January 7, 2013

the event of a thread

looking down from the balcony
caged pigeons sit quietly at the entrance 
the billowing sheet and speakers creates a natural resting place
watching my feet as I swing
the chain-link of the swing
 the newspaper for the project
the joy of swinging is felt by all
 notice the shafts of light illuminating the swing's path
"the object of smell is smell..."
 the stillness amongst the chaos of the swinging
I was a bit nervous to see Ann Hamilton's installation, the event of a thread, at the Park Avenue Armory. The piece has been getting a lot of attention here in New York (certainly helped by Roberta Smith's review for the New York Times, making the cover of their "Weekend Arts" section), serving to raise my expectations–and apprehension.

You know that saying "never meet your heroes because they are bound to disappoint" ? Well, she has been one of my art heroes since I discovered her work back in college (the fact that she is also from Ohio means that I feel even more of a connection or a kinship to her) yet I have seen very little of her work in person. I have pored over her books extensively, but the opportunity to experience one of her installations was thrilling, and daunting too. What if I found it to be yet another crowd-pleasing piece of entertainment-as-art?  You know, like this piece of machismo?

But I couldn't not go.  That would be ridiculous.

So on a late January afternoon, I made my way uptown, paid my $12, and entered the vastness that is the Park Avenue Armory (a stunning building that has also got to be the most intimidating art venue in the city). And pretty quickly, I found myself completely mesmerized. The joy on everyone's faces, the gigantic piece of white fabric softly blowing in the center of the room, the mysterious actors whispering into microphones surrounded by caged pigeons, and the swinging. Oh, the swinging! Chaos and stillness. The individual act creating collective action. 

Soon after I entered, I was lucky to happen upon a swing just as it was being vacated (there is no time  limit, no monitoring, no waiting list, just luck). Wide enough to fit two people, taller than any swing you have ever seen, the chain link goes almost all the way to the ceiling (which I just looked up and it is 85 feet tall) and is connected to a system of pulleys and ropes that are attached to the giant white sheet. I sat still in the swing for a minute, to try to discern whether my individual swing would impact the movement of the sheet, but it didn't seem to.  However, when I started to swing, the sheet began raising and lowering at a more dramatic pace than when I was sitting still. Swinging is always fun–anytime your feet leave the ground, whether it's on a ferris wheel or a flying trapeze or a water slide, we experience a sense of lightness, a sense of agelessness, and a sense of joy.

Ann  Hamilton writes that "the event of a thread is made of many  crossings of the near at hand and the far away: it is a body crossing space,  a voice crossing  the room in a paper bag, is listening crossing with speaking...The crossings of threads make a cloth...Like skin, its membrane is responsive to contact, to the movement of air, to gravity's pull."

Apparently at the end of each day, an opera singer appears up above in the balcony and performs. While she is singing, a record is being cut live of her performance. Then, the next morning, the record is played.  Sadly, my timing was off - I was not to witness the opera singer appear. But in a way, it was enough to know there was more, more than just giant swings transporting people of all ages to a place of weightlessness. There was mystery and poetry. And that was enough for me.

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