Allison Janae Hamilton’s evocative work is influenced by the sights and sounds of the southern landscape. Her photographs, videos, sculptures, and installations feature environments familiar to the north Florida and Tennessee landscapes that are home to her family — boiling swamps and tall pines, vespid wasps and green anoles, wild horses, and white clapboard houses. Hamilton creates a sense of place that is both magical and menacing, with Spanish moss decorating the knotted trees, music filling the humid air, and alligators roaming the shallow waters.
But for Hamilton, this terrain and its inhabitants are not the stuff of fiction or gothic fantasy, but tangible matter of palpable consequence. The commanding, full-sized alligators that are a powerful symbol in her work draw both from the mythical ouroboros and from her experiences growing up in a family network of hunters. Sustainability and the future of this verdant, balmy environment — and the environment at large — are significant themes in her practice. (Hamilton works with friends and family to sustainably source the reptile carcasses.) Land is as important a character in Hamilton’s narratives as the family members who help populate and produce many of her performance-based works. A mix of personal realities and epic narratives, the artist’s rich vision of the rural landscape is a lens through which she explores the intersection of agricultural, environmental, and social histories that continue to inform the present.
At MASS MoCA — in her first solo museum exhibition — Hamilton presents an ensemble of old and new works, including a new installation that looks to the legacy of the turpentine industry. The exhibition’s title suggests not only the resin material of pine trees mined in the turpentine-making process, but also the myths and fables that take place in the pitch-black hours of the night, and an array of noises heard in the environment that inspires Hamilton, from the sounds of animals to those associated with labor and song.