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Weekly Art Hit: Ann Hamilton’s “LEW Wood Floor”

At the Central Library, you don’t even need to open a book to find all sorts of written text.  Ann Hamilton’s LEW Wood Floor (2004) is composed of sentences in 11 different languages, welcoming all visitors to the library. As a continuous tactile field, the wood floor consists of 556 lines of maple floorboard routed to make a walkable surface of relief letter forms. It  covers 7,200 square feet in the Evelyn W Foster Learning Center, at the 4th Avenue entrance, which is home to the Literacy/ESL/World Languages (LEW) Collection, from which the project derives its name. The artist chose languages that represent the largest and most frequently used areas of the LEW Collection: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Hamilton LIB05.018.04If you look closely, you will see that the letters are backwards . . . a reference to traditional typesetting technique in the days before digital printing. In addition, the task of reading the floorboards backwards “demonstrates the experience of learning to read as a process wherein abstract symbols become, in time, transparent and meaningful words and sentences.” The artist collected “1,543 first sentences gathered by patrons and librarians from books in The Seattle Public Library Fiction and LEW collection. Fiction and non-fiction, poetry and musical lyrics are the dominant textual sources. First lines may not be the most notable line of a book, but after the cover they are a universal portal to an immersion in a book’s interior world. The project seeks to evoke a tactile experience of book production and reading in this digital age.”

Funded by Libraries for All Bond 1% for Art funds.

Photograph by Carmen Montoya.