Inhabiting the entirety of the enormous Park Avenue Armory exhibition space, Ann Hamilton’s “the event of a thread” is a unique participatory installation in that it combines profound social implications with childish mechanisms. Upon entering the exhibition hall, visitors are confronted with a large desk, inhabited by two cloaked readers reciting philosophical texts to caged pigeons (an exhibition manager explained that the birds served to represent New York City residents). These recitations are amplified on paper-covered speakers–that upon first glance appear to be string-tied packages–which dot the floor and which visitors are encouraged to pick up and listen to. The various droning voices throughout the exhibition space result in a community of unintelligible murmurs wherein one has to wonder if we, like the pigeons, can really be bothered to pay attention…
Past the readers’ table looms a large white curtain which spans the width of the Armory, the space between punctuated by numerous wooden swings. These swings are connected to the curtain by a series of ropes and pulleys, and as visitors swing back and forth, the corresponding spot on the curtain waves in unison. This component of the exhibition is far-and-away the biggest crowd pleaser: not only does it cater to our childish sensibilities, it also offers tangible progress achieved by this eternally innocent activity.
In past interviews, Hamilton has remarked that for her, textiles represent societal entities; a single thread, although often unseen, binds with countless other threads to create a larger, stronger stretch of fabric. “The event of a thread” takes this metaphor full circle by inviting users to participate in the movement of the billowing white curtain–an operation Hamilton usually reserves for automated machines. The swings, although separated by large empty spaces, are similarly social tools, for the more visitors utilize them, the more the structure of the curtain changes. Interestingly, two swings on either side of the curtain are connected to each other, which, when the exhibition is full, makes for some confusion and competition in this collective structure. The two visitors on either side of the curtain cannot see each other, but are unable to move their spot on the curtain without cooperation from the other side.
“The event of a thread” is an elegant commentary on social structures and, in turn, the interests of the individual. The case for an educated, coefficient community is apparent through the swing mechanisms and the against the backdrop humming scholarship, but only if we are willing to listen. Yet as the pigeons coo and the readers mumble texts by philosophers from Aristotle to Descartes, visitors to the exhibition are undoubtedly more drawn to the more playful side of the exhibition hall. We don’t want a lecture, it seems, we just want to swing.
“the event of a thread,” through Jan. 6 at the Park Avenue Armory
643 Park Avenue, at 66th Street
New York, NY