How do you define an exhibit that’s half hipster playground and half mental asylum? I’d say it’s just another overly artsy gallery in Williamsburg, but Ann Hamilton’s exhibition “The Event of a Thread” actually resides on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the Park Avenue Armory. No kidding. The exhibition gives off the feel of a large-scale performance art, but several aspects of it dialectically oppose the medium and make it feel more like a giant three-dimensional piece of art that just happens to be large enough for you to walk through. I say this because at times the performance art element of the exhibit fades away entirely – your presence becomes increasingly inconsequential and there seems to be no action or performance to even watch – you simply wander.
The Artist as a Drone
As soon as you enter this large, seemingly endless space, you are greeted by a small table that hosts a flurry of caged pigeons and denim-clad orators. Like mindless drones, they repeat very specific, rehearsed actions without pause or emotion. And just beyond them hang dozens of unnamed swings attached to an elaborate system of pulleys that ultimately control a large curtain. The swings also appear to be connected to a series of bells, chimes, and accordions that are all activated by movement. And the best part: the swings are yours to play with feely giving you a nice, nostalgic escape into your childhood.
While there are many interactive elements to the exhibit, Hamilton is quite conscious to keep her viewers at the periphery. This was evidenced most pervasively as I watched a woman repeatedly ask one of the drones, “are you Ann Hamilton?” to which there was no response. In fact, there was no recognition of the question at all. And of course, as it turns out, that was Ann Hamilton.
Don’t Feed the Birds!
I loved this concept of pure, unadulterated freedom in an art space in which you are capable, even encouraged, to interact with the art because it breaks away from the conventional gallery mentality we are so dogmatically accustomed to; however, Hamilton is careful not to let us get too comfortable as she provides you with no response in return. Therefore, you are made to feel just as alienated from the exhibit as if you were in any other stuffy, pretentious art gallery (especially on the Upper East Side). And to perfectly elucidate this point, Hamilton teases you with a scene of live, caged pigeons which you are specifically instructed not to feed!
So with unfettered access to the exhibit, but unable to interact with your representational-self and the human aspect of the exhibition (for what else is there?), you are simultaneously part of and locked outside of the very art world which you’ve paid $12.00 to get into. Brilliant.
- Park Avenue Armory Ann Hamilton’s “The Events of a Thread” Exhibition – December 5th 2012 – January 6th 2013.