In Maren Hassinger's 'The Spirit of Things', the Personal Makes Way for Progress
In an exhibition spanning her five decade career, Maren Hassinger explores themes of displacement, loss and love. The Spirit of Things was first on view in Los Angeles at Art + Practice. The show’s tour is connected to Hasinger’s roots in LA and her life in Baltimore, where she was the director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at MICA for 20 years. The work presented is representative of Hassinger’s oeuvre including sculpture, video and performance art. The most significant draw of Hassinger’s work is that it is personal.
The exhibition begins with two galleries juxtaposing work from the the early part of Hassinger’s career made with wire rope with her more recent work manipulating newspaper. The first work, Wrenching News (2008/2016) was created in reaction to the aftermath/lack of response to Hurricane Katrina. The sculpture features hand twisted/knotted New York Times newspapers. Also featured in Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, Wrenching News, takes on new meaning in the context of current political turmoil. Hassinger’s work has poignant political meaning but is aesthetically beautiful, evoking movement, perhaps a signal of Hassinger’s study of dance at Bennington College.
The Spirit of Things also focuses on Hassinger’s performance and video works, with stills of her performances including High Noon (1976). Newspapers are explored further in Sit Upons (2010/2018), where Hassinger has woven newspaper into ‘seats. They cleverly feature snippets of headlines such as, “No Secrets,” and “Skin Deep.” Hassinger’s video works such as Wind (2013), a collaboration with her daughter and artist Ava Hassinger, and Daily Mask (1997-2004), a video in which Hassinger applies black grease to her face which recalls minstrelsy and also suggests the daily “performance” of black identity, are also featured.
The exhibition concludes in a gallery with a video of Hassinger going to Alexandria, Louisiana to meet her distant uncle. Viewers hear about the devastating ways Hassinger’s family was separated at times during slavery and afterwards, in addition to the family’s Cherokee roots. The video is simultaneously heart wrenching and heartwarming, as we see Hassinger’s reconnection to family. Embrace (2008/2018) also featured, is an installation of walls lined with pink plastic bags with notes reading “love” inside, inflated with human breath. Placing this work at the end of this brilliant exhibition suggests that despite being in the midst of chaos/strife, love can make things better. Although most of the work on view The Spirit of Things is specific to Hassinger’s life experience; her genius is revealed in not only her expert manipulation of materials but also in the universality of the messages.
Maren Hassinger: The Spirit of Things is co-presented by The Baltimore Museum of Art and Art + Practice, and on view until November 25, 2018.