Exhibition Statement

Sounding, Installation View

Allyson Packer: Sounding is a site-specific, interactive installation spanning all four floors of the Hamon Arts Library at SMU. With looping video, text-based instructions, and subtle interventions into the architecture and resources of the library, Packer offers viewers an encounter with the possibility of the infinite. While infinity may only exist as a concept, spaces like libraries, Packer argues, can suggest it. The building itself has clearly defined boundaries, and at any given time the physical and digital materials that make up its collection of resources can be quantified numerically. There is a sense of impalpable depth too contained within The Hamon Library, the sublime potential of what is already known, what could be known, what is not yet known, and what is unknowable. The exhibition’s title, Sounding, describes the process of measuring— originally with lead and line, today with sonar— the depth of a body of water, without making direct physical contact with it. Likening the contents of the library to a body of water, the pieces included in this installation act as sounding instruments to plumb the collection’s literal and metaphorical depths. Water, in many different forms, recurs thematically across the whole exhibition. It appears in direct citation of J.M.W. Turner’s paintings, in reference to a fountain outside of the library, in imagery based on folders containing sheet music from the Hamon stacks, and on the public computer desktops.

For several months, Packer has visited the library regularly. She spent long afternoons wandering the stacks, getting to know Hamon’s internal and external rhythms and overlooked quirks. This extended visitation with no other purpose allows her to develop an outsider’s peculiar knowledge of the place that’s at once intimate and remote. The resulting interventions into the space deviate only slightly from a patron’s usual experience of the library. Most are subtle to the point of precarity— the term that French art historian, Anna Dezeuze, in Almost nothing: Observations on precarious practices in contemporary art, uses to describe artworks that exist on the verge of disappearing into the fabric of the everyday (5). By existing on the border between perceptible and imperceptible, Packer’s work redirects viewers’ attention to their own bodies, and their awareness of their presence in a space.

Exhibition Statement