Hanna Hannah teaches
in the Art Department at the University of California Santa
Cruz. Hannah was born and raised in Central America, her parents
left Germany with the rise of National Socialism.
Like Ian Everard who collects
photographs, Hannah collects images as well. In fact, the
process of collecting and contemplating images, by both artists,
are quite similar. Typically drawing from images published
in the New York Times, Hannah will repetitively paint a chosen
image; no image, however, is exactly alike. The textures,
the evidence of the paint’s application common to oils, the
alteration in palette, size, and subtle shifts in perspective,
individuate each image. This stands in stark contrast to the
image’s source, mass media reproduction which replicates countless
virtually identical images. The process of repeated hand-reproduction
and situating the image on rice paper scrolls creates a contradiction.
In this case the image is that of three Macedonian women mourning
the death of a baby. By removing the image from the context
of mass media reproduction, and placing it in this repeated
motif, Hannah’s work demands that the spectator look at these
images from a new perspective. Although seemingly decorative,
the effect is almost the exact opposite. The media saturates
us with images of horrific conflict – to the point of being
anesthetized – Hannah’s intense focus (situated in a whole
new context) demands that we look more closely and afresh.
Hannah draws from media sources
(e.g., Associated Press photographs). Because we are inundated with media
images, we seem completely immune to the horror. Paradoxically Hannan attempts
to return some of the horror to the images by placing them in what we might
consider a decorative background.
In one of the images seen here
(bottom image), this image is taken from Saddam Hussein's gas attack against
the Kurdish people in Halabja, Northern Iraq. A mother carrying her baby has
been overcome by the gas. The horror is doubled here, Hussein's attack was
horrific, there is no question about that, but in the contemporary context,
a different sort of horror is found in the image. The United States justifies
its violence in Iraq with the images such as this - horror justifying horror.
See Associated Press photograph
Hannah’s work operates through decontextualization.
In previous exhibitions of Collapsing Histories Hannah
exhited a series of ten hanging scrolls. (Click here to
see the scrolls). The scrolls - collectively titled “Der Abschied,” meaning
the goodbye, the farewell, taking leave - situate an occidental
event in an oriental form. There is also a mixing of traditional
mediums from those respective spheres, oil paint on rice
paper – which has been washed with casein, or graphite, and
coated with wax. The ten scrolls, for the artist, are reminiscent
of the minimum number of worshipers/witnesses at a Jewish
memorial service, but the figures most likely are not Jewish.
These disjunctions, the juxtapositions of content and form,
alienate (in a Brechtian sense), and in the various degrees
of separation, collapse in a common expression of the catastrophic
Through the layering of decontextualization
Hannah questions the dynamics of remembering and forgetting
in relation to the society of the spectacle. Memory is
a personal experience, and how might we remember something
that is detached, and mediated? The flood of images that
we receive has no direct relationship to us. And does this
notion of detachment and mediation consign an image to what
has and will be forgotten, that always already domain of
forgetfulness: oblivion? As the questions regarding personal
memory exponentially increase, we have to wonder if our collective
memory – what we commonly know as history – has also
The artist was drawn to the scroll-form
upon seeing Hon’ Ami Koetsu’s 16th – 17th century works.
Hannah was especially intrigued by the artist’s centrally
placed often-melancholic poems, but nevertheless surrounded
by decorative motifs. Hannah had previously explored the
scroll format, however, the emotive affect of Hon’ Ami Koetsu’s
work inspired Hannah to apply this technique of coupling
decorative motifs with the catastrophic within the scroll-form.
As I have already suggested, Hannah has in part employed this
16th – 17th century technique of incongruity to “Der Abschied.”