The current art experience transforming the Park Avenue Armory has people swinging through the air in the massive drill hall’s 55,000 square feet, with a giant swath of fabric billowing in the center of it all. It’s called The Event of a Thread and is by the artist Ann Hamilton. I’ve been three times since it has opened (I always must take the visitors to the best in NYC immersive art) to relax under the mesmerizing white sheet or soar on one of the creaky wooden swings.
When you enter the installation, you see two people reading into microphones with pigeons on either side. Their voices are being transmitted to speakers contained in paper bags around the room that look like sack lunches someone has forgotten. If you get to the installation about 20 minutes until it closes, an opera singer steps out on a balcony and sings, and then the pigeons are released to fly to their coop suspended above the hall. It is really quite beautiful. The recording of that song is then played when the installation opens the following day.
The people on the swings definitely dictate the dynamic of the space. Once I went and it was mostly children, making it feel like a dreamlike playground with lots of gleeful screeching. However, when it’s mostly adults, people who probably haven’t been on a swing in years, maybe decades, it gives it a whole different feeling of nostalgic joy.
At the opposite end of the room from the readers is a writer at a table who is scribbling out a response to what is happening in the hall. They can see the installation reflected in a mirror above them that tilts with a swing. I wish I could have applied for this position, just look at the awesome fuzzy coat/cape the color of pigeon feathers they get to wear!
One of the most amazing parts of the installation is the way the 42 swings are connected to the ceiling, in this really complicated lattice of chains and weights. There are even a couple connected accordions wheezing up there to give it a sort of strange soundscape. The lighting is also a great detail, with a long rectangle illuminating the exact path of each swing. At the end of the day, all of the light in the armory gets quietly darker except for those oblong forms on the floor.
While The Event of a Thread would be lifeless without the swinging people, I think the best place to experience the installation is beneath the cascade of white fabric. Looking up is entrancing as it is pulled this way and that in an erratic flow depending on how high the people are soaring on their swings. On a busy day, a whole herd of people are collapsed there, with some of the paper bag speakers transmitting the rambling narrative of the speakers, who are reading poetry, philosophy, scientific texts, and other selections. It’s all very meditative.
I’m excited to see what 2013 brings to the Armory, as I was continually impressed with what I saw there in 2012, including Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Murder of Crows, Tom Sach’s Mission Mars, and Philip Glass’ Another Look at Harmony. If you happen to be in NYC this week, you have until January 6 for The Event of the Thread. Pictures don’t really do it justice, but hopefully if you can’t make it, this recap gave you a bit of the ethereal experience.