Dramatic, peaceful, subtle, inspired, moving, loud–the list could go on and on when describing Ann Hamilton’s “the event of a thread” exhibit. The use of disparate  words is intentional so as to best capture the distinct types of reactions to this exhibit.  Ann Hamilton, an artist of large-scale multi-media art installations, is well known internationally for her unique constructs that fold in the site’s  surroundings, history, space, architecture, as well as patrons, to interact collectively in the environment. The “event of a thread exhibit” will be housed at the Park Avenue Armory, in the  Wade Thompson Drill Hall and open to the public through January 6th 2013.

Visitors delighted in the inter-play of light and cloth as the large silk curtain billowed up and down above their heads. The movement of the sheet is driven by the swings. The horizontal swaying motion of the swings is converted into a vertical movement of the cloth as connected strings are threaded through a pulley system which is fastened to the ceiling of the armory. The two images above largely personify Hamilton’s motivation for creating her works. She strives to answer “What are the places and forms for live, tactile, visceral, face-to-face experiences in a media saturated world?” This questioning provoked a very  imaginative  response as “the event of a thread exhibit  masterfully immerses the viewer in a dissertation on time, memory, and tangible experiences.

There is a true communal feeling around Hamilton’s exhibit. Just as she leverages a collaborative process in merging multiple materials to create a piece; she creates a collaborative environment for visitors to participate in the environment in partnerships, with friends, with family, with actors in the exhibit and even with complete strangers. Children’s squeals of delight echo throughout the armory as their parents push them higher and faster on the swings. Couples take turns giving each other a joking push as they revel in a childhood pleasure. Other patrons can have a less involved role and sit on the benches on the side walls, reflecting  quietly. All levels of movement converge and are beautifully framed by the squares of light pouring through the filtered fixtures from the ceiling.

I spoke briefly with the artist herself and snapped her photo. I was very fortunate to have met her while she was orchestrating her exhibit. She delighted in the patrons who were laying on the floor and looking upwards through the sheet – the light dancing on the wrinkles in the fabrics. She took a few photos of this participation on her i-Phone and mentioned that there would be a singer performing from the balcony of the space later that evening. She then retreated to survey the live action installments of her exhibition as pictured below.

Aforementioned, Hamilton draws the history of the surroundings into her pieces. As a nod to the Park Avenue Armory she brings the voices of the past to the voices of the present. The actors were positioned at opposite ends of the space and represent the written versus the spoken word. The woman labors over sheets of lined paper, scribbling texts from the likes of Aristotle with a charcoal pencil while the man dictates shorts texts into a radio microphone, seated before several homing pigeons encased in wooden cages. They symbolize the importance of language and how it has evolved over time as well as how we use language to freeze time or form a memory of our ephemeral life experiences.

I also spent some time wandering throughout the first floor of the Park Avenue Armory as it was open to the public and it is part of the New York City Landmarks Commission. It was completed in 1881 and was built by the National Guard’s Seventh Regiment. The Armory embodies the Gilded Age of New York City Society. The Armory was utilized as a reception hall for military as well as social gatherings. You can read more about the history of the Armory and its reception rooms  here.

For information about visiting Ann Hamilton’s “the event of a thread” exhibit, you can find general visitor information here. To learn more about Ann Hamilton’s background and other projects, visit her website here.