Hannah Dresner

In spite of its venue—the Spertus Museum is dedicated to the study of Judaica—this exhibition featured works that share some of the qualities found in depictions of the Stations of the Cross. Like those, each of Hannah Dresner’s 20 smallish gouaches is exactly the same size. All were displayed in identical frames, installed in rows at constant intervals, and hung at the same height. The exhibition layout encouraged the viewer to see the work in a particular order, one that led thematically not through despair to salvation, but through experience to knowledge.

There is a heady air of the spiritual in Dresner’s work. All of her images speak to the question of a kind of universal womanhood. A woman’s body appears in each of Dresner’s paintings, usually as a supine torso set horizontally across the expanse of the sheet of paper, head and feet cropped off by the edge. In this format, the anonymous woman’s body reads as landscape, as earth itself, breast and stomach and hip becoming the silhouette of hill, plain, and valley. Above, and occasionally below, this body, Dresner produces extremely poetic episodes of visionary fantasy. In some pictures, a male torso hovers and gyrates above the reclining woman, like a tornado of transient fury, while in others the woman’s body—sometimes large with child—seems buoyed in a brightly colored sea of organic form. Disembodied eyes are often shown swimming over and around the woman/earth figure, either in random swirls or in perspectival onslaughts. Articulated to emphasize their almondlike vaginal shape or clustering in swarms like cyclopean sperm cells, these eyes seem to be witnesses to the inexorable rhythms of nature, sentinels to the mysteries of procreation. Sometimes focus is articulated directly toward the female genitals; these become a window through which we see another landscape.

These images speak of the wonder of form, the unending surprise and astonishment that lies in corporeal self, the peculiar and uneven blending of biology, spirituality, emotion, and intelligence that starts to describe human existence. Dresner creates images in which the finite and infinite intertwine and inform each other. The world that Dresner cannily describes is as elusive and intangible as a dream, and is every bit as capable of exposing hidden truths.

James Yood