Rodin Reworked 2019
With Rodin Reworked, the paint that Adad Hannah applies over photographs of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures comes into view like some kind of alien matter, interrupting the material circumstances of both sculpture and photography. The paint is viscous and amorphous, but it also has an energetic force. The result is that Hannah’s lively gestures of pigment appear to interact with Rodin’s gesturing bodies.
Hannah has been working with Rodin over an extended period of time. What does it mean for a contemporary artist to “work with” a long-deceased historical artist? There is certainly an element of paying homage to the earlier artist, but this sustained relationship goes beyond that to become a genuine conversation across time. In Rodin’s work, Hannah has found a generative source (or sounding board) for his own, twenty-first century interrogation of images and bodies. More precisely, Hannah’s repeated encounters with Rodin allow him to explore a tension between still and moving images, and simultaneously, a tension between still and moving bodies.
In some of Hannah’s past projects, the engagement with Rodin resulted in outright re-makes of specific artworks. The Burghers of Seoul, 2006 (based on the famous multi-figure monument, The Burghers of Calais, 1889) is a prime example of that impulse. Rodin’s sculpture was disturbing when it first appeared because it so clearly subverted the monumental tradition: the six male figures are not grouped symmetrically or settled into conventional heroic poses, but instead are represented mid-movement – each figure striding, swaying, bending or hesitating. In Hannah’s moving-image version, the uniformed men replicating the Rodin burghers’ bodily states are motorcyle couriers, citizens of Seoul who spend their days travelling through the city. In the artwork, as they awkwardly hold their designated poses, they become living monuments to twenty-first century urban movement and communication.
In this recent body of work, as with some of the earlier Rodin-oriented projects, it is the relationship between sculpture and photography that comes into focus, even while the expressivity of moving/gesturing bodies is still key. The art historian Rosalind Krauss has written that “the surface of the body, that boundary between what we think of as internal and private, and what we acknowledge as external and public, is the locus of meaning for Rodin’s sculpture.” This value accorded to the surface of the body rings true for Hannah, but in the Rodin Reworked artworks it is also the surface of photographs which is at stake. It’s useful to know that Rodin himself developed a habit of drawing directly onto photographs of his works-in-progress or finished works. But Hannah is actually painting on the glass protecting the image, and not on the photographs themselves, and what this does is complicate the very question of surface. Hannah’s painterly marks lie neither on the surface of the sculptures nor on the surface of the photographs, and instead the paint seems to hover mid-air, and between media. These mysteriously detached marks have life-like agency, that energizes and re-activates both sculptures and photographs, giving new life to those remnants of the past.
Dr. Johanne Sloan
Department of Art History, Concordia University