Ellen Hanauer: Deciphering the power and the glory of the human body

The human body figures prominently in Ellen Hanauer’s work. The lines in her work curve and turn and bulge into organic forms. Nothing is rigid. Rather, her forms are malleable and flexible, versatile in a distinctly feminine way. In her thirty some odd years exploring Sci-Art, she has focused on the human body on many levels, from the subcellular to God-like.

SCIENTIFIC INQUIRER: How did art and science come together in your work? Were the two a natural fit?

ELLEN HANAUER: My interest in both art and science began in my childhood. I took every art class offered to me and art was my primary interest. My parents took me to the Smithsonian Medical Museum as a child and couldn’t peel me away from the specimens – I was fascinated.

I have vivid memories looking through my dad’s comparative anatomy book and was in an accelerated introductory physics program in middle school – the science world intrigued me.

The funny thing is, I never really noticed the connection between my art work and science. They were both a separate focus of study until I changed careers from advertising to fine arts and began studying the body at Rutger’s Medical School’s cadaver lab. I focused my energies on learning what lay beneath the surface of the skin and it was there I developed an anatomic visual vocabulary that has permeated my work ever since.

I have been creating sci-art for the past 30 years before it was even a course of study. The connective tissue between art and science is that they both have offered so much for me to be curious about.

SI: Your sculptures take very organic forms. Curved lines. Soft edges. Bulbous surfaces. Stringy protrusions. Can you discuss your approach to sculpture in general?

EH: There are few hard edges within the human body, and since the body was such a source of inspiration, those lines made their way into my work. The body is such an organic form and its parts have provided great inspiration.

I did a large body of work depicting the body from the inside out asking myself, “What would I make with fat, muscles, skin, veins, blood and bones?”

I had the audacity to see myself as God, wondering what life forms I would come up with using these raw materials to create my own life forms.

SI: The color red figures prominently in your sculptures. Why? What does it symbolize?

EH: Much of my work has been focused on feminism and depicting women as creators of life. I have been fascinated by the divine power of women conceiving and birthing, the ultimate creative acts.

Blood represents power, life-force and primordial creation and has become the most utilized color in my palette. Surrounding myself with this color, I have felt energized.

My work, as alive as my body, is my voice bellowing, “I am present, I am vital, I am the physical manifestation of energy”. Through my work, I have beckoned my viewers to look down, deep into the layers of fat, fascia and muscle tissue.

Get small. Small enough to peer directly into the cells, for deep within is the true energy of life. It is in this small, sacred space where real beauty lies.

SI: Can you discuss the conception and creation of your award-winning series Thoughts Become Art?

EH: The curators of Thoughts Become Art at Oxford University hoped to inspire artists and scientists to create positive social impact through their art practice.

Since much of the art I have been doing over the past 30 years reflects my love of the human body and the connection I feel to other people and all living creatures through our shared anatomy, I wondered how I could affect positive change. Could I reimagine our body parts, not as they have been understood for thousands of years, but assign new purpose to them?

The three laser etched pieces I created for the Thoughts Become Art exhibition, mapped body parts as anatomical charts, defining the emotions and actions of the heart, mind and hands of our bodies. Relabeling each of these structures allowed the viewer to reimagine the magic that is possible within each of us.

The heart becomes an organ that circulates love throughout the body, the brain holds various centers for emotions that bring positivity to ourselves and others, and the hand is a creative tool with built-in intuitive sensory points.

When we imagine our bodies as vessels designed to create for the greatest good, we set up expectations for people on our planet to fulfill and exceed our fullest potential on earth. Remapping our bodies reminds us of that which is possible within ourselves.

SI: How does “Meet No-Meat” fit in with other pieces in the Under the Microscope series?

EH: The microscope series explored my relationship with stem cells and I was interested in how our consumption of meat may change through stem cells. That print was an anomaly though, as it was one of a few that wasn’t shot under UV light.

SI: How does the medium you choose influence your process? How does your choice further the themes you’re exploring?

EH: Each medium beckons me to play in a separate playground. Encaustics allowed me to depict the translucency of skin and fascia; polyurethane foam enabled me to sculpt underground, beneath the earth’s surface; fiber has given me the opportunity to explore psychological issues within the safety of this physically soft material; and working under uv lighting and through lenses distorts my color palate and my expectations for what I see.

SI: Who are your biggest influences?

EH: My work is generated from within, from emotions I am feeling. I try not to expose myself to other artists, but to raw materials and technologies instead. People either understand this or they don’t, but my work has been considered original and I credit this to my intentional lack of seeing others’ works. I will say though, that the recent STEAM movement has brought a new level of consciousness about combining these areas of study in my work.

SI: What is the role of the Artist in society, if any?

EH: To bring new ideas, uses of materials, transform old ways of making art. Artists have the ability to showcase new ways of seeing the world, which helps to influence new paradigms and shifts in thinking. We have the ability to alter each viewer so that the work lingers and their sensitivities are heightened. For me personally, I like to transform my viewers at my solo shows, so when they emerge, they have an emotional connection to my work and they carry at least one piece from the show with them in their hearts.

SI: Finally, what is next for you?

EH: I am interested in exploring projection mapping and projection lighting in general. I am in the process of learning new technologies, including circuitry and software for specific lenses. I have a solo exhibition scheduled for 2019 where I will combine fiber arts with lighting and we’ll see where this takes me.

For more information about the artist and her work, visit ellenhanauer.com.

IMAGE SOURCE: Ellen Hanauer

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