Sigune Hamann greets visitors with a Wave in new installation at London Wellcome Collection

By Jack Deacon | 16 February 2012
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A photo of a young girl in a garden waving at the camera
Sigune Hamann, Waver (girl in Vauxhall Park) (2010)© Sigune Hamann
Sigune Hamann is quite literally making waves with her art. In March, the German-born artist’s new Wave instillation, which explores the profundity and complexity of the familiar signal, will be showcased at the Wellcome Collection in London.

Film, documentary footage and still images are all employed by Hamann to capture more than 50 different waves in a gestural montage that sees hands raised in seduction, desperation and farewell to each other, the camera and to visitors.

“Wave is a subjective archive of images, both staged and found,” explains Hamann, who completed an MA at the Royal College of Art.

“I collect, sort, isolate and juxtapose images ranging from small daily encounters to tragic moments of separation.

“Connecting different eras and places, Wave gives a sense of parallel lives, the haunting repetitions of history and the melancholy of recognition in a time of change.”

Her interest in the enigmatic gesture was sparked by strangers waving at her during her travels, and was compounded by a 1950s photo collection she came across.

The collection showed Berliners waving to relatives across the newly-erected Berlin Wall, a practice soon declared illegal by the East German authorities.

The earliest image in her installation is nearly a century old – it captures British soldiers leaving a French harbour during World War I – and the latest images are from a 2011 workshop with children in Berlin.

Several profound moments in time are captured. In one, a lone figure is afloat on debris in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami of 2011, waving desperately to attract attention.

In another, small hands emerging through train windows record the goodbyes of evacuated children from cities during the Blitz.

In many of Hamann’s images, the marked absence of one side of the exchange compels visitors to take a participative role and complete the wave’s story.

Visitors will be encouraged to participate further by juxtaposing waves and contributing their own on an online archive at

Ken Arnold, the Wellcome’s Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, says the “most basic gesture” carries “an extraordinary emotional charge.”

“It is both a demand and response, signalling friendship or hostility, wellbeing or stress,” he observes.

“Sigune Hamann’s work brilliantly teases out the ambiguities of this everyday gesture, and the Wellcome Collection is the perfect place to showcase her intriguing investigation of this unthinking aspect of all our lives, celebrating its strangeness and ambiguity.”

  • Wave is at the Wellcome Collection from February 28 – March 23 2012.

More pictures:

A black and white photo of people in the 1940s waving at people on a train
Herbert Sonnenfeld, Taking leave at Anhalter Bahnhof in front of the train to Marseille (1936)© Jewish Museum Berlin

An image of a grey and orange illustration of a woman waving
AGFA Sleeve for photographic negatives (1930)© Archive of the artist
A photo of two dignitaries waving from a balcony
Japanese Royal Family waving at New Year (date unknown). Found footage, TV broadcast© Archive of the artist
A black and white photo of children waving in the 1940s
Children waving goodbye before departing for Britain on a Kindertransport. Prague Airport (1939)© IWM
A black and white photo of a woman waving above a wall
West Berliner waving to relatives. Berlin (1961)© Landesarchiv Berlin, Photographic Collection

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