Maria Hassabi

posted by Kirsten Collins
At the TBA in a Nutshell chat, Cathy Edwards suggested Maria Hassabi’s SoloShow as a piece that would particularly appeal to visual artists. Hassabi uses her body as sculpture, creating a collage of representations of women throughout art history and popular culture.
photo by Rio
Hassabi dances on an elevated square platform, which at times evokes a pedestal, at others a bed. The dance is comprised of a series of postures, strung together like a slide show.
Hassabi remains a canvas throughout, void of personality or motivation. Dressed in loose white pants and shirt, hair drawn back in a bun, Hassabi is largely sexless. There is no flirtation, no feminizing. At several moments, I was reminded of fashion magazines with models casually leaning against ridiculous props, bodies slouched akimbo to seem more sexy. Rather than make these postures look effortless, Hassabi’s twitching muscles and stern expression emphasize her unnaturally contorted state. But overall, she does not offer an explicit commentary on the way women have been portrayed through the ages, and instead lets the movements speak for themselves.

photo by Rio
In each moment of stillness, Hassabi’s gaze created an interesting shift of focus. As she poses, what/who is she looking at? And who is looking at her? Obviously, she is performing in front of an audience. However, through her intense gaze she creates additional focal points, adding a dimension beyond the expected relationship of performer to audience. This adds a richness and interest to the piece that gave me endurance for the subtlety and slow pacing that usually makes me sleepy.
photo by Rio
A few days ago, PICA Blogger Gordon Wilson wrote that “I felt like I was as close to seeing God in human form as possible, the first word that comes to mind on seeing Maria Hassabi dance is: divine. I’ve never seen so much grace and beauty emanate from a human being before.” I agree that Hassabi is incredibly graceful and a mesmerizing performer. There is an other-worldly quality about her. However, for me, “beauty” was not a prominent theme in this piece.
If there were a tag cloud representing all images of women ever, I would expect “beautiful” and “sexual” to be in very large type. What I found most interesting about SoloShow, is that Hassabi took these images and managed to strip away the beauty and sex. What remains is raw physicality and an uninterpreted body. She leaves space for the audience to interact with the postures, and notice how they personally respond. As Cathy Edwards wrote in her preview post about Hassabi, “As the viewer, I wonder, I question, I resist, and, ultimately, I succumb. She exerts control over the total experience–the performance space is often very ascetic and tightly focused–and yet I find numerous ways to sit with the work, to enter its nuanced and deep world, and to make it truly my own.”
Approaching SoloShow, I expected to come away with new insights about women and art. I did not. However, I suspect the piece will have a more subtle impact over time. I will now always have Hassabi as a reference point–consciously or unconsciously–as I go about my life, absorbing the constant influx of images. SoloShow will stick with me.