An hour-long seamless video loop is projected at 40-ft by 40-ft on to the white plaster main atrium wall, viewable from many levels of the building. The video, in black and white, comprises subtly diagrammatic renderings of thousands of man-made objects, floating through virtual planes that reflect the architectural form of the library building.

Gary Hill (b.1951), who lives in Seattle, is one of the most important video artists of recent decades. His videotape works and installations have been seen throughout the world. They explore concepts of how we use and understand language, eschewing special effects in favour of the clear exposition of ideas.

Tony Oursler: Commu

Three 'video sculptures' are located within the wall of the escalator connecting Levels 3 and 5. Viewed by those travelling on the escalator through jagged apertures which appear to have been punctured through the plaster wall, morphing human faces whispering texts are projected on to white three-dimensional forms set amongst the wiring and pipes within the walls. The artist describes the work as "a contemplation on the transmission of information", reflecting the movement of people and information in the surrounding environment.

Tony Oursler (b.1957) lives and works in New York. He combines video art and sculpture, installation and performance, projecting moving images on to shaped fibreglass forms, animating them eerily. Along with Bill Viola and Gary Hill, he is considered to be one of the most important video artists of the present day.

© Copyright David Briers 2005