“Hansel & Gretel” at Park Avenue Armory – Save Your Money

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Hansel & Gretel at Park Avenue Armory

The “Hansel & Gretel” curatorial statement describes the installation as a space that brings together Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron and Ai Weiwei combined interests in

the psychological impact of architecture and the politics of public space; creating a playful, strange, and eventually eerie environment with different layers of reality revealed to the visitor… Hansel & Gretel is a dystopian forest of projected light where the floor rises up, as if lifted by an invisible force, and visitors are tracked by infrared cameras and surveyed by overhead drones as they systematically capture the parkgoers’ data and movements…

Unfortunately, the only portion of this description that resonates is the playfulness. Indeed Herzog, de Meuron and Weiwei have created a dark environment in which visitors may skip around and play with light traces of their image. However, the installation lacks strangeness, eeriness, politics or any psychological reverberation.

Other than the initial moment of discovery that one’s image is being projected on to the ground after it is periodically taken due to on one’s movement in the space, the installation presents very little that is interesting. The drones may have been a neat prop had they not been tethered.

The second part of the installation is a didactic revelation of what the installation is trying to allude to – that we are objects of surveillance. As far as a critical art installation regarding surveillance, there was much more interesting work done 15+ years ago. Perhaps the theme of surveillance has been so overly investigated and picked apart by art previously and by entertainment today (“Black Mirror” for example) that such an installation seems trite and naive. There is so much of our data being captured today, that building an installation that merely plays upon facial recognition and motion sensors is just kind of dumb, but it is playful. So if $16 is worth the cost of running around a huge dark open space and playing with light projection, check it out.

Hansel & Gretel at Park Avenue Armory

A second perspective: Playtime at the Armory
Once again discovering what this city has to offer, there I was with Ricardo walking into a venue called the Armory near Hunter College, a place I had never been before to see a new art installation called “Hansel & Gretel”. He had been keen to check this out for a few weeks, and like the curious creature I am, I followed along.

We received a quick intro and were instructed to read a phase on the wall before entering -which i forgot- and then allowed to enter. We walked into black nothingness. My immediate reaction was to scramble for Ricardo’s hand. I didn’t realize the massiveness of this place until my eyes adjusted from the summer sunlight to the darkness inside of the Armory. It was only eerie the first few minutes because I had no idea where the hell I was walking. There were a few cameras far above us hanging from the ceiling and lights that would follow us. As we continued to walk, our movement was detected, grid lines would appear and cameras would be activated to capture our moves. Suddenly, it was playtime! It was fun to pose in different positions to watch the resulting snap shot of yourself illuminated on the black floor. At one point my sweater and shoes came off and I really got into it.

Ricardo noticed two drones hovering on one side of the space living poor unfulfilled lives- tied onto leashes without free movement. It would have been more interesting if they were chasing people around. After exhausting our ideas for poses, the novelty wore off and we were ready to enter part deux of the installation. For that, we had to exit this part of the Armory and enter from another entrance on the other side of the street.

After pausing in front of a camera you were allowed inside. There were many ipads on long tables with apps. You could elect to have your face identified and then search the cameras for your photo which was taken in the first part of the installation. That was cool. You could read about the history of surveillance, or access cameras to spy on others walking into the exhibits. The Armory itself was impressive, the installation not as much. It was a new, interesting experience- a fun activity for kids, I would say. I didn’t leave with the feeling that I had witnessed an impressive statement against today’s constant scrutiny and monitoring that we are all under. I didn’t feel intruded upon. There wasn’t anything menacing or fantastical as is described in the program leaflet. It was just pretty cool and fun.

Perhaps the work behind the installation was complicated, but with my lack of technical know-how, I failed to appreciate the amount of effort involved. To have truly made an impact, more could have been done to confuse or play with the audience with the intention of throwing them off or perhaps even scaring them. Coupling that with the sound of Russian men having conversations in the background (that felt clandestine in nature), and I would have possibly left quite feeling differently.

Hansel & Gretel at Park Avenue Armory