The minute you enter the vast dark space of "Hansel and Gretel" at the Park Avenue Armory, you have that creepy back-of-your-neck feeling that somebody or something is watching you. Indeed, somebody is. You are being surveilled by overhead night vision cameras and flying drones, and your image is being live-streamed not only to an exhibition room at the front of the Armory, but also to the Internet public here. Above, I'm taking a photo of myself surveilled taking a photo. My image is being captured from above in total darkness and projected in ghostly white onto the armory's floor.
The unsettling installation was conceived and designed by artist/activist Ai Weiwei and starchitects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron to raise questions about the amount of surveillance used not only in war, but in our public spaces. I saw the exhibit the morning after I saw a theater version of George Orwell's "1984" at the Hudson Theater. It was a double helping of art-induced paranoia, courtesy of Big Brother.
It made me wonder who else is watching us, and where? Alexa? Your iPhone? The hobbyist's drone outside your apartment window (yes, this really happened to a friend of mine). The bugged guest room of your host's art-filled glass house (in Elizabeth Strout's new novel, Anything is Possible)? Can we have dignity without privacy? Does spying erode empathy? Let's ask and answer these essential questions before anything becomes possible.