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Exclusive | Ann Hamilton: “the event of a thread”

Visitors swinging in the Park Avenue Armory during Ann Hamilton’s “the event of a thread” (2012). Production stills from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Ian Forster.

“There’s something that happens when you swing. I’m sure there’s a neurological explanation for the sense of pleasure that you feel and I think people are giving over to that.”

Filmed in 2012 at Manhattan’s Park Avenue Armory, artist Ann Hamilton discusses her installation the event of a thread, which occupied the Armory’s cavernous drill hall. Hamilton, whose artwork often deals with the connection between text and textiles, was on site every day during the installation’s one-month run. During that time she was able to witness the various ways that visitors engaged with the different though interconnected elements of the artwork.

If you were lucky enough to have visited the event of a thread, your foremost memory of it is probably the undulating white silk curtain that divided the space. Next you might remember the sensations you felt while swinging, or perhaps the odd sight of pigeons sitting calmly in nesting cages. Or maybe you remember the different sounds. There were the sounds of things you could see—people laughing as they whooshed past you on swings or the fluttering of pigeon wings. And then there were stranger sounds—distant bells and muffled voices coming from a series of paper bags randomly positioned throughout the space—whose sources were harder to locate.

A visitor to “the event of a thread” listens to a radio inside of a paper bag. Production stills from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Ian Forster.

Although this new Exclusive begins with footage of Hamilton’s paper bag “speakers,” the film doesn’t go into detail about what they meant or the sounds that emanated from them. Inside of each bag was a radio transmitting the voice of a “reader,” an individual who sat at the entrance of the drill hall reciting concordance texts to the pigeons.

After our interview with Hamilton, she asked us to speak with Gian-Murray Gianino, one of the readers and a professional actor with the SITI Company. Hamilton ended up interviewing him herself while we recorded. Their conversation, excerpted below, explains what a concordance text is and sheds light on their role in the installation.

Ann Hamilton. Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Nick Ravich.

Actor Gian-Murray Gianino being interviewed by artist Ann Hamilton. Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Nick Ravich.

Ann Hamilton: Could you start by saying what you’re doing in the piece the event of a thread?

Gian-Murray Gianino: There are always two readers sitting at a table reading a scroll and there are cages of pigeons on the table. So we’re communicating these texts to the pigeons. The texts are glorious and fabulous and rich—Aristotle, Darwin, William James, Emerson. They’re in something called a concordance, which actually I’m still trying to figure out. But it has a spinal word and it connects two different fragments of the text and puts them together with different spinal words like “in, the, breath, or” so that the actual thing we’re reading is non-linear, although we could find a linear thread in it. There are guidelines to how we read but there are no rules.

AH: That means it’s still alive.

GMG: That’s the richness of it. It is my process as an artist and as somebody who just speaks words. I mean, that is my job but everybody does it. So what does your brain go to or what words are you attracted to or what are the pigeons doing that maybe draws you to something else in the text? I’m finding my habitual rhythms and then I’m trying to swim away from them and challenge myself.

AH: How much are you affected by the reader next to you?

GMG: There are people who you’re going to have a natural affinity with, either rhythmically or tone-wise or emotionally because you know them. And some people you don’t know as well, which is exciting because it’s an opportunity to get to know someone better. Because it’s been packed and growing, it’s very hard to hear that other reader unless somebody comes by with a bag and then you hear the person’s voice. The day after we opened was the quietest day that I’ve read here, so I was able to sort of zen out and play with those people. Now, as it’s been more active, it requires more rigor to keep finding something in the text with your partner. It’s constantly changing. I wouldn’t say that any moment has been the same.

AH: I’m really struck by how essential listening is to how you read.

GMG: Any good work, any good piece of art in any medium, is a conversation between the artist and the viewer, the other artists, the space, the whole thing. This seems to me a pretty amazing example of that.

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