Wednesday, January 23, 2013

the event of a thread

I recently visited New York with the purpose of seeing Ann Hamilton's show the event of a thread at the Park Avenue Armory.

I've been following other peoples' posts about their visits and share in their sense of awe and wonderment of it all. I have difficulty finding the words or capturing in photos the ethereal nature of the experience. And that is what Ann Hamilton is about apparently. Here's an apt description of work found on Wikipedia:

Using time as process and material, Hamilton's methods of making serve as an invocation of place, of collective voice, of communities past and of labor present. Noted for a dense accumulation of materials, her ephemeral environments create immersive experiences that respond poetically to the architectural presence and social history of their sites.

For me, a key word is immersive. In a space as large as the Park Ave Armory, it is mind boggling how this installation works to both fill the space plus intimately relate to the individual - connecting hundreds of people to that particular moment in time and place. 
According to Hamilton, "No two voices are alike. No event is ever the same. Each intersection in this project is both made and found."

There are 42 swings scattered on either side of a very large silk swath of fabric. The fabric moves and dances in response to a system of pulleys that are connected to the swings. There is a direct relationship between the actions of the swings and the billowing of the cloth, as unique as the combinations of individuals that are swinging on the swings at any given time.

"Suspended via ropes and pulleys by a field of swings hung 70 feet from arched iron trusses, a white cloth more than twice the hall's width and nearly as tall is the central figure in the space. Whether a tug of war or a unison effort, individualized or coordinated, the responsive liquidity of the silk registers the combined velocities and accelerations of the field of swings. The shifting weather of the white cloth is generated through collective action. A common activity perhaps reveals our kinship with bees, ants. and cranes: all united as Aristotle's 'social animals' undertaking the same action for the elevation of the whole."

At the entrance of Drill Hall and facing a flock of caged pigeons, two readers read aloud from scrolls.  The texts, which change daily, are by authors from Aristotle to Charles Darwin to the poet Ann Lauterbach. Words from the readings stream as nonsequitors between the two readers in regular intervals and are transmitted to radios encased in paper bags placed on the floor throughout the armory.

"Words allow us to travel while the tactile keeps us present; a rhythmic exchange of reeling out and pulling in that is also the swing's pendulum."

When swinging forward and back, the sounds from the paper bags swing from loud to soft and loud again. Adding to the immediacy of the moment and articulating the flightiness of time. Also, the day ends with a live vocalist performance which is recorded and used to begin the show on the following day.

"The plainsong, cut live to vinyl lathe - from center to outside edge, a motion repeated when played each morning after - returns the recent past to the current moment."

Hamilton's work is known for requiring people to slow down and now I understand exactly what they mean. I needed to be present at the show for quite a while before actually comprehending my experience. It was monumental yet intimate. It felt grand yet personal. It reached out and pulled in. 

"If on a swing, we are alone, we are together in a field. This condition of the social is the event of a thread. Our crossings with its motions, sounds, and textures is its weaving; is a social act." 

There is so much to think about. I feel like I witnessed something momentous, and by participating, that I was part of something much bigger than myself.  

Ann Hamiltion will be speaking at Harvard University and Mass College of Art and Design this April - I can't wait.

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