Future Greats Archive: Hannah Black (2016)

selected by Heather Phillipson

By Heather Phillipson

Hannah Black, Black Quadrilateral 1, 2015, steel, matt emulsion colour matched to artist's arm painted on MDF board, 183 x 243 x 40 cm. Photo: Lucie McLaughlin. Courtesy Arcadia Missa, London

Editor’s Note: In 2017 Hannah Black presented exhibitions in New York, Vienna and London, installed two videoworks on the High Line in New York

I’m thinking about how Hannah Black’s work feels, and it feels tough and ready, like a new apple, and with the same tendency to bruise. It feels unprocessed, like a gust of rain in your face. It delivers the freshness of the outdoors, slamming suppositions the way the wind obliterates shoddy structures. It feels restless, and like all that is nearly incommunicable. But Black’s work enacts a kind of brutal optimism – it matters to try this. How can I tell? Because my nerves are snapping.

Black writes, makes videos and objects, draws, speaks. She calls out gender, race, class, sex, sexuality, love, subjugation...but, above all, she shoves us into our incarnate selves, contiguous with these constructs, until to define Black’s work via medium/message feels wide of the point. What is the point? Black gives WEIGHT to bodies, and interiors. Even her tweets have the impact of mouths or fists – popping up to lick or smack at skin. They open living wounds, and dare to just touch them. Anything is worthy of Black’s attention, especially anything we disregard, until, cumulatively, Black defines what attention is.

The poet Lyn Hejinian wrote that, ‘If...poetic language contributes critically to making realities sensible, it must address both the material character of the political and the political character of the material.’ There is a singular talent for redrawing sensible realities at play in Black’s politically charged materials and materially charged politics – in her collapse of body and thing and theory. But ‘theory’ is not even an accurate word, because her works, frequently, glow with emotion, until it’s more like ‘FLAYING’. She applies pressure on structures – sometimes literally – with knives. Her marks are invested with as forceful a feeling as the subject – or maker – can bear. They are alert to more, cut into more, leave more exposed. Because, Black seems to say, there is a volley between minds and bodies, ricketiness is inevitable, as are cracks and eruptions. Black’s works bear the precise opposite of heavily managed surfaces. Appearances are disdained. Nothing gets polished here. Each expression arrives authoritative and trembling.

According to Hejinian, ‘The shark doesn’t sleep...anxiety is vigilant’, and so I take Black’s observations seriously – as a shark. Hannah Black is that rare combination: a really vigilant thinker, maker and writer. She has a way of making other comments seem both overdone and underdone. She is virtuosic, without display. Black just steps up and confronts major problems. Or rather, she makes clear: there are no minor problems. 

This article was first published in the January & February 2016 issue of ArtReview.