23 November - 10 December 2011

Curated by Claire Anna Watson

Opening Night | (Day of the week, Month spelt in full, time 6 - 8pm)

Hannah Raisin

Hannah Raisin interrogates the relationships between conceptions of beauty, innocence, gender and sexuality and often does this in ways which are provocative and confronting. In Separation Anxiety Hannah delivers her latest body of work which explores the theatre of the façade, the animalistic and the mythological. Her inspiration—’truth, trickery and trust’—has sparked new video works and provocative photographs where the artist pushes her body to new limits.

A participant in Jump National Mentoring and Next Wave’s Kickstart programs, Hannah creates striking works that have featured in exhibitions held at spaces including Gippsland Art Gallery, Platform, The University Queensland Museum, West Space, and many more.  

Encountering Hannah Raisin’s complex creative vision is to enter a world of the bizarre and outrageous. The works are an exploration of self-speculation, sexuality, vulnerability and ultimately, transformation.

Raisin is known for questioning where the line that divides human from animal lies. She enjoys creating challenging scenarios for herself ‘sometimes with personally disturbing consequences’.1 Her practice comes head to head with the common and accepted boundaries of humanity. In Separation Anxiety, she explores her relationship with her self and with the animal world in a series of new photographs and video works based on ‘truth, trickery and trust’.2 Some of the results can be provocative and disturbing, while others are tinged with humour and a sense of the uncanny. The anxiety depicted is a result of the discord between self and other, animal and human, the artificial and the real.

Raisin is emerging as a dynamic force in Australia’s contemporary art scene. Informed by feminist politics, gender relations and notions of identity, her works may spark debate or new appreciation for the ridiculous or abject. Her performance-based works share the darkness, risk-taking and ethical dimensions found in works by internationally acclaimed artists such as Chris Burden and Joseph Beuys, or the more recent works of UK-based artist Kira O’Reilly.3 Raisin undertakes a daring investigation of current attitudes toward sex and gender with a spotlight on the construction of womanhood through autobiographical interventions.

Raisin shares her apartment with an unlikely soul mate, a rabbit named Louis. When I visited recently, she explained that they were ‘pretty good friends.’4 Louis features in a still photograph White Rabbits and video works Separation and Merge in Separation Anxiety. In Merge he sits still, cradled in the arms of Raisin. Together, they appear unified—as one. The work projects animal/human magnetism.

The sense of connection between the outrageously dressed—white wig, white make-up—yet serious Raisin, and the rabbit is compelling. In the photograph, scratch marks made by the rabbit are evident on her exposed torso and breasts where he has wrestled with her whitely painted skin. The red-eyed rabbit is held on top of her head in a bizarre pose. Raisin’s connection to Louis is manifest through the white fur coat she wears and her painted skin.

Other photographs in the staged tableaux present the artist in an array of poses in direct association with other animals including Winnie the pony, Albert the fish and Buddy the dog. This menagerie—her creative associates—have been borrowed from private farms belonging to friends within Victoria. Some configurations appear in circus-like ensembles—her body is contorted, balancing awkwardly. She is dressed in various masks, or theatrical costumes that often imitate the animals’ own coats or fur. In one seductive print Tadpole Swam she lies face down in a swamp. Black sequins shimmer. Natural light dances on the vivid green grass and the murky muddiness she inhabits. Dressed as a kind of sexy tadpole, her costume seems designed to titillate the viewer, but instead she is playing fish—she appears dead. These stagings calls to mind recent works by Australian artist Polixeni Papapetrou or those of American artist Cindy Sherman.5 The photographic series, while whimsical expressions of the artist’s connection to animal life, are also acts of becoming—moments of transition and endurance, frozen in everyday landscapes.

Art can be confronting, and, Raisin is not one to turn away from the potential for art to disturb and provoke. Her video series Necklace is a case in point. Three separate videos take as their subject the artist’s neck. The imagery of the neck itself are not problematic, but rather what occurs to the neck. In the first of the videos, we watch as sticky tape is removed. The spiralling cellophane form Raisin unravels, calls to mind the rings adorning the necks of women in some Asian and African communities.6 The removal of the tape is an event that is discomforting and disarming—we can only watch in horror.

Raisin has an eye for the visceral and for the repellent. In the second work, she engages a stranger to bequeath a series of love bites. These icons of love are also sites of bodily trauma. They appear one by one upon her neck in a time-lapse sequence. The intimate relationship unfolds—the artist is exposed, vulnerable.

In systematic progression, the third and final work of the series depicts the artist bleeding a glitter-infused rainbow of paint through multiple sites, echoing the placement of the love bites. It forms a necklace of sparkling violence. Is this a statement attempting to purge the objectification and sexualisation of the female neck or is it an attempt to aestheticise violence using glitter for sensationalist effect? The artist certainly provokes a series of unsettling questions in the viewer with this series, where traces of psychic disorder linger.

Hannah Raisin performs in a space free of inhibitions. The world of fantasy and the real world combine to create an absurd hyper-reality. Yet, her whimsical and sometimes disturbing imagery transcends reality and speaks directly to the canon of feminist art.

Make-up off, costumes aside, what drives an artist to create such striking and sometimes extreme works of art? The artist explains: ‘Within the high-speed drama of contemporary culture, we are all encouraged to pursue, foster and nurture self-torture—my work is merely an extension of this inner sitcom’.7

- Claire Anna Watson, 2011
Claire Anna Watson is a Melbourne-based artist, writer and curator.


End notes
1. Artist Statement, 2011.
2. Ibid.
3. American artist Chris Burden (born 1946) is known to put himself in personal danger. German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) 1965 performance piece, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, also explored the relationship between humanity and the animal world.
4. The artist in conversation with the author, 31 October 2011.
5. Here, I am referring to Polixeni Papapetrou’s series The Dreamkeepers (2011) and Between Worlds (2009), where masks and costumes are worn by her subjects. Cindy Sherman has created an extensive body of work that centres on self-portraits in multiple guises. Like Raisin, Sherman critiques the nature of being woman.
6. Such interventions are thought to beautify and elongate the neck.
7. Artist Statement, 2011.