Adad Hannah’s Cuba Still (Remake) takes video installation to a minimalist place.
Videos are usually moving pictures with sound. But Hannah asks his models to stand in silence.
Quiet ambient clicking sounds make only understated use of the medium’s sound capabilities. Like Agnes Martin’s minimalist canvases of pencil lines and thinned white paint, the strength of his work comes from restraint and focus.
It all started with a black and white photograph Hannah came upon by chance in Chinatown in Havana, Cuba.
“What happens if you take a picture apart and reproduce it in another medium?” Hannah asked himself. And so he started to work.
As you approach the exhibition, that Cuban photograph is the first thing you see.
In the foreground, a middle-aged man in a beret lounges against a round platform where a blonde in hot pants strikes a pose, eyes uplifted.
Behind her, and mostly hidden by her, a woman in seamed stockings and very short black shorts gazes at a guitar player.
In the background, a man moves a male torso – part of a storefront mannequin, or maybe a sculpture, with an oddly elongated neck. And a bongo player’s hands with a cigarette give hint of the sixth person in the shot.
As you enter Cuba Still (Remake), the left-hand gallery offers the process, and the installation is in the gallery to the right.
The process involves the inkjet prints Hannah has used to reconstruct the individual figures from the photograph.
Each figure, defined by a black outline, contains photographic information about the figure and the shape extrapolated from those clues.
For example, the mannequin lifter is blocked by the guitar player, so in outline, the guitar remains on his hip and thigh. For our elusive bongo player, the space is left white where his body extends past the edge of the photo.
Hannah made these images to learn how to pose his models, and to make the masks for the video projections.
On the facing wall, five colour photos mounted in a similar fashion treat us to candid production shots. Images include hands and a cigarette resting on a drum, the back of an electric guitar, and the props to keep the dancer’s feet in a position she can hold.
Hannah shot the piece in Korea where his wife was doing an artist residency, so his models are Korean. He shot them in various places, including a photography studio, a restaurant, and outdoors.
The piece itself fuses six different videos of varying lengths, each four to seven minutes long. The videos are projected from customized wooden stands that take up real space in the middle of their gallery.
At the end of long arms they hold out a mask, so only part of each video makes it to the wall. At first you think they’re just digital photographs being projected but then you see a model sway or twitch and you realize it’s video.
You look from figure to figure, waiting for them to move again. This adds tension.
At intervals each video stops, winks to black, then comes back on. This allows you to see how the disparate parts are put together, how tenuous and virtual their gathering is.
The collage of various shooting locations is also intriguing, outdoor against interior backgrounds. They don’t line up, but make a ragged collage-like edge to the outside of the projected shapes.
Inside the images, there are places where the videos don’t quite meet.
Soft lines of blackness spoke to me of the distance between people. Living in different worlds, unaware of each other, but inhabiting the same virtual space – it spoke to me of the internet, and of living in cities.
Overlapping projections create a couple of bright areas.
Our foreground lounger, more slender in this version and in a cap instead of a beret, has a white space around his face and above his head.
It reminds me of a thought balloon. What is he thinking? This makes a place for the viewer’s own thoughts.
Cuba Still (Remake) is part of the MOMENTUM series, a touring project from the collection of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC).
It is important to note that the Yukon Arts Centre is the only Class A, climate controlled gallery north of 60, which is a designation that other large institutions like the MAC require for galleries that want to host works for exhibition.
In Yellowknife, Iqaluit, even Juneau, Alaska, they don’t have the infrastructure to host such a show.
We’re fortunate to be able to see a show like this without going to a larger centre such as Montreal. It’s part of what makes the Yukon arts scene surprisingly cosmopolitan.
Cuba Still(Remake) is on display at the Yukon Arts Centre until December 22.