Hansel and Gretel well-known fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm becomes the perfect excuse to Jacques Herzog and Pierre Meuron Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architects and the Chineses artist/activist Ai Weiwei to reconnect in this interesting performance what combine their interest in the psychological impact of architecture and the politics of public spaces at the Thompson Arts Center at Park Avenue Armory. For the ones that will love to assist. Sorry! I attended at the last hours of the last day wondering why I didn’t go before.
Dark and scary, the tunnel that leads to the exhibit is like the path that Hansel and Gretel experienced in the Brother Grimms‘s fairly tale. for a moment, it is as if you are blind. Your eyes begin to adjust to the contrast of light and dark. Suddenly, a deep voice tells you what to do next. I screamed, of course, overwhelmed by a mixture of nervousness and excitement. Finally, my eyes begin to differentiate all the variations of colors and forms. A huge space, not as dark as the tunnel but still ominous, is large enough that people can walk freely. As we moved through the dimly lit Wade Thompson Drill Hall, we, like all visitors, were being tracked by infrared cameras and surveyed by overhead drones as they systematically captured the visitor’s data and movements. This forest of projected lights fill the sprawling space as the visitors interact with their images under the light.
The experience was really fun, although I will confess I mostly sat on the floor trying to figure out the best positions to create a mosaic of my superimposed image. The space allows you to experiment and realize the temporality of your own path.
I hadn’t read anything about the exhibit, so my mind at this moment was racing with thousands of questions. What is it that Herzog, De Meuron and Ai Wei Wei wanted to explain, what about the relationship between the experience and the exhibit’s name? My first thought was George Orwell‘s Big Brother of 1984 novel, where an omniscient state surveils its citizens with millions of cameras were used to instill fear in all.
Then I realized how we are actively, mostly unknowingly, sharing every part of our private lives through the internet. It is an infinite storage where a lot of people with good or bad intentions, can find enough information to take advantage of you. It’s not a secret that there is an industry that grew from the presence of social networks, that through a never-ending data base, is able to buy and sell your preferences and characteristics. We have so heavily embedded our daily lives within the internet for at least 10 years now. TEN years!!! That is a whole life’s worth of memories, personal identity, family, friends, where you went, with whom you talked with, and what music you listened to. This makes me realize how unprotected we are every time we share an image, comment on photos or even write an article! This path, is as easy to generate as your projected image on the floor. Memories will remain in the inter-webs for a decades, but as we age, our mind will slowly fade away, just as the images dissolved into the ground.
This path is just like the breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel’s story- a floor plan for the architect, however, it is not eaten by birds but is instead stored in this system without the knowledge of the citizens.
In the hallways of the historic Head House, where the second part of the exhibit is located, the visitor discovers a different series of installations that begin to explain the extent of what has been seen and captured.
At first, the exhibit could just be taken as a wonderful playful experience but upon thoughtful reflection, I hope that the exhibit will provoke a menacing doubt of the media managing and a deep impact in their way to interact with it.