Hanna-Maria Hammari: when nature leads elsewhere

Stefano Pirovano

Through expressive materials and traditional techniques Hanna-Maria Hammari leads us to tackle the age of surveillance capitalism.

There are essentially two reasons why we’re writing about Hanna-Maria Hammari’s works. The first one is of formal nature. We have been struck by the way she manages to reconcile materials which at first glance seem to be incompatible – and, as we will see, it is not about simple associations. The second reason is instead a matter of personality. More than objects to contemplate, certain works by Hanna-Maria Hammari look like living organisms. They are able to adapt to the environment. They ambitiously tend to a potential mobility which at times could remind of something oriental. There is a Chinese myth that tells about the painter Han Gan who, when asked why the horses he painted were always tethered, he replied that his horses were so alive that if he didn’t they might fly off the page…

Hanna-Maria Hammari
Hanna-Maria Hammari, Skeleton Ball, 2020. Glazed ceramic, 31,5 x 31,5 x 31,5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Deborah Schamoni. Photo: Ulrich Gebert.

Hanna-Maria Hammari was born 1986 in Tornio, Finland and studied fine arts  at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. Hammari began by working with photography. This is where her interest for the potentiality of the making process comes from. Ceramics, for instance, came along during her time abroad at the Cooper Union in New York. It was 2016. “When working with ceramics, you can really make almost anything you want” says the artist today; thus opening a window onto her way of perceiving this medium. She improved as a ceramist once she went back ‘home’ thanks to a series of lucky events. She clarifies this point later on: “Figuring out the logistics of making things takes as much time as making the work”.

What does having a process based art practice mean?

As a response to a society dominated by technology, many artists turn to their own hands, thereby rediscovering their value; this doesn’t necessarily mean claiming the right of craftsmanship or of virtuosity (on these levels it is indeed impossible to compete with the computerised machines), but rather pursuing the significant value of imperfection. Something is valuable because it was made by a person. It directly stands for her free will. In this regard we would recommend having a look at our writing on Lorenza Longhi, who also does insist on this fundamental topic.

Hanna-Maria Hammari
Hanna-Maria Hammari, Untitled, 2020. Glazed ceramic 27 x 33 x 31,5cm. Courtesy the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler Photo: def image.
Hanna-Maria Hammari
Hanna-Maria Hammari, Untitled, 2020. Glazed ceramic, 26 x 26.5 x 28.3 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler. Photo: def image.

In my first year of studies I was into photography and video but then gradually moved from the image into more tangible objects. I would say that my turn into analogical materials depended on my interest in the making processes. My work is rooted in studio practice and in my interest in researching in and around materials. Most of my works begin as images in my head and these relatively loose ideas evolve through the making process. The materials point out to me where to pay attention and how to continue, and the so called meaning for a work emerges out of this interaction. Ceramics as a material and a craft has been very useful to my artistic practice as a whole in the sense that there is a clear beginning and a clear end, and it has really helped me to figure out how to actually finish works in general.

On the contrary, we are surrounded by digital technologies, which extract from our daily life relevant information which most likely will be used for commercial purposes, before than sanitary, social or cultural ones. Someone even believes that the new surveillance capitalism will end up calling off the identity of the individual, and the uniqueness of his experience (Shoshana Zuboff, The age of the surveillance capitalism, 2019).

So the need to put the hands on the process, the possibility of determining the result, just as that of independently producing various samples of the same object, become themselves themes and expressive values that the artwork is in turn bearer of. Even with a 3D printer you can theoretically do whatever you want. However, to get there you need to ‘use’ a machine, which inevitably has limitations due to its own nature. On the contrary, to do what you want with clay you need to master a process that, however limited too, will nevertheless be more independent, flexible, open and perfectible than a machine. This is certainly a territory where human free will can defend itself.

Hanna-Maria Hammari
Hanna-Maria Hammari, Installation view, Vapor Snag at Johan, Frankfurt am Main, 2017. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Ivan Murzin.

After all, these topics did all appear in one of the first works by Hanna-Maria Hammari. Vapor Snag, 2017, is a piece that stands between Carsten Höller’s slides and an instant classic like The way things go, by Fischli&Weiss. In Hammari’s work, an empty egg rolls down a slide, and, after curving, twisting and rising and falling, it ends up smashed on the floor. Hanna-Maria Hammari was a talented and consciously sarcastic student at that time, and luckily this sarcasm didn’t get lost. Eventually there are many broken eggs on the floor.

Hanna-Maria Hammari
Hanna-Maria Hammari, Installation view, Vapor Snag at Johan, Frankfurt am Main, 2017. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Ivan Murzin.

Hanna-Maria Hammai at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler and Deborah Schamoni

The works exhibited in the group show at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler are of different nature. Here the expressive spark lies in the relationship between the ceramic pieces reminding us of helmets, or animal traps, or chastity belts  and the ceramic coiling tentacles which are enclosed in tightly stretched latex. The chromatic and formal ‘relationship’ between the two objects is indeed very successful. One ends up becoming the other side of the coin of the other, and it is a coin that twirls around in space (despite the objects staying still, let’s be clear). There is plasticity and sensual vitality, colour and surface, full and empty spaces. Density is a variable factor that the eye is called to reflect upon.

In light of what we have said so far, we would talk about significant forms – even if they don’t have their own narrative, or specific meanings (yet do think about the empty egg’s metaphor). The same goes for the vertically standing wooden objects that have been presented at Deborah Schamoni in a duo exhibition titled DOUBLE, together with Vera Palme. The works from this series, which have been exhibited for the first time in Hanna-Maria Hammari’s solo show at LC Queisser in Tbilisi, prove that the poetics we were previously talking about is in fact an open strand that can grow in different directions and unfold in many ways. In this case, specifically, it is about wood. The objects end in extensions (heads or tails?) that can move as desired. Here again comes back the concept of mobility we mentioned before. It is indeed a small detail that however matters a lot in terms of expressiveness – which at the end of the day can only be produced by human intelligence; at least for the time being.

Hanna-Maria Hammari
Hanna-Maria Hammari, Installation view Double at Deborah Scahmoni, Münich, 2020. Courtesy the artist and Deborah Schamoni. Photo: Ulrich Gebert.

The work presented at Frankfurter Kunstverein in 2019 is also consistent with what we have written so far. The glazed ceramic volumes climb up between vines in a forest of metal chains, painted by rust and by the artist’s hands. There is also a further element which is worth pondering over. Here, more than anywhere else, you can indeed notice how Hanna-Maria Hammari prefers to leave her artwork in the ambiguity between figuration and abstraction. Sub sublime, this is the work’s title, effectively looks at the aesthetics of the sublime, thus revealing the energies of nature. Still, what Hanna-Maria Hammari creates isn’t really a specific nature. Rather, it is ‘pure visibility’ that stemming from nature leads elsewhere. At this point chains are no longer chains and ceramic is no longer ceramic. But what they are we can’t really say. Nature is an ongoing challenge.

Hanna-Maria Hammari
Hanna-Maria Hammari, installation view, detail, Sub Sublime at Frankfurter Kunstverein, 2019. Courtesy the artist.

February 10, 2020