Artists in Isolation: Adad Hannah’s Tableaux Vivants

Adad Hannah, "Social Distancing Portrait 25," (still) 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

A figure stands pinned in place. He was fighting. Shadowboxing, maybe. Now he’s halted and just breathing and waiting and watching, nervously. Late-frost synthesizers and anxious wind instruments gather, awaiting a spring swell uncalmly. Whatever this man was doing before, he’s stopped doing it for now.

Since the advent of collective social distancing in North America in mid-March, Adad Hannah has been sharing a series of tableau-vivant portraits, still-lifes of TikTok-length video, pinched, not-quite-static scenes, suspended in disquiet. It’s as if each subject was flash-frozen on the spot, but retained their ability to project through emotional space; trying to work out a safe, pseudo-normal way of being, all while moving as little as possible. There’s the sense of a tentative figuring-out, uneasy and overlaid with a nervous pitch. Everything is seen (and shot) from at least five meters away.

As the first of the Momus Artists in Isolation series, Hannah’s entry feels distinctly early in this fast-moving history: a young couple reenters their house after the calculated risk of a grocery trip, punky kids loiter (too close together!) near a construction site. A gathering gloom steeps, accented by ominous flourishes in the score. The very first portrait features a young woman on her phone. She’s in some urban greenspace, leaning against something unimportant, casting her intent into the handheld screen. She could be mistaken for holding the sort of idle poses we habitually strike, waiting for traffic lights and finishing our breakfasts, except that we know what has her attention now. It erases the park around her.

You can tell that things were getting daily more serious around the time of the portrait in a doorway of a suburban home. A stone-faced couple holds the threshold. He’s not wearing shoes – not coming out, and you’re definitely not coming in.

In Hannah’s most recent shots, the first photos’ anticipation has been refined into something equally probing but harder-wrought. Jaws have been set: we’re still unsure, still paused, but resigned to no sense of impending resolution. We’re gathered distantly, expecting to be here awhile.

–Casey Beal, Senior Editor, Momus


Adad Hannah, Social Distancing Portrait 1 – Eva, 2020.

Adad Hannah, Social Distancing Portrait 31 – Qadir, 2020.

Adad Hannah, Social Distancing Portrait 28 – Jimmy, 2020.

Adad Hannah, Social Distancing Portrait 4 – Samuel, Trin, Rocon, Daniel, 2020.

Adad Hannah, Social Distancing Portrait 2 – Jessica and Friend, 2020.

Adad Hannah, Social Distancing Portrait 24 – Chuck, 2020.

Adad Hannah, Social Distancing Portrait 25 – Tom, 2020.

Adad Hannah, Social Distancing Portrait 5 – Elaine and Garwin, 2020.


Music: Brigitte Dajczer (@brigamusic) and Daniel Ingram.

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