The Audience as Art Movement

By 

Published: December 6, 2012

“Anyone who liked swings as a child — and that should include quite a few of us — will probably feel a surprisingly visceral attraction to Ann Hamilton’s installation “the event of a thread” at the Park Avenue Armory.

The work is the latest from one of the more self-effacing orchestrators of installation-performance art, and her first new piece in New York in more than a decade. It centers on an immense, diaphanous white curtain strung across the center of the armory’s 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall. Dispersed on either side are 42 large wood-plank swings, suspended from the hall’s elaborately trussed ceiling beams by heavy chains that are also tied to the rope-and-pulley system that holds up the curtain.

The swings are there for us, to swing on. “The people formerly known as the audience,” in the memorable wordsof the media critic Jay Rosen, form a crucial ingredient of the work as never before in Ms. Hamilton’s art. The piece has other components, about which more in a minute, but if people are not using the swings, “the event of a thread” does not fully exist. When they are in action, the curtain, made of a lightweight silk twill, rises and dips, and the air is stirred, causing further billowing and fluttering.

The swings, which are clearly not built for small children, are wide enough to accommodate two, or sometimes even three, adults or adolescents. At the opening on Tuesday evening, people swung singly and in pairs, slow and low or higher and faster, often with helpful pushes from friends. The air filled with sounds of glee punctuated by cellphone rings, which actually sounded great in the general hubbub.

And in the middle of it all, the curtain, which resembles a low-cost indoor version of Christo and Jean-Claude’s 1972land art piece “Valley Curtain,” was doing its silent, discombobulated dance. In addition, if you paused in your swinging, you could feel the rest of the interconnected system pulse and gyrate, a momentary demonstration — at once silly and profound — that we are, indeed, all connected.

The good news is that the piece seems to bring elements of unpredictability and even fun to a body of work that has often taken itself a bit too seriously. Ms. Hamilton, who represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1999, began her career as a weaver, earning a B.F.A. in textile design at the University of Kansas in 1979 before heading for Yale and an M.F.A. in sculpture. (In a sense she is still weaving, but in real time and space, combining objects, language and action so that they intersect suggestively and often poetically.)…”

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by | December 10, 2012 · 2:42 pm

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