Eleanor Hannan and Elizabeth Dancoes's 1001 Funny Things you can do with a Skirt
Stories and art on the ancient skirt gesture of Anasyrma

Installation Shot 02 Knowing

Installation Knowing CCBC Gallery 2011

Installation Shot 02 Knowing


A review by Bettina Matzkhun

The Craft Council of BC’s gallery is a very small space, but Eleanor Hannan’s exhibition “Knowing” fills it to overflowing with image, metaphor and myth. This is not to say the work clutters the space, on the contrary, the embroidered works –no larger than a sheet of paper– travel around the walls in a shimmering line. Hannan has more than illustrated Elizabeth Dancoe’s short and witty story, she has built on it; the images are evocative and often cryptic. To describe the story even more briefly: a woman lives in a state of discontent; she is restless, searching. During a quiet moment, she perceives a fork in the road, so to speak. She follows it and the adventure transforms her.

Hannan works with a restricted palette of white, black, soft green, salty red threads and faint washes of paint. She literally draws with the sewing machine, outlining a fingernail or the pattern in the foam on a cappuccino. Her stitches swarm together to describe the density of shadows. The result is expressive, active, confident. The small images convey space, weight and ambiguous emotions that crowd together in as many layers as the stitches. At the outset, the central character seems utterly fatigued –she almost disappears in the gloom of the “unpopular cafe”; but then she dances gleefully at the foot of a strange, electric tornado or spreads her arms like a flying superhero. Not easy things to conjure with a single filament.

Central to the project is the performative act of raising the skirt –Ana Suromai in ancient Greek. The story nods to the myth of Demeter. While searching for her daughter she is given shelter in a home. Baubo, a female servant, is touched by Demeter’s sorrow and flips up her skirt to make the great goddess laugh. This gesture is also said to “cow bulls.” At first I imagined a rather hard-line feminist ending to the little tale, yet as the character progresses and develops, I am surprised. Indeed, she raises her skirt to a bull. The poor creature is bowled over, hooves in the air and, when he finally rights himself, she climbs on his back, her skirt skimming her thighs. In the next image, the bull’s head is on the figure wearing the skirt and the woman’s head is on the galloping beast. In it, I read that the act of exposing oneself (not in the sense of the pervert in the park) and becoming vulnerable leads to mutual understanding and momentum.

The exhibit includes a wealth of support material presented in an unobtrusive manner. Dancoe reads the story, sotto voce, in a recording. A small digital photo frame features text and images that present information on the extensive research done by both Hannan and Dancoe into the mythology and spiritualism permeating the work. A fat little book features “sketches” –hand embroidery in black thread on canvas squares where Hannan has explored imagery and text. Considering the time invested in each cloth page, the images certainly have the immediate, experimental feel of drawings.

The final sentence of the story spins off the wall in a slightly larger piece that sports a strange maroon shape. In reading the support material, I learn that the shape is the hoof-print from a real bull. It is not clear whether Hannan had to lift her skirts to tame him, but in the photo, he seems calm and obliging. Hand embroidered imagery and text circles the hoofprint; a woman’s figure in a red skirt strides into the distance. She has inventiveness, courage, and maturity as the letters swirl around her: “I don’t know, I’d be content with a small herd, maybe 18, a few colourful skirts and a red petticoat.”