Reviewed by Steffanie Ling for Akimbo.
Seeing the human body in unusual positions usually results in a confluence of amazement and discomfort. New Arrangements, Adad Hannah’s solo exhibition at Equinox Gallery, features a series of photographic, video, and sculptural works that allow you to linger over trials of balance and optical tension. Stripes Case Study is a series of photographs that depicts a contortionist balancing an assortment of citrus on her person. The backdrop, plinth, and her outfit are uniformly striped to create a layered and flattened optic effect that's subtly disorienting. Where the stripes on the model’s body meet the backdrop at organic angles, an optical variance is created that gives the series its formally experimental quality. When her stripes are perpendicular to the backdrop, it can be straining, but the citrus provides visual respite. To secure two pomelos in position for the photograph, New Arrangements (Stripes Case Study) 7, the model employs her forehead against the surface of the plinth. In An Arrangement (Stripes Case Study) 8, the bottom of her foot bearing a lime and satsuma becomes the highest surface of the composition – a plinth in its own right. These inversions of anatomical hierarchy are a subtle departure from the classical appreciation of the figure.
The sculptural aspect of these pictures resides between the figure and the fruits, which have an interchangable quality of softness and objecthood. The stripes exercise experiments in abstract, formal possibility, but there are considerations of portraiture and still life operating in the frame as well. Though it employs a few simple elements, this series of photographs operates like a variety show of visual canons and art historical entry points. Other works in the exhibition, such as Handheld Case Study, make a formal study similar to Stripes, but the role of contortionist and citrus is replaced by hands that clasp and balance little blue, white, and orange balls between limb-like fingers. This is apparently a “nod to Baldessari.” There are also videos in dialogue with Rodin, but the tipping of his hat to other artists doesn't add much to the critical reception of this work.
Mentioned briefly in the press release is a reference to a less broadly accessible historical moment: Hannah’s tour of Europe with his family in the 1970s as part of an experimental theatre troupe. A childhood steeped in optical wizardry in the service of theatre, drama, magic, or entertainment – the arenas where we consent to be deceived for the purpose of eliciting joy or happiness – distilled into the production of photographic studies for contemporary art audiences is a trajectory that would enliven the consideration of how these works usher in that spirit of amusement and amazement. The inclination that drives many contemporary art audiences to deconstruct and identify the conceptual traditions that fortify what we’re looking at arises from a kind of trained criticality. If we happen to enjoy ourselves in the process, well, that’s still considered a bonus.
Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.