Ann Hamilton Installation
Park Ave Armory
The Park Ave Armory is old and well maintained, with the feel of a mansion and a warehouse simultaneously. After entering through the elaborate lobby area, one passes through a large open doorway into the main space, encountering dark trusses, brick walls, well worn wood floors, and deep shadows. A giant white silky curtain hangs perpendicular to your entry, in the middle of the giant space, extending nearly the entire width and height of the hall. On either side of it, a field of wooden swings hang. From their support ropes, additional ropes attach to the top of the curtain, so as show-goers swing back and forth their movement transfers through these ropes pulling the curtain’s top in a continuous tug of war. At the entrance end of the hall, two people wearing furry capes read from scrolls to pigeons. Their voices are broadcast through paper bags scattered throughout the field of swings. On the other side of the hall, a person in a similar costume continuously writes on ruled pieces of loose paper. A concave mirror somehow attached to the swings hangs over him and moves every once in a while, redirecting intense spots of light. An old typewriter on a podium sits passively closeby, bathed in a perfectly round spotlight.
The work somewhat awkward in layout – as you walk through the field of swings there’s a simultaneous feeling of freedom in the large space but also the feeling that you could be hit by a swinger if you don’t watch out. This necessary heightened awareness adds to the feeling that you’re part of a living organ where you’re in tune to the movement of the curtain, the swings, and the people around you.
Theatre spotlights highlight the important pieces Hamilton has created in the Armory (the swings, the curtain, the tables with the readers, writer, and typewriter), leaving the rest in shadow. Barn doors are used to create perfectly crisp light rectangles on the wood floor under each swing, highlighting their path of movement. Other spotlights very precisely highlight the writer and reader tables with the pigeons and mirrors. More spotlights aim at the giant white satin curtain, whose movement in this direct light emphasizes its sheen.
Because the interior is so dark and only downlights are used, the actual architecture is veiled behind the light sources in shadow, giving the impression that one doesn’t know the actual boundary of the space. The fuzzy peripherals contribute to the surreal magic of the space.
Like Eliasson’s holy grail, the participants truly feel their ability to affect their environment: any action they feed into their swing feeds back to them as air movement throughout the entire space. There is some kind of magic to the whole experience, like you just stumbled onto a portal to a parallel Harry Potter universe. There’s a feeling of community created by the giant curtain – people lay underneath it to watch its movement and feel it’s breeze, as if they were laying on a grassy hill watching the stars come out. It’s both disappointing and poignant that when you actually swing back and forth, your movement does not feel free because of your attachment to the giant curtain and consequently the tug of the other swingers across from you. The magic is really all in the billow of the curtain though – its movement is gigantic and elegant.
From the show title “the event of a thread” and the incredibly celebrated rope system of the swings, one’s first impression is that the concept is about each human’s energy being put into their individual swing, being carried through the fragile yet catalytic element of the rope, and amplified in the movement of the giant curtain, which creates air movement throughout the entire space. However, reading her artist statement in the distributed newspapers at the event, the concept is much broader than that. It’s about crossings – of the body across space in a swing, of the threads within the curtain, of the ropes of the swings, of the voices of the readers to the paper bags. And it’s about the feeling of motion and weightless suspension that one can get from swinging or listening to a book being read. And it’s about cloth as a responsive membrane, almost an extension of the skin. Hamilton layers layers and layers of meaning into her work.
Records and Representation
All the advertisements for the show (yes…advertisements for art…) showed vague shadows of people swinging on swings, to give a hint of the show without giving it all away. Newspapers of fuzzy shadows and the show’s explanation are held near the entrance of the Armory to be taken for free.