Visitors must wade through a quirky sea of heads on poles before entering Western Exhibition’s side gallery where Terence Hannum’s “Negative Litanies” is on view. Hannum’s exhibition is solemn in contrast. Yet, this trek through disembodied heads seems a fitting prelude for this Chicago-based artist and musician who has established a reputation for creating metal-inspired imagery of head-bangers, towering amplifiers, and ritualistic proceedings. His most recent endeavor here features five black and white paintings of such metal imagery, a year’s worth of artist books—one for each month of 2010, and a small altar where a boxed set of the book collection (the exhibition’s namesake) is surrounded at five points by red candles.
Negative Litanies and its zines are the main affair for this exhibition. Beginning with New Rites in January 2010, these limited-edition self-published zines have paralleled Hannum’s studio practice throughout the past year and prompted his return to working with printed matter. Using xerography, Hannum collages his painted images, experimenting with textures, scale shifts, layered images, printing processes, and paper stocks. The results are part documentation of his paintings, and part thematic appropriations created specially for the new format. Cataract of Fire and Blood, Call and Response, and Heresies are collaborative endeavors with his artistic peers Elijah Burgher, Scott Treleaven and Thomas Martin Ekelund, who share his interest in visual art and the occult. Summoning and Heresies incorporate audio CDs, a quality that reminds viewers that Hannum is also an active musician (playing mostly with the metal band Locrian).
For viewers interested in the iconography of extreme metal, or fans of his music (I am guilty on both accounts) Hannum’s work demonstrates a fluency in a subcultural aesthetic that is instantly recognizable—from the choice of Blackletter typefaces to a dedication to the high-contrast black-and-white image—recalling early 1980s album art and metal zines made with low-fi photocopiers.
During my visit to Western Exhibitions, I witnessed more than a few people walk into the gallery and express surprise that the gouache paintings were indeed not photographs. In fact, the manner in which Hannum captures the pregnancy of large empty spaces—such as in as Those of the Void (2010) and Congregation (2009, seen above)—can be described as having a visual relationship to Hedi Slimane’s concert series or Hiroshi Sugimoto’s theaters. But, unlike these photographic ventures, Hannum’s large paintings of concert venues are sparingly brushed into existence. Layers of varied gray-to-white pigments are applied to the black paper ground to describe stage lighting streaking across the dark negative spaces. The application suggests the artist’s invested meditation on the subject matter, and at the same time recalls the slightly blurry photocopied images that populated those early metal zines.
In Hannum’s Negative Litanies project, these paintings find themselves channeled back into a photocopied zine format. Rather than being a matter of recursion, Hannum uses his artist books to take advantage of this format as a method to reinvestigate his paintings.
Aside from Hannum’s processes of translation and appropriation of subcultural aesthetics, I am also interested in his exercise of the artist’s book as a self-published fanzine. In the same way that the metal zine made subgenres of music accessible, Hannum’s zine is not only an appropriate format for the subcultural references of his work, but it is also an affordable and easily transportable format choice for an artist to utilize in order to reach new and diverse audiences.
-Amelia Ishmael, ArtSlant Contributing Writer
All images courtesy of Western Exhibitions and the artist.