Ann Hamilton is an artist who understands what it's like to fly, if only for a moment. She writes on her website, "Time stopped -- and then suddenly rushed again toward us," when she describes early experiences of swinging on the playground. This feeling of "thrownness" into the world is an integral part to understanding the former MacArthur fellow's work.
The Park Avenue Armory recently commissioned Hamilton to create an artwork that will fill the 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall, and the artist stepped up to the challenge. For the first time in over a decade, she has a giant show in New York. And by giant, we mean it. Her latest multisensory project, entitled, "the event of a thread," is a large-scale work of art in which everything -- and everyone -- is connected.
A billowing white curtain bisects the space at the Armory, and cables connect the curtain to wooden swings large enough for two, which control its movement in wonderful ways. Walking along the smooth floorboards, visitors can pick up beautifully wrapped brown paper parcels containing radio transmitters. Put them up to your ear and you'll hear the soft words of a reader; two are positioned near the entrance, dressed in mottled grey robes, delivering lines contained in long white scrolls. Caged pigeons are trapped on either sides of the pigeon-color clad readers, creating a visually stunning and disturbing scene that we're still trying to figure out.
“Hamilton’s installation will draw together human actions -- including speaking, singing, reading and writing -- with the poetic potential of physical forces, such as velocity, time, and sound,” wrote Kristy Edmunds, Consulting Artistic Director at the Armory, in a statement. By swinging on the swing, you control the curtain. By picking up a wrapped parcel, you learn about mathematical truths as you take in the sights around you. You control your own actions, but you can't truly separate them from others around you in this exhibition. Wires connect each swing, and the messages are disseminated through all parcels. In other words, this experience must be shared and discovered.
'the event of a thread' is on view at the Park Avenue Armory from December 7 through January 6, 2013. See the artist in conversation with Kristy Edmunds this Saturday, December 8 in New York.