Ann Hamilton’s Armory show takes flight on swings

Ann Hamilton's 'the event of a thread.' (Melissa Smith)
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Two 8-year-old boys, Luk and Szymon, guided their swing to a stop at artist Ann Hamilton’s brand-new installation, the event of a thread, at the Park Avenue Armory on Sunday.

“Do you want to do belly swings?” Luk asked Szymon. After deciding against it, they plopped back down on the wooden plank seat, Luk’s mother, Yin Wong, pulled the swing back as far as she could and then let go. Through countless turns on the swing, the two boys remained side by side, the tightest of friends, Wong said, who would spend hours playing together.

“Do you have anything to say about the swings?” Wong asked her son after the two boys had lost all momentum. “No, except that it’s fun!” he responded, some giddiness spilling over from the last go-around.

Forty-two swings are attached with chains to the incredibly high ceiling of the armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall; each is also rigged by wire and pulley to a lightweight, silk curtain at the center of the hall, which oscillates as participants thrust themselves higher and higher on the swings. Overhead lights punctuate all the action. Situated above each swing, they create dramatic shadows below. Even though Hamilton’s installation defies strict genre-casting, it’s clear that the work is concerned with the ephemeral moment, and with the work of art being put into motion—made real—only with the participation of the visitor who mounts a swing and pushes off.

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Hamilton has also, of course, created a huge playground where kids can be kids and adults can be kids too, but only insofar as those adults allow themselves to feel something simple; like the fun generated from a swing, because there is really no age requirement for that.

“That guy apparently wanted to swing ever since he was a little kid,” one gentleman said about an older man in front of him who had dipped his head back mid-swing, the wind mussing his long, gray hair.

On Sunday, those who weren’t swinging lay underneath the curtain, watching it glide up and down; the atmosphere was reminiscent to a weekend afternoon in the park, with some people lounging, others playing, and, oh yes, a whole lot of pigeons.

Installed near the entrance to the hall, on a table, are a host of wooden cages containing numerous homing pigeons gently cooing while two caped actors read text from long scrolls—the texts were from a list of famed authors, listed near the entrance—their murmured recitations emanating from string-wrapped brown paper bags scattered across the hall's floor. Each bag holds a radio inside, broadcasting the murmuring, and many picked the bags up to get a better listen and carried them around for a while.

Across the hall, a lone writer scribbles whatever thoughts come to mind on paper, as a round mirror tilts on an axis, reflecting the writer, then the action behind her in the hall, again and again.

Despite the kid-heavy audience, the adults, markedly less cautious, would often run alongside the swings, pushing them forward until the swingers were practically perpendicular to the ground.

“It was so liberating!” Catherine Calloway, 42, said. She’d come with her two friends, making a habit of checking out all the shows that the Armory hosts. “The last [show] we went to here was very somber. This is way more fun and experimental. It’s not what I would have thought [it would be]. I don’t know if it’s because it’s very long but [the swing] is lighter, more freeing.”

“I like how there are both kids and adults here,” she continued. “And, the funniest thing is the adults’ faces are just like the kids!”

the event of a thread’ is on view at the Park Avenue Armory through Jan. 6, 2013.