13 March 2012

Noble Truths: Miya Hannan

One or Millions? installation (2006)
   You enter a room to find a dozen bodies strewn about the floor. In another room, you find long rows of display boxes filled with bone ash, skeletons, and painted paper balls printed with the names of countless people transcribed from phone-books. And in still another, you find a trail of sand piles, topped with strange little objects that are either collar-bones or seated Buddhas. Tall white stems stick out of the ground, lining your path. They might be stalagmite icicles, or phallic sculptures, they share a resemblance to spinal cords. You have stepped into the challenging worlds of Miya Hannan, the artist we are honored to focus on today.

One or Millions? installation (2006)
   Hannan's stated purpose is to show us that death is nothing to be afraid of, it is not a negative, rather that it is simply one chapter in the ongoing ceremony of human existence. Born and raised in Japan, Hannan practiced radiology in her birth country for seven or eight years before moving to the U.S..  Japan still bears influence, even being the country of origin for her paper banners. Hannan cites Japanese funeral rites, Buddhism, cosmology, archaeology, and her medical background as the basis for her projects.

Transience (2010)

Journey installation (2007)
   For us, questions arose of whether this is shock art, as well as how it is related to other contemporary exhibitions of bodies. Regarding the work's relation to Bodies: The Exhibition, that project used actual human bodies to educate about anatomy. Any nearness to artfulness brought up issues of taking advantage of the dead. Hannan's work, however, is unabashedly art. The body shapes are plaster casts taken of her own body, the spines are sculptures, the nerve endings are twisted sheets of paper with people's names on them. So, the only body she makes use of is her own, though Hannan does make use of bone ash for her piles.
   As for how impacting Hannan's work is, that depends on the individual viewer. What we are confident of is that Hannan's work, which includes making and arranging human back-bones, can be quite a jolt to the senses, especially for those viewers who are far removed from operating rooms, war zones, and crime scenes. Our first reaction was a deep re-awakening of the knowledge of our own mortality, as well as the realization that similar settings are an actuality around the world. It is likely that many witnesses of her work will remain fixed at this response, but for Hannan that is only the first step, just as in Buddhism, it is only the first of the Four Noble Truths to acknowledge that life is full of suffering. 

Momentum installation (2007)

   Hannan has talked about striving to communicate about the spiritual with her work, and, by our standards, she succeeds. Seeing the vertebraic loops ending in successive ash piles in her Momentum piece is hard not to understand as dealing with the cycles of death and birth. Hannan encourages us to move past our fixation with the body which are represented by the white piles, and to focus on what is transferred between bodies. Is this a demonstration of biological lineage, or is it a glimpse of how human consciousness plods ahead temporally through chaotic storms? One of Hannan's greatest achievements is that she has found a connection between both ideas. 
   Even if some viewers find the philosophy incompatible with their mindsets, still there is something to be gained even in the mere act of walking through the halls that Hannan has adorned. For a moment, you have experienced the work of someone coping with the worst tragedy imaginable, mass death, and in so doing, you have literally stepped out of your comfort zone and gotten a vivid sense not only of how one person thinks about life, but about challenging realities of our planet, past and present. And so, it is up to the individual viewer whether Hannan's work is understood as an ambitious mirror of material realities or as a transformation of those realities.

47 Days (2007)

   Hannan's eagerly awaited new exhibition, titled Layers and Missing Links, is slated to open on April 21st at R.B. Stevenson Gallery. Only Hannan knows where she will take us this time, but it is sure to be an experience that will rock our worlds.

[For more information on Miya Hannan, feel free to visit her website at: miyahannan.com.]

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