New York

Hannah Collins

After she left her native London to live in Barcelona several years ago, an important change came over Hannah Collins’ work. Whereas the primary thrust of her mid-to-late-’80s photo-constructions was a sense of existential urgency, Catalonia appears to have inspired her to focus more closely on the physical aspects of her environment. Complex placements of human figures in neutral or semitheatrical spaces may have been necessary in the past, but her more recent work has suggested that a comparable degree of profundity can be located in a pile of trash gathering at the dead end of a medieval alleyway. In short, rather than setting up her scenes, Collins is now letting them find her. These scenes are charged with an anonymity that keeps the viewer from entering or exiting her pictures with ease.

Four massive (between 12-and-22-foot-long) linen sheets that hung from grommets onto which Collins had mounted large gelatin silver, black and white prints in seamless vertical “strips,” nearly filled the gallery’s four main walls. Encountered as a group, the works projected a tough, unbroken photographic surface that created a physical, noticeably raised horizon. The mural scale and sculptural presence of these works perfectly suits Collins’ subjects, which have tended to consist of in-between or marginal sites selected more for their ordinariness than for any romantic or picturesque features.

For the group of images shown here, Collins photographed the Sahara desert on the outskirts of Cairo, the streets of Istanbul, and the back alleys of Warsaw. But there is something universal, even anonymous in her images that makes one feel she could have been standing anywhere in the world. And while it is hard to suppress a shiver when confronting the desolation of these works, over time they reveal a richness of detail that seems their ultimate raison d’être. Unlike some current work that makes intimacy with another culture its personal calling card, Collins’ art suggests that the satisfaction derived from being immersed in a different culture cannot be disentangled from our fears about what it means to be stranded on the other side. By deftly playing with the conventions of Minimalism, landscape photography, and recent photographic art of a sociopolitical nature, Collins places her work at the service of the argument that we must literally lose our way, abandoning any and all claims to familiarity, before we can step into the world of concrete particulars.

Dan Cameron