Many may have come to know Hannah Black for touching off an art-world controversy last week when she published an open letter urging Whitney Biennial curators to destroy a Dana Schutz painting of Emmett Till’s open casket funeral, but Black is an artist too—and quite a good one at that. She recently had a concise, incisive show that addressed socialism’s descent into barbarism at New York’s Bodega gallery, and now, on April 9, Black will stage a new performance work at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City.
The work, titled OR LIFE OR, is a collaboration with musician Bonaventure and artist and designer Ebba Fransén Waldhör. Black will play Anxietina, a superhero-like character who will navigate a world loosely based on the Wikipedia entry for “life.” As is typical for Black’s work, many seemingly unlike historical ideas will be involved: a press release notes that “19th century Euro-capitalist expansion, contemporary corporatism, and the rise in populism both in the United Kingdom and United States” will all be featured in the work, which will take place in an environment that includes reflective pools, laser projections, and banners. The commissioned performance is part of MoMA PS1’s VW Sunday Sessions program in a large dome structure in the museum’s courtyard.
Since Black’s work tends to be dense and obscure, background helps. Her videos, texts, performances, and sculptures suggest Hito Steyerl’s essay films by way of Ed Atkins’s lyricism. Her work often deals with identity on the internet, where avatars and stock imagery have effectively hidden the backstories behind users, and often includes various references to theory and history. Of particular note is her compact 2014 video My Bodies, in which lyrics from pop songs that include the words “my body” can be heard over a montage of low-res images of white male politicians. For those in Vienna, Black currently has a show at MUMOK about images of life.