About a half hour into our visit to ANN HAMILTON: the event of a thread, the brand-new interactive installation at the Park Avenue Armory, my 13-year-old son observed, "I feel like I'm trapped in modern art." My five-year-old daughter had a much less analytical reaction: "Swings!"
Indeed, there are a lot of swings in the Armory's cavernous main hall—plus hanging fabrics, fluttering pigeons and other offbeat sights. According to Hamilton, the massive multimedia piece is "made of many crossings of the near at hand and the far away." But my kids weren't concerned with its meaning; they just knew it was fun to run around and explore.
ANN HAMILTON: the event of a thread is a lot easier to experience (or look at—see my slide show above) than explain. Upon entering, we encountered two people sitting at a wooden table reading from a scroll, sometimes in synch, sometimes not. Pigeons in wooden cages fluttered around them, and they seemed to be addressing the birds. I tried to explain that the exhibit was all about connections, but my daughter's sole response as she peered into the cages was, "Poor pigeons."
The swings were a much bigger hit and without a doubt the main attraction for kids. Dozens of them hang from the ceiling in an intricate web of chains and pulleys, inviting visitors to hop on and whoosh through the air. Since the swings are broad and made out of solid wood, they are, as my son said, "not very butt friendly." They also require more than one child to get them going. When my tiny five-year-old sat on one alone, her feet didn't reach the floor and her arms couldn't span the width from chain to chain. She ended up holding on to one side while I pushed her, which made for a wild, twisted trip that almost took down a few fellow art lovers.
In the center of the hall nearly 70 feet above the ground hangs a white, billowing curtain attached to iron trusses whose constant movement makes the fabric flutter up and down. The three of us laid down directly beneath it, looking up while the readers' voices were piped through speakers hidden in paper bags tied to ropes. It was a wild experience, almost like looking at clouds. Each one of us saw something different in the undulating folds.
Our last stop was at the far end of the hall, where a woman sat writing at a desk in front of a phonograph complete with a record—but not playing any music. Soon my daughter was asking to go on the swings again. While all visitors receive a handout explaining the ideas behind the various parts of the installation. I think my son's take on it was the best. As we were leaving, he turned to me and said, "Wait a minute. I get it finally. This is a modern art playground for grown ups!"
the event of a thread is on view through Sunday, January 6, 2013 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets. $12 for adults, free for children under age 10.