The Event of a Thread


Ann Hamilton's 2012 piece, "The Event of a Thread," was a massive art installation that spans the entirety of the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. The work was meant to respond and interact with the space's architecture and internal structures, as well as to be interactive with the audience. The space was divided, at its width, in the center of the room by a floor to ceiling billowing white curtain of fabric. The fabric would dance and move as the audience used swing sets attached to pulleys placed around the room. Every time someone would swing backwards, their momentum would tug a cable, thus jostling the fabric. Stationed at the entrances to the room, reader/scribes would sit at wooden tables, reading selected pieces of text to carrier pigeons, locked in wooden cages until the end of the day, when they would be released into the Armory.

In addition to the scribes, a record would play music for an entire day, and a new one would be placed on the player when the pigeons were set free. Visitors were also encouraged to listen to paper bags, which contained speakers, which would play the dialog of the reader/scribes from the entranceway [1]. Along with the sounds of other visitors and the speakers, a series of bells, attached to the pulleys, would ring out whenever someone pulled a swing a certain way.

In her statement about the work, Hamilton says that "is made of many crossings of the near at hand and the far away" [2]. She then describes how all of the elements of the installation interact, and how connected everything is in the space. She gives the examples of "a body crossing space, is a writer's hand crossing a sheet of paper, is a voice crossing a room in a paper bag, is a reader crossing with a page and with another reader" [2]. Even the positioning of the ropes mimics her intent as they spider web across the ceiling space. The division of the room is also symbolic of her idea that paths cross.

In her piece The Fantasy Beyond Control, artist Lynn Hershman Leeson writes about a video game experience that involves the viewers interacting with the environment around the main character. She writes that "viewer/participants access information about [the character's] past, future, and personal conflicts via these artefacts [the objects in the character's apartment]" [3]. In the same way that the audience is supposed to discover things about the character, Hamilton wishes her audience to forge connections with others in the room, as well as with the audience themselves, through the reading of the texts she provides, and the actions of the viewers. While Leeson is describing an experience ruled by fear, Hamilton's piece creates a sense of calm in the people who came to see it, as they interacted with it in ways she had never thought of. People spent hours laying on the floor beneath the curtain, listening to the speakers in the paper bags.

As is the plan of most of her installations, The Event of a Thread was a temporary installation, and was dismantled in 2013.

[1] Park Avenue Armory, ANN HAMILTON: the event of a thread (location website)

[2] Ann Hamilton, the event of a thread (artist's website)

[3] Ian Forster, Exclusive: Ann Hamilton: "the event of a thread" (installation review)

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