The Medium is Not the Message: Adad Hannah

Raft of the Medusa (100 Mile House) #2 from Adad Hannah on Vimeo.

Adad Hannah’s videos are moving pieces of work. And they move, just barely. What started as a curiosity to see what happens to video when you strip it of all its defining characteristics – more closely reverting back to photography – has inspired a career full of artistic exploration. Featured in the Quebec Triennale in 2008 (curated and hosted every 3 years by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montreal) and longlisted this year for the Sobey Award (a pre-eminent award for Canadian contemporary art), Hannah has been no stranger to accolades and attention. The Montreal-based artist’s work is created in a sensitive and poignant way. The result captivates, mining ideas of time, performance, and the role of mediation in artistic practice.

Eros and Aphrodite from Adad Hannah on Vimeo.

For his Prado Project, featured at the Quebec Triennale, Hannah explored the idea of viewing through videos and photographs. His videos, all filmed at the Prado, place two cloaked figures in front of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, a man and a woman close to kissing a double statue of Eros and Aphrodite, and two men staring into a mirror in front of Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas. All played with the implied double representation of observing viewers. Particularly astute is the insertion of another mirror to draw attention to the one painted by Velazquez in his original composition (portraying the King and Queen); the viewers thus mire themselves in multiple levels of observation and interpretation.

Two Mirrors from Adad Hannah on Vimeo.

Hannah effectively brings the nineteenth-century tradition of tableaux vivants (a live performance of a posed scene) into the twenty-first-century.  Other recent projects include the video Dad and David Visiting (part of the long-term project, Family Stills) as well as a recreation of Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa in collaboration with the small community of 100 Mile House in British Columbia (seen at the beginning of this post). His work can easily be mistaken for photography at first glance. Yet, realizing that the works are “mounted” on very thin screens, the observer watches more closely: the people begin to move, to blink, to breathe. The work comes alive, quite literally.

Dad and David Visiting from Adad Hannah on Vimeo.

The artist is fascinated by his exploration of the space between video and photography. It is almost, as he says himself, “a recording of a performance for photography.” Even though Hannah is surrounded by technology in his studio, he tries to stay away from technology as a determinant. He uses film equipment and the capacities of high-definition video as a tool, careful not to over-produce his works.

Hannah offers, “I don’t think viewers of my work are directed towards thinking so much about technology as they are led to think about mediation done through technology. Perhaps they begin to see the work as a recording of a real-time performance. I like it when there is the experience of real-time in something that is obviously a recording. The work creates the feeling of witnessing a real-time performance.”  The medium, thus, is not the message. Hannah quite masterfully brings the viewer into the artwork, beyond production, closer to human reality. The artist himself admits that while the process seems transparent, ultimately the opaqueness of art wins out: “The reflection of light is all you have.” Ultimately, the interior space of the mind, reframed and reconsidered by the artwork, remains a mystery.

All Is Vanity (Mirrorless Version) from Adad Hannah on Vimeo.

The Montreal-based artist recently returned from Russia where he began a project inspired by the stunning photographs of Prokudin-Gorsky shot in the early 20th century. Created with three coloured filters, the resulting images by the Russian photographer look like contemporary snapshots. Hannah is busy exploring the idea of offset created by motion in the twentieth-century photographer’s work, and translating it into video. He is exploring the space of motion and the marvel of vision while remaining true to his subtle and sensitive approach. While harnessing the power of video, Hannah refreshingly focuses on technology as tool in order to dig deeper into moments of humanity, moments of visual poetry, in motion.

Hannah’s work is currently on view at the Liverpool Biennial, which started September 18. He will have work up at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montreal beginning October 8 as part of a feature of the Quebec Sobey Award finalists, as well as at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, where their new acquisitions will be displayed from November 5. Hannah is represented in Montreal by the gallery Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain.

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