The Event of a Thread

Monday, January 07, 2013

I had all but lost feeling in my toes by the time I finally got to enter the Park Avenue Armory. It was the last weekend of Ann Hamilton's installation, The Event of a Thread, and the line for tickets circled around the building. A conversation I overheard between a father and his little boy cemented my resolve to stay in line despite the chill that was slowly and excruciatingly seeping in. As they peeped in through a window on Lexington Avenue, a negotiation of sorts went on.
"That's what's inside," the dad said. "We're going to have to line up for a long time in the cold before we get in there. Or, I can just take you to the playground so you can go on the swings."
"We'll wait," said this precocious boy, so little he barely came up to my waist. "It's worth it," he said assuredly. 
I'm glad I listened to that little kid. As soon as I stepped foot into that exhibition space, I found myself agreeing with that child. Yes, it was definitely worth the wait.

Ann Hamilton's latest piece is a living, breathing piece of interactive art. The centerpiece of the installation is an immense, billowing piece of silk. Its undulations come from the push and pull of 42 large wooden swings that are attached to the fabric. It is breathtaking to behold; more so when you realize how the art's interaction with its audience is what makes the spectacle possible.

Lying underneath those sweeping curtains, you see more vividly how interwoven the elements of the exhibition are. The rise and fall, and the ebb and flow of each swathe of silk is influenced by every swing's movements. A few particularly forceful pushes can bring parts of the fabric tantalizingly and fleetingly close to the fingertips of the people sprawled beneath.
The graceful dance of the fabric was soothing and almost hypnotic. I could've kept laying there, held in a trance by the diaphanous silk and the curious words coming out of an errant paper bag.

Words from minds such as Aristotle and Ralph Waldo Emerson filtered out of brown paper bags laying haphazardly around the space. The sounds were transmitted from a table by the entrance of the exhibit, where caped actors read aloud from scrolls into microphones, surrounded by a captive audience of plump pigeons.

On the other end of the hall, a solitary writer listened to the same sounds while catching glimpses of what's taking place behind him from a swinging looking glass. He scrawled letters on pieces of paper as a reaction to what was happening, addressing them "Dear Light", "Dear Heavy", "Dear Loud" and so forth. The scratching of lead against paper was also recorded and added to the symphony of sorts coming out of the paper bags.
Steps away from the writer, a record lathe stood illuminated. At the end of the day, a singer would perform on the Juliet balcony as the pigeons were released, and a record would be cut of the performance. That record would then be played at the beginning of the following day, creating even more connections. The loom spins on.

The threads that connect each facet of Miss Hamilton's installation are plentiful, complex, and in some ways, unfathomable—a perfect metaphor for society and our interwoven lives. But as fascinating as it was to follow the artist's thought process, it wasn't the complexity of it all that won me over. I loved this piece because the artist made the process of participating in the installation a joy.

The sheer bliss of floating through the air on a swing was a feeling I thought dissipated with childhood, but it never really leaves. "Everyone here just looks so happy," one woman observed simply and accurately. Adults and children alike reveled in this chance to play and be part of something big, something beautiful, something outside ourselves—yet another fitting symbolism because really, isn't that what life's ultimately about?

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  1. I was there yesterday! I love art installations and it was so worth going. Not to mention I love the building.

    1. Glad you caught it, too! This was definitely one of the coolest installations I've seen in awhile. And yes, the building is amazing, as well. I hope New York has a lot more cool art in store for us in 2013!

  2. I liked how you put it, that we are all connected through various complex threads, just like the exhibit. One gets the sense...just by viewing the pictures(!)...of the joy and even peace that folks must've experienced while there.

    So glad I found your blog. Gave me a smile to read this today!

    1. Thank you! Your comment gave me a smile, too! It really was an amazing experience - both visceral and intellectual. Glad you enjoyed this post!

  3. Replies
    1. It really was! Wish everyone could experience it.

  4. H,i

    The art there seems very beautiful to me. The photos you took there where great to, only a bit... eh ... blurred sometimes. But who cares. I'm happy I read this.

    1. Thanks Mel! Yup, iPhone photography can be challenging sometimes - especially when people are moving around on swings! Someday maybe I'll get a real camera ... ;-) Glad you enjoyed the post nonetheless!

  5. This. Is very cool i like this...