First and foremost, Ohio-born visual artist Ann Hamilton’s “the event of a thread” at Park Avenue Armory is fun, fun, fun. Visitors get to push each other on wooden swings that hang seventy feet from the ceiling of the vast Wade Thompson Drill Hall, the movements manipulating an enormous white cloth that dances with the manufactured wind, rising and falling like ocean waves and drifting like clouds, especially when viewed from below, lying on the floor underneath it. But there’s much more to this interactive site-specific commission, curator Kristy Edmunds’s final contribution as the institution’s artistic director. (Edmunds has played a major role in transforming the armory into one of the city’s most exciting spaces for experimental public art.) Hamilton’s multisensory shared experience is about warp and weft, speaking and listening, reading and writing, voice and gesture, music and memory; it’s about interdependence and multiple meanings; it’s about community, connection, crossing, concordance, and communication; and it’s about flying home. Hamilton weaves a different kind of social media web with “the event of a thread,” bringing people physically together to work as a unit to effect change. At the entrance to the hall, two members of Anne Bogart’s SITI Company, wearing bulky animal-hair coats, are seated at a table, reading carefully organized texts by Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aristotle, Susan Stewart, Ann Lauterbach, and others; their voices are broadcast via paper-bag radios scattered throughout the room (which visitors are encouraged to pick up and listen to). Also on the table are dozens of pigeons in small cages, waiting to be released at the end of the day so they can fly home to their roost as a performer sings. At the far end of the hall, a lone woman sits at a second table, writing letters with a pencil while watching the activities going on behind her via a mirror.
Taking her title from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica article “Weaving, Hand” written by textile artist Anni Albers (wife of Josef Albers), Hamilton explores the nature of crossings, beginning with cross stitching. In an essay in the must-read newspaper that accompanies the project, Hamilton writes that “‘the event of a thread’ is made of many crossings of the near at hand and the far away: it is 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, is listening crossing with speaking, is an inscription crossing a transmission, is a stylus crossing a groove, is a song crossing species, is the weightlessness of suspension crossing the calling of bell or bellows, is touch being touched in return. It is a flock of birds and a field of swings in motion. It is a particular point in space at an instant of time.” The work takes on yet another crossing when viewed from above; the armory usually does not allow visitors on the upper balcony level, but for “the event of a thread” people can walk up the stairs and stand parallel to the huge sheet, watching the intense pulley system lift and lower it in a thrilling marionette-like dance, comparing the men, women, and children on the swings, who are actually making the cloth move, to the unseen hand of a supreme being. With “the event of a thread,” Hamilton has created an awesome spectacle, a complex combination of elements that can be enjoyed in multiple ways.