Watching you, watching me

Spy Games: Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei explore surveillance and selfies in new installation

Art East
Spy Games: Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei explore surveillance and selfies in new installation.
 (Courtesy James Ewing)
Spy Games: Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei explore surveillance and selfies in new installation. (Courtesy James Ewing)

Today, New York’s Park Avenue Armory unveiled an interactive exhibition by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei entitled, Hansel & Gretel. Emulating modern day surveillance, drones swirl overhead while infrared cameras document the viewers’ every move, screening the footage along the floor. Visitors in the installation are both watching and being watched, leaving digital “breadcrumbs” behind to be gathered and stored—hence the fairytale name. The effect is disturbing, thought provoking, and surprisingly fun as visitors posed themselves to create works of photographic art on the floor and took selfies (it is unclear if that was the designers’ original intentions).

Photo: James Ewing

(Courtesy James Ewing)

Visitors enter the Park Avenue Armory’s 49th Drill Hall through the Lexington Avenue side door rather than through the main doors. According to Herzog & de Meuron, this helped distance the Armory’s ornate architecture from the very modern display inside. “We wanted people to enter the space as you would a park, and we envisioned an entrance like a mouse hole, so we originally wanted to make a hole through the brick walls, but that was…complicated,” said Jacques Herzog at the opening. “The second best option was to use the existing two doors on Lexington Avenue and create a tunnel leading to the hall.”



Photo: James Ewing

(Courtesy James Ewing)

From the tunnel, a five-foot embankment leads up into the space, which hums with the sound of drones and visitors. Taking advantage of the area’s scale, the room is dark and amplified with red laser lights. Upon exiting, the viewers can see the footage of the room being displayed in the Head House, realizing the extent of the “surveillance” at hand. In the hall, iPads allow visitors to use facial recognition software to find additional images of themselves and provide educational materials on drones and surveillance technology. Weiwei, who has been under surveillance in China, explained, “I think everyone is under surveillance to varying degrees. Human nature is searching for truths by any means necessary.”

Hansel & Gretel is on view at the Park Avenue Armory through August 6.

Related Stories