Which leads us to the ways in which “Hansel & Gretel” is not only flat, but counterproductive.
Park Avenue Armory president Rebecca Robertson, during press remarks, said she hoped the installation would be “mysterious and strange and scary, as surveillance often is.” Yet, it’s nothing of the sort. What’s meant to be a cautionary tale ends up merely as a game, one that will appeal both to kids and those posting surveillance-selfies on Instagram. (Did I mention that you can choose to have your facial-recognition portraits printed for $10?)
Tom Eccles, who co-curated this show with Hans Ulrich Obrist, seemed aware of the show’s pitfalls when he mentioned how, after several groups were brought into the space to experience “Hansel & Gretel” in previews, he “worried that people were enjoying themselves too much.”
Part of the challenge, he also acknowledged, was the broad audience that the Armory attracts. “How do we create a place that is playful, but serves some sort of criticality?” he wondered.
Some artists have achieved that blend, of course. ’s
, commissioned by Creative Time, opened with participants being pulled from an unmarked van and harshly ordered around by militarized cops with flashlights. That experience felt playful at first, and then uncomfortable—a bit unhinged and dangerous.
“Hansel & Gretel” wants to be an eye-opening examination of the modern technologies that track our movements and enable drones to obliterate far-off places, but the installation ends up neutering its own politics in the pursuit of an interactive techno-romp that’s fun for the whole family.