Death is the one thing that levels all of us, it is the greatest common factor of all human existence, inescapable, and yet we veer away from it…brush it aside, will think about it later…
Miya Hannan has created Underfoot, a contemplative garden of mortality, light and elegant, inviting us to wander in and experience differing ways of visualizing and thinking of bodily death.
We don’t think about our skeletons that much - until they hurt…I am awake at 5 am to take pain meds for my shoulder surgery .... my shoulder joint scrapes across upper arm bones painfully and my mind returns to Underfoot. I have not stopped thinking about it since I photographed the exhibition a week prior.
My immediate response to the installation was elation, gladness and pleasure… not what I experienced as I held my Dad’s ashes in my hands. They were concrete grey with black shards throughout…I couldn’t imagine that this was it …the physical remains of my Dad.
The bone ash in Miya Hannan’s garden is pure white, fine, soft… mounded up around honeypot urns with skeletal remains reaching skywards from the lids… above the neatly swept powder garden fly hundreds of fragile airy flesh-tone butterflies…
…but they are sphenoid bones, repeated and repeated, hovering and swirling up, swarming upwards like a mosquito column in Summer. The Sphenoid bone is joined to the occipital bone and is part of the ocular cavity in the skull. They all look in the same direction.
Surrounding the installation are long wall length drawings, charcoal imprints with charred burnt out segments mirroring the shape of the Sphenoid butterflies, the paper lifts off the wall and curls at the charred edges, while the shadows of the flying Sphenoid bones jostle and play around on the walls creating a dimensionality that it is difficult to pin down.
I thought about the heavy-handed grotesqueries of Halloween in America, how ugly it all is, how it has become banal to have graveyards with skeletons reaching out of the grave on your front lawn, with toxic plastic gravestones, chemical spiderwebs and fog machines. It all seems like a way of cheating …a way to not think about it, while pretending to be ok with death.
Underfoot treats mortality as commonplace, normal, beautiful, part of the cycle. Everything we physically and metaphorically tread on is full of the remains of those that went before. Part of the exhibition pieces appear to be pits of half excavated chalky white wrapped remains, figures reminiscent of Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius, with archeological sightlines across the surface of the pits. All of the work presents a continuum of layering, bones, chalk and limestone, relics, dust and history built up inch by inch, creating land that we walk on. It all makes perfect sense.
The installation is intensely silent and yet the movement and harmonies created by all of the dense and airy layers, the activity of the flying bones, fine dust, drawings and shadow play make it appear to be full of clamorous life, fragile fluttery breathless life.
UNDERFOOT runs from 8 December 2018-23 March 2019 at the Oats Park Art Center, 151 East Park Street, Fallon, 89406, Nevada.
Reception 19 January 2019
Viewings by appointment