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Issue 231

The Evolutionary and Revolutionary Thresholds of Hannah Black and Sophie Friedman-Pappas

Paired together at Meredith Rosen Gallery, New York, Friedman-Pappas explores the continuing drive toward industrialization while Black critiques the world of racial capitalism born from it

BY Jessica S. Kwok in Exhibition Reviews , US Reviews | 07 SEP 22

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the price of plywood increased by 275 percent in the US. While this inflation resulted in part from supply limitations, there was speculation that it could also be attributed to the increase in demand from countless retailers who boarded up their storefronts during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. It is, therefore, both apt and subversive that Hannah Black has also ‘boarded up’ the faces of the performers in her video Broken Windows (all works 2022) with a plywood motif as a tongue-in-cheek signifier of protection of identity rather than property. Black’s video works are paired with Sophie Friedman-Pappas’s tactile sculptures in a two-person exhibition at Meredith Rosen Gallery. This dialogue explores the Anthropocene as a site of evolutionary and revolutionary thresholds, culminating in a contemporary world inexorably built on racial capitalism.

A still of a video: aperson with dark long hair from the shoulders up whose face is blocked out by a round plywood digital superimposition.
Hannah Black, Broken Windows, 2022, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Meredith Rosen Gallery 

The concept of race, as outlined by theorists such as Cedric Robinson in Black Marxism (1983), was birthed from capitalism – particularly through enslavement – and the maintenance of that economic system has continually demanded the commodifying of ‘other’ populations and environments. In Black’s Politics, two organizers discuss ways to ground the US uprisings against the epidemic of police murder of disproportionately African Americans within the dialectics of social change. The conversation focuses on looting, an act Black positions as abolitionist because it temporarily ruptures prevailing late-capitalist structures. 

While Friedman-Pappas’s work does not deal directly with race, it layers Black’s by exploring the evolutionary trajectory of environmentalism and material commodification that led to the society Black critiques. In Socrates’ pigeon house, Triantaros, Barn hosted by Sokratis-Nikos, rabbit skin is transformed into parchment for drawing. Skin is the site of human-made metamorphoses: the production of leather to make expensive handbags, for instance, or the vexed social construction of race from the color of human skin. The Anthropocene cannot be unbound from racial and colonial violence: both the animal from which this hide was acquired and the humans continuing to be objectified and exploited have been subsumed into a capitalist ecosystem. Only a revolution can ensure freedom.

A stack of folded animal skins bound by twine in a gallery space with light hardwood floors and white walls
Sophie Friedman-Pappas, Hide Pile #3, 2022, vegetable-tanned leather, duct tape, and watercolour, 76.2 × 76.2 × 73.7 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Meredith Rosen Gallery

Animal hide reappears in a large stack in Friedman-Pappas’s Hide Pile #3, which recalls the practice of Joseph Beuys. Though aesthetically most akin to Unschlitt/Tallow (1977) – 20 tonnes of tallow fat cast into a ten-metre-long wedge – Hide Pile #3, when viewed alongside Black’s work, relates more closely to Beuys’s theory of social sculpture. Specifically, its socio-political critique echoes Organization for Direct Democracy by Referendum (1972), a project presented at documenta 5, which aimed to initiate conversations on politics and erode the distinctions between art and life. Likewise, the pairing of Friedman-Pappas and Black provides a didactic space in which the intertwining of macroeconomic ideas of global industrialization with microeconomic decisions such as looting prompts viewers to consider the ways in which structural racism continues to characterize ecological destruction in service of industrial development.

Installation view of a TV mounted on a wall, playing a video with a still of a woman-presenting person with long curly hair, a blank white screen at the right half of the screen
Hannah Black, Politics, 2022, single-channel video. Courtesy: the artist and Meredith Rosen Gallery

Black’s Broken Windows reinforces the importance of the redistribution of capital – not only for the purpose of envisioning a more just future, but also for the positive spirit of collectivity that it invokes in our present world. In the video, one interviewee describes the 2020 protests as ‘amazing’, adding: ‘I was screaming in the street. It was cool. I guess thrilling is maybe the word.’ The performers talk of a time of communal ecstasy, suspended momentarily from the restraints of commerce: the joys of dressing up to hang out with cute boys and receiving looted goods from strangers as gifts. The hopeful and even frivolous tone of the interviews about one of the most fraught times in recent memory stayed with me as I walked home down Fifth Avenue, looking for remnants of plywood boards on luxury stores.

Hannah Black and Sophie Friedman-Pappas is on view at Meredith Rosen Gallery, New York, through 10 September. 

Main image: ‘Hannah Black and Sophie Friedman-Pappas’, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Meredith Rosen Gallery

Jessica Kwok is an independent curator based in New York, USA.