Reflection: “Hansel & Gretel,” an installation by Ai Weiwei and the architects Jacques Herzog an
"A juxtaposition of technology, how technology could be a positive and a negative instrument in our daily life"
– Pierre de Meuron
Hansel & Gratel, and installation artwork created by the renown artist Ai WeiWei and architects Jacques Herzog and Peirre de Meuron is a captivating piece that toys on the unconscious and the conscious mind. Positioned in the vast empty space of Park Armoury Avenue, New York, the artwork has made many pondered on the existence of being surveilled and having our freedom being compromised.
The system of surveillance has been heightened in our daily life. Ever since the rise of terrorism, many of the powered are wary of their safety and the safety of the public. Surveillance has been a fact, that neither of us could escape, it exists in every corner of the street, even your neighbor probably has surveillance installed.
Hansel & Gratel makes you lose your freedom of movement, weaving your way and getting lost in the darkness, which is part of the instrument of the artwork. The movement on the floor topography and the idea of cameras and drones, which act as the surveillance is the heart of the work itself. Referencing from the artist talk that Park Armoury Avenue held with the three esteemed artists, Pierre mentioned that the artwork was created as a step by step installation rather than a top down piece. The artwork began as a very open piece, the artist avoided preconceived ideas to stimulate their thought process better.
Technology came into the concept of the artwork, understanding and investigating the different technology involved was of paramount importance to the artists. The idea of technology is however changing fast, and there is the question of risk using technology for the artwork. Jacquez believes that technology can be juxtaposed into two different connotations, the positive and the negative. Technology can be a negative tool, especially when it involves the idea of destructing mankind, or technology could be a positive tool where it could save and help others in their daily task or make things far more efficient. The artwork uses technology that we are familiar with, something that we are greeted by on a daily basis with or without realising.
Hansel & Gratel is a great reflection of our daily life, it is unexpected, a metaphor of what we go through on a daily basis. It revolves around of being seen, but, we don't know that we are being seen. The context of social media could be linked to this situation, although with social media, we make ourselves voluntarily be seen by the public. In Hansel & Gratel, there is also a type of power play, the power is always wanting to see more, and know more than the one who is being monitored. It makes one feel very vulnerable, or make the power has the ability to make the rest powerless.
In Hansel & Gratel, the artist's intent was to make the audience feel vulnerable, the installation is not a sign of warning to the visitor, or to create a state of awareness that we are being watched all the time. As one goes through the artwork, a long series of choices would usually make up in our mind. We often fear of being watched because our privacy is invaded, but, when we start to layer issues of safety, we tend to stop thinking for fear of our safety and our state of willingness heightens.
In Tom Igoe's article, Making Interactive Art: set the state, shut up and listen, he specified "The thing you build, whether it’s a device or a whole environment, is just the beginning of a conversation with the people who experience your work [...] Ideally they will understand what you’re expressing through that experience." You can arrive at a coherent understanding of Tom's article and relate it upon going through Hansel & Gratel. The artwork does not carry a statement which reminds the audience of the individual artist's work. The artwork is open, it is more intriguing in that sense and menacing. The audience is immersed in the artwork and they will conclude their own understanding without given a set of instructions to follow.
There are a few takeaways after going through the artwork and interrelating readings. When developing an interactive artwork, one must consider a few questions, is there a purpose to your artwork? Will the work display or act in a more human centric way? How can we extract human behaviors and, put that in the context of our work? While there are many other factors to consider, we should look into these basic questions which will help greatly.