A Falling Installation or The Objects of Damocles

As often happens, I was inspired by something I misheard or misunderstood.  I read an article on an exhibition by Ann Hamilton in New York City.

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The Event of a Thread” was a stunning large scale, participatory installation by Ann Hamilton that recently filled the cavernous drill hall at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. The centerpiece of the installation was an enormous curtain of fabric that stretched across the width of the hall. An array of swings, available to the public, were tethered to the curtain by an intricate rope system overhead—when participants used the swings, the swinging motion caused the fabric to ripple and move up and down. There was quite a bit more to the installation: readers stationed at desks, flocks of pigeons, daily vocal performances

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While beautiful, I imagined something different just based on the enigmatic title of the show.

I imagined something like The Art of Damocles, an entire exhibition hanging by a thread.  A show whose artistic and dramatic tension was in its partnership with gravity, visitor participation, and unpredictability.

I imagined a thousand objects held up by strings, ropes and threads, any of which may be released at any moment by cutting a string, breaking a thread, or just by its own inexorable pull toward the Earth.

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I imagine a tangle of strings and thread winding through the exhibition, a tangle in which it is difficult or impossible to tell what cord suspends what object.  Via catches or pins, even a mere thread could control the fate of a quite sizable object.  And of course, something may never fall only giving the appearance of precariousness.

Bowling balls, sheets, lit lamps, vases, bouncing rubber balls, pots, pans, a rat in a cage, an armchair, bags of marbles, sandbags, televisions, electronics, buckets of sand, and an upright piano all suspended by threads come to mind.

For me, this intersects a bunch of metaphorical themes:

  • The difficulty in knowing how our actions affect the world and others.
  • The tangled nature of life and relationships.
  • The unpredictable nature of events.
  • Our supposed control of our lives versus the uncontrollable nature of the world.
  • Letting go.
  • Taking chances.

Technical or creative challenges that I see right away are safety (almost always overrated!), pacing (keeping the first kid overjoyed by the effects of gravity from toppling the entire exhibition the first day), and mechanics (suspending heavy things from small cords).

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