Hannah Black’s practice deals primarily with issues of global capitalism, feminist theory, the body and sociopolitical spaces of control. A graduate of the art writing program at Goldsmiths and the Whitney Independent Study Program, Black underpins her work with rigorous theoretical research. In “Not You,” her first solo show, her concerns manifested in direct, material gestures. Employing video, sculpture and painting, Black staged a compelling investigation into racial and bodily identity under capitalism.
Upon entering the gallery, viewers encountered four large paintings on wooden boards, titled “Black Quadrilaterals” (all works 2015). They are freestanding and thus inherently sculptural pieces; inscribed with emoji-like expressions scratched into brown paint, they partitioned the space. Standing at 8 by 6 feet, they felt confrontational, bristling against their spatial confines. The first loomed large under the broad entry arch of Arcadia Missa, which is located beneath a railway line in South London.
Behind the “Black Quadrilaterals” were less imposing wall-mounted works: three sculptures and a video. The sculptures Blanket (Etihad) and Blanket (Lufthansa) feature fabrics laid on plexiglass forms resembling chairs; viewers can faintly see their reflection through the translucent material. Both are titled after airlines, and recall the transitional spaces of departure lounges and terminals, where the body interfaces with wider infrastructures. Another sculpture, Zaum, acted as a pause in the show. It is a swath of latex immaculately folded and placed on a shelf, next to the video at the back of the gallery.
In the video, All Over, lasting seven minutes, satin sheets billow across the monitor as the artist’s voice softly declares that “this is the part where nothing happens.” Next comes a pixelated diagram of the human anatomy, superimposed on illustrations of flight paths. In its conflation of bodily and global networks, the video makes the show’s most explicitly theoretical proposition: the body is not merely an occupant of transitional spaces, but a means for interrogating their structures. While the voiceover guides the spectator through the video with soothing clarity, the overall effect is unsettling and a little disorienting.
“Not You” harbored a political urgency, and was more analytical than its constituent parts may have initially appeared. The recurring theme of air travel was an astutely chosen motif through which to approach the personal, and indeed the body, in a geopolitical framework, owing to its creation of spaces of transactional and highly accelerated movement. A text placed where a press release would ordinarily be suggested that the most gestural moments in “Not You,” the scratched faces on the paintings, were connected to race, by arguing that the etymological roots of race were synonymous with “the scratch, the mark, the line.” They thus joined the other references to race, from the brands of international airlines to transitory spaces of cultural exchange. The exhibition’s myriad artistic strategies invited viewers to consider their own bodily movements, spatially, theoretically and politically.