Wednesday, January 09, 2013

States of Play

During a recent trip to New York, I crossed paths with some interesting works of art that seemed difficult to conjure from a description of their elements. With ‘Shadow Monsters’ from Philip Worthington and Christian Marclay’s 'The Clock' at MoMA and Ann Hamilton’s ‘The Event of a Thread’ at the Park Avenue Armory, the experience of the artworks far surpassed the initial description. Numerous times throughout the trip people would ask me, is it really worth seeing? Is it really that good? The answer was always yes.

While waiting to view ‘The Clock’, Worthington’s wild shadow play enveloped us.  Standing in front of a bright white screen, the shadows of both the young and the young-at-heart were transformed with the aid of some sort of computer technology, adding shapes and sounds to contours of people in the projections on two walls. The resulting silhouettes on the screens enlivened shadow-play to monstrous proportions – yet in a very sweet and fun way. Both young and old leapt at the opportunity to dance around in front of the screen. A din of laughter and levity filled the room, this is what smiles sound like.

‘The Clock’ hadn’t really been on my radar to be honest. And when I read the description about cinematic snippets of clocks strung together, I was still ho-hum. But the ladies at the information desk had been so enthusiastic, I decided that it was worth a look (and my mother was beyond keen and curious as well!). Inside, the experience was mind-blowing. Yes, snippets of clocks from film over the last hundred years, BUT, coordinated with the actual time and lasting 24-hours! I could have stayed in that theatre for hours, the editing was so well done, bits from movies melded together seamlessly, dialoguing with one another. Truly fascinating and quite topical given our time-obsessed spliced digital world.

And finally, some swings, and a piece of cloth – anything special? The elements of Ann Hamilton’s ‘The Event of a Thread’ didn’t sound like much but when you enter the triumphant space of The Armory, you enter a different world. I was transported by her work. A sparse space filled with a field of swings was the beginning. The childhood activity (where ARE the swings for adults these days?) transports, and a room separated by a large billowing white curtain, moving in response to the swings brings ethereality to another level.  On one end a table with two readers reading endless scrolls surrounded by caged pigeons. On the other end a table with a solitary woman writing, while a circular mirror above her head pivots sporadically. All these players wear felt cloaks like medieval riding coats. There was something fascinating in the construction of this world and my immersion within it. Ethereal and mysterious, thinking of the threads that connect everyone and everything on so many levels. Here too, as in ‘Shadow Monsters’, both young and old wandered about, swung and lay beneath the billowing curtain. 

All the artworks I saw seemed to activate the idea of play, whether reconfiguring filmic details, extrapolating shadow-play, or constructing a fantastical world.  Marvelous to see such a spirit alive in the world of art.

Photos by Ewa Monika Zebrowski

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