Artist's Statement: Jason Hanasik on the Myths of Masculinity

by Jonathan Curiel

It was Renoir who said that a work of art "must seize upon you, wrap you up in itself, and carry you away." Interviews with artists should have a similar effect. With "Artist's Statement," our weekly interview series with prominent and upcoming visual artists in San Francisco, SF Weekly speaks to the people behind the art you see in the galleries, in the museums, and in the streets.

The last two months have been dizzying for photographer and video artist Jason Hanasik. Besides a big exhibit at the San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery (401 Van Ness, through April 27), Hanasik's work is featured in a photo show that opened at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The overlapping exhibits showcase Hanasik's full artistic range -- the Smithsonian work features a high-school military student doing a military salute, while the Arts Commission work looks at the foreclosure of his parents' house, where he was raised. Hanasik, 31, spoke to SF Weekly about the power of art to delve into issues of loss and of masculinity, why a group of Marines opened up to him for an art project, and why his parents will never see his exhibit at the Arts Commission Gallery.

Q: You're in the Smithsonian with 47 others who were finalists in a photo competition held by National Portrait Gallery. The contest asked for portraits. Yours was titled "Sharrod (Turn/Twirl)." It's an intense work that's inspired intense reactions. 

A: I went to the exhibit last week in Washington, D.C., and I walked in on two guys in front of it, and I figured out through overhearing parts of their discussion that they were on a first date. They were both military men. I grew up around military men (in Virginia Beach, Virginia) and it's easy for me to spot them. They were discussing the difficulties of holding a salute for as long as Sharrod did -- how Sharrod is starting to shake in places. You can see the tension in Sharrod as he attempts to hold this salute, and where he breaks and doesn't break. I'm always caught up in this notion of how we expect people to perform or act or react. As the two men got up to leave, a young boy came running into the gallery and started to salute them but he was really just mimicking Sharrod. This happens in every city that I've shown the piece. These young children see Sharrod and start mimicking him, which for me is perfect, because that's exactly what I'm trying to talk about -- that the salute is just mimicry. With Sharrod, I was looking at how the military machine builds men right in high school.

Q; Your work at the Art Commission Gallery is rooted in the foreclosure of your childhood house in Virginia Beach, Virginia. On one TV, a video plays of a 1988 filming, where you as a boy and your sister as a girl are in the house as it's being built. On a nearby TV, a video plays of a 2010 filming, in the same house, when it's on the verge of being foreclosed. At the gallery, the TVs are in a room that you say resembles the den in that house. It's even got wooden slats like it's the start of a new house. Very unnerving. Very thought-provoking.

A: I flew to my childhood home in the fall of 2009 and I didn't realize that my family was in the financial situation they were in. My father had lost his job, though for a long time he and my mom continued a sense of normalcy for my sister and me. When I flew in, they brought me right to the house and sat me down in the den. They were playing the 1988 video. They were reminiscing while they were telling me they were losing the house. So I was caught in a very weird existential space, because it was both the beginning and the end. The structure that I hired a contractor to build inside the gallery is a very loose representation of that den where I first heard the news. The den is where the family hung out in - a place where the family discussed ideas. In the beginning of the 1988 video, me or my sister say, "Welcome to the Hanasik home." This becomes this echo chamber that we were caught in. I have to say, this was the scariest piece I've ever made. I basically walk into my old house when I go the Art Commission Gallery.

Q: The artwork is about much more than foreclosure. In fact, it took you a few years to bring the art project to fruition

A: In 2010, three major things happened: My first real relationship, in which I lived with a partner, ended; my family lost their home; and then my sister, Jennifer, passed away suddenly, at age 27. So it was this year of intense loss. It's taken about three years for me to figure out what to do with this piece so that it didn't rest on sentimentality or nostalgia. The project is really about expectations and ephemerality. One thing that I kept experiencing was, "Well, Jennifer was supposed to be alive. She should be here. The house should be here." That was coming from me and my family. The title of the piece, "We Always Thought the Walls Would Protect Us But Suddenly We Realized They Were as Weak As Our Frames," gets to this idea that we build these expectations into various aspects of our lives - our relationships, the structures we build, the family unit - and they're going to break apart. So this is the first piece out of a much larger investigation that I'm currently working on that looks at that idea. I'm working on a short film - my sister was an aspiring filmmaker, so I'm collaborating with the archive I have of her work, and recreating a film that's both about her life but also about this sense of expectation and ephemerality.

Q: Your parents will never see the piece, though. Why? 

A: Last summer, my parents announced they were getting a divorce. My mom lives in Norfolk, Virginia, and my dad lives in San Diego. They've been to virtually every single show I've ever had. They are incredible supporters. But I've kept my father away from this show. And my mother -- well, she came with me to Washington, D.C., and she was like, "Yeah, I don't really want to see your show in San Francisco." Its understandable.

Q: In 2009, Aperture Magazine gave you an Honorable Mention for its Aperture Portfolio Prize, for your project, "He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore." That project features photos of military men who make ambiguous poses for the camera. In one, a man named Steven, wearing military fatigues, is lying in a bed of flowers. In another photo, a man in shorts is carrying two bottles of urine. 

A: Well, that project also explores death. One of my childhood friends died during his first tour in Iraq. His best friend is my best friend's younger brother -- they're all Marines -- and I watched him fall apart, and also the men around him fall apart. And they're trying to negotiate how to maintain this expectation of American heroism and military masculinity, in the confines of a body that's dealing with trauma. Now that I look back on it, it's less about this dichotomy of straight sexuality and queer sexuality, and it's really about the inability to maintain any sense of normativity. In graduate school, I was saying that the Marine is so far out of what's considered normal, and that the queer-identified person is also so far out. These Marines would not talk to each other about the trauma they were going through, but I would enter the picture and I became the repository for these stories. I didn't represent a threat. They didn't see me as someone who was going to judge them against the norms of normativiity because I was so far removed from that myself. With "He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore," I'm looking at what happens when that unit of military personnel has gone through something that the military doesn't prepare them to deal with, and it breaks the unit, and they have to figure out how to be themselves.

Q: You say these photos were misinterpreted by your professors at the California College of the Arts, where you got an MFA in Visual Arts. 

A: The project started between my first and second year of graduate school. I showed my adviser my work and said, "This is my thesis, and this is what I want to work on. There's something here." And he said, "Yeah, there's something here, but you need to make more pictures and flesh this out." My adviser was the queerest white heterosexual male I've ever met, in the most amazing way possible, but other professors at the school -- these white, male heterosexual professors -- had these really naive responses, and were like, "Oh, these are your surrogate boyfriends." There's this cliche in gay, male photography of using a stud and beefcake as a subject, and I said, "I don't just look at these men as sexual objects." These professors were misinterpreting vulnerability in men as being something sexual. I got really uncomfortable, because the men I photographed had been so vulnerable with me. I didn't want these men to get wind of this and have it suddenly send them into a tailspin. So I came clean with Steven, and told him, "This is what I'm thinking of." Instead of shutting down, he opened up further. He said, "I totally get what you're doing, and I think we need it." He showed me some photographs that he took in Iraq, that then became "Steven's photograph of a man carrying two bottles of piss." That became one of my pieces.

Q: For a while, you had a "day job," but in 2010 that turned into much, much more because of your participation in Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project

A: My sister, who was lesbian, died the same time that all the teen suicides were happening across the country. She wasn't bullied, and she didn't commit suicide. But I was caught in this crazy moment of grief at the same time that that was happening. Google was the first big corporation to release a video (in 2010). The day they released it, it hit all the blogs that I read. So I'm at my desk in tears, and I just happen to have a meeting with my vice president at the time. I was totally flying under the radar at Gap, in this crappy job on purpose -- just so I could make enough money to do my artwork, and not have to think about work outside of my work day. I said, "You don't know this, but this is what I do on the side. And we need to make this video, and I'm going to make it." And at the time, I'd never shot a single live-action video in my life. He turns around, and he's balling after watching the Google video, and picks up the phone and calls the president of Gap, and he says, "We're going to make a video and we're going to release it, and I need your help." And two weeks later, we release it. Not everyone in that video is queer-identified. A lot of them are straight. Some of them are gay. I saw it as an incredible opportunity to use a major global retailer as a bully pulpit to talk about what I wanted to talk about this -- this notion that there are other opportunities, and how to imagine another world. That video got out and it had some success, and there were some really great commentary that came back to Gap and to me specifically. Then Gap made a job for me that was called "The Storyteller." I went around making videos for them and figured out how to better tell their story to their 25,000-plus marketers in their field. That was an interim position. I jumped six levels. And now I manage a team that's focused on digital strategy.

This interview was originally published on SFWeekly's blog "The Exhibitionist."

Conversation 6 @ SF Arts Commission Gallery

by Sarah Hotchkiss

As technology continues to blur the line between the virtual and the actual, so do our definitions of those states.  All of the attendant issues — perceptual, ethical and legal – swirl around the latest installment of the San Francisco Art Commission’s Conversations series, in which a local artist is paired with an international counterpart, connecting regional practices to a global dialogue. 

The latest, Conversation 6, consists of just three works. In the first room, Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde exhibits two wall pieces: a floor-to-ceiling image of a cloud floating, inexplicably, inside a checkered-floor room, and a more modest photograph of a strangely pixilated roadside building, slightly overlapped by two framed works. In the back room, San Francisco-based Jason Hanasik exhibits an installation with three video elements descriptively titled We always thought the walls would protect us, but suddenly realized they were as weak as our frames.

Despite their vastly different materials, practices and interests, Hanasik and Smilde’s work fits surprisingly well together. Smilde’s poetic focus on landscape and clouds is mediated by an interest in technology and the “truth” of representation. Hanasik’s very personal rendering of family experiences is spare instead of sentimental, making the human elements of his videos all the more riveting.  

In both artists’ works the dichotomy of making/unmaking is prevalent. Smilde’s now-famous clouds are constructions, immortalized by photography, but completely ephemeral in their original state. His second piece, Until Askeaton has Street View, began with the image of a roadside barn from Google’s Street View of Askeaton, Wisconsin. During a residence in Askeaton, Ireland (namesake of the stateside town), Smilde transposed the digital barn to a 2D physical structure and erected it alongside a road very much like the original site. Strangely, the Irish faction of Google Street View subsequently photographed this impermanent, pixilated barn, completing Smilde’s artwork. Now both Askeatons have the same barn, according to Google Maps, creating a bizarre digital vortex between two places on the globe. 

Hanasik’s video works could also be described as two views of the same thing. Two monitors show the excitement surounding the construction of his family house in 1988 and its empty worn-out rooms after foreclosure proceedings in 2010. The videos themselves exist inside the wooden framing of a room within the gallery. Plastic sheeting on the floor and over a window-like space creates an environment of either construction or deconstruction, it’s unclear which. A 7-year-old Hanasik and his 5-year-old sister Jennifer conduct the 1988 tour (he is serious, she hams it up) and it’s difficult to look away – they are the only source of action and life in the entire exhibit. 

The modest number of works in the show might lead viewers to look for more information, more access to the artists and the ideas surrounding their practices. In anticipation of this, the SFAC Gallery organized two public events. The first occurred on March 20 at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, bringing Smilde together with artist Doug Rickard and Fine Arts Museums’ curator Melissa Buron. In short, 10-minute presentations, the participants discussed their own practices and fleeting thoughts related to the images. There was no discussion amongst the three and no question and answer session with the audience, only an invitation to “come up afterwards for a quick chat if you would like.” 

The presenters had so much more to say, and I wish they had been given more time to speak. In this era of 18-minute TED Talks, 6-minute 40-second PechaKucha presentations and ever-dwindling attention spans, shorter is somehow seen as better.  Unfortunately, this particular event would have benefited from more lengthy explorations of Smilde’s childhood spent under dramatic Dutch skies, of Richard’s philosophies about the new age of Google street photography and of Buron’s survey of clouds in 550 years of art history. As it was, the event felt constrained, without much room for the “broader dialogue” it advertised.

A separate public event centered around Hanasik’s work, featuring Tammy Rae Carland and Abner Nolan, is scheduled for April 10 in the War Memorial Veterans Building. While it might yield more in-depth discussions, it’s a shame the two artists couldn’t actually have a public conversation. Smilde’s brief visit to San Francisco overlapped with an opening of Hanasik’s work in a National Portrait Gallery group show, keeping the two apart.

Conversation 6 is the final show to take place in the current SFAC Gallery before a two-year closure for retrofitting. The space will reopen with 4,400 square feet (nearly five times the current square footage). This information makes Conversation 6 slightly bittersweet. While programming in the War Memorial Veterans Building pauses on a high note, I can’t help but think about the same show in a larger space. In its current form, the conversation between Smilde and Hanasik appears truncated.  With room to expand, future Conversations might really take off, yielding surprising, possibly unwieldy results sure to create larger dialogues about the connections between local and international art practices.

This review originally appeared on

Portrait of an Artist: Jason Hanasik

Q: What is your name, where are you from, where do you live now? 

A: My name is Jason Hanasik. I am from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia and I currently live in San Francisco, California. 

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: I mainly work with photography, video, and installation. 

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.), and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I have an MFA in visual arts from California College of the Arts and a BFA summa cum laude from the State University of New York at Purchase. I have served as an adviser in the graduate program at California College of the Arts and am currently the senior manager of Digital Brand Communications in the Marketing Department at Gap–North America.

I include my day job since the role was created for me after I created Gap Incorporated’s contribution to the international “It Gets Better” campaign. This video, my first live-action video, not only launched my commercial/editorial career but also positioned video as a major component in my artistic practice. 

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: When NPG relaunched in 2006, I took a quick trip to DC to check out the museum and completely fell in love with a series of exhibitions that looked at a single important individual through the various “portraits” [the “One Life” series] they left behind/sat for during their lifetime. When I moved to the West Coast in 2007, I lost touch with the museum as I burrowed into my studies.

My interest and knowledge of the programming reignited during the run of the exhibition “Hide/Seek,” a show I was very interested in seeing and luckily did see before it moved to other venues. Consequently, when a few friends told me about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, I immediately put the next entry date on my calendar! Being a part of the lineage of the organization is definitely a dream come true. 

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: I submitted the video installation Sharrod (Turn/Twirl).

I began working with Sharrod, the main protagonist of the piece, at the end of 2008 while I was home on holiday in my hometown, the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. At the time, I was completing the project “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore” and was not only hungry for a new project but also very interested in how the military grooms and sculpts its young recruits. (The idea was a natural transition from the project I was finishing up.) Sharrod’s mother and my father were coworkers and friends, and by happenstance, Sharrod was also a freshman at my alma mater, Salem High School. Most important, he was enrolled in the military’s high school preparatory program NJROTC, the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp. 

Sharrod (Turn/Twirl) was created during the winter of 2010. Earlier that year, Sharrod told me a story about an experience he had at a mock boot camp. According to Sharrod, the commanding officer made all of the young recruits stand at attention to be inspected for long periods of time. Sharrod shared that a few of the young men started losing their balance, and one passed out because they were locking their knees and stopping the blood flow to their brain. (I should note that I have always been fascinated by the military salute and have even tried to re-create the perfect salute myself in my bathroom mirror.)

I asked Sharrod to re-create the salute as a durational exercise, but this time my camera would be the one doing the inspection. After about ten minutes, I was thoroughly bored and told Sharrod that the idea was a bust and apologized for wasting his time. As I began breaking down my equipment, Sharrod, holding the salute, turned slightly and I saw what would become Sharrod (Turn/Twirl). I set the camera back up, explained my vision and captured the raw footage that would become Sharrod (Turn/Twirl).

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: I’m really interested in openness, transparency, cycles, and expectations. I’ll leave the latter two, cycles and expectations, for a later question and will instead focus on how openness and transparency inform and in some ways guide my inquiry and focus.

When I was a teenager, my parents sat my sister and me down to tell us a family secret. At that moment, my family’s narrative split into two—the reality I had been living and the one in which I was asked to rectify and assimilate. As the years went by, I began to see ruptures in the various lives all around me, including my own. For example, friends’ parents were catching spouses in extramarital affairs; I was hiding my sexuality from my family and some friends; friends/soldiers were struggling with the deaths of other friends but unable to share publicly because they thought it was not masculine/honorable, etc.

These schisms between a secret/private emotional life and a public experience confused me greatly. When I finished the initial process of coming out, the breach I was seeing in other lives began to become the focus of my work. This awareness manifests itself in a variety of ways. Sometimes, I choose to focus on the disconnect mentioned above, and ask questions about why it is present and what motivating factors perpetuate the schism between private and public. Other times, I choose to document and present an unguarded picture of the things I often see hiding in plain sight.

Q: What are you currently working on? 

A: I am currently working on a project called "We always thought the walls would protect us, but suddenly realized they were as weak as our frames." The installation will open at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery as part of a two-person show called “Conversations 6” in early 2013.

The piece continues my interest in family, affect, home, loss, collaborating with my subjects, and storytelling but introduces my recent fascination with theater into the mix. “We always thought the walls would protect us, but suddenly realized they were as weak as our frames” is the first in what I imagine will be a series of projects/manifestations about what I experienced and have been processing since 2010. In 2010, my first long-term relationship ended, my family lost our home due to consequences stemming from the recession, and my little (and only) sister died very unexpectedly.

This first project deals mainly with the loss of my family home; however, as I have been making and writing about the piece, I realize that there are definitely references to the departure of my boyfriend and the sudden loss of my sister. 

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: My work has definitely changed over time. In 2002, I made a portrait of my parents, Jeff and Jackie Hanasik (below), which basically opened my eyes to not only the power of images but also clarified for me—and I think my audience—what I was up to in my work. From the moment I brought that picture into my junior seminar at SUNY–Purchase to about 2006–7, I was primarily focused on creating medium- to large- format, somewhat static portraits.

By the time I entered graduate school in 2007, I was restless and bored with the process, practice, and especially rules of exhibiting photographs. The photography world had burst open as weblogs proliferated and the photo world seemed to get bigger. This was awesome but seemed somehow smaller, as I felt like I was seeing the same types of pictures over and over again. Video and installation became more interesting to me, as did nontraditional exhibition formats being explored earlier in the decade by Wolfgang Tilmans.

While boredom was definitely a motivating factor, I know now that it was really frustration about not being able to create experiences that truly transported my viewer into the spaces, mindsets, and/or questions that I was trying to develop and was curious about in my work. Over the course of the last five years (and two long-term projects), my practice is now richer, more diverse, and my intentions and concepts have become much more nuanced and, I hope, clearer to the viewer.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had as an artist.

A: In the fall of 2009, I presented my first solo exhibition, “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore,” in New York City at +Kris Graves Projects. As the opening reception was winding down, and only a few people were left in the gallery, two women caught my attention, so I went over and introduced myself. One of the women appeared to be consoling the other one and I asked if everything was all right. With tears in her eyes, the woman who was crying looked up at me and said, “Thank you. My son returned from Iraq a few months ago and well, he just didn’t seem right and I could not understand. Tonight, after looking at your project, I think I understand what he is going through. Thank you.” Needless to say, that interaction has stuck with me ever since. 

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Naming just one is much too difficult, so instead, here are a few: Larry Sultan, Paul Cadmus, Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker, Jesper Just, Collier Schorr, Dan Flavin, and Paul Chan.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: Larry Kramer. He’s popped up a lot for me in my twenties. I just recently had the chance to see The Normal Heart at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and thought it was absolutely amazing. His “portraits” in that play and in the book Faggots are incredible. I have no idea what we’d make together, but I think the way he uses personal biography as an igniting force for drama, portraiture, and storytelling is really compelling and in line with my own interests and practice. 

Q: What inspires you?

A: Expectations and cycles and finding ways to expose these, unravel them and ask questions why we fall into/accept them in the first place.

Growing up in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, I was inundated by narrow views of masculinity and femininity and the conservative religious right. Although my family traveled up and down the East Coast a lot as a kid, it was not until I entered my twenties and moved to New York and then San Francisco that I realized how much I was beholden to suffocating ideas about gender presentation, sexuality, and family dynamics.

As my work has matured, I’ve been able to investigate these earlier experiences, locate them in culture and embark on new projects that explode them open. Ultimately, I hope to ask questions that motivate viewers to locate and examine similarly closed perspectives in themselves.

This interview originally appeared on the National Portrait Gallery's Blog "Face to Face."

The Work of Jason Hanasik and Berndnaut Smilde in 'Conversation' at San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery

by Christian L Frock

The Conversation series at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery (SFAC) is an important objective of gallery director Meg Shiffler. The program, which pairs the work of a regional artist with an artist "based on another point on the globe," creates a wider context for the work of local artists while providing exposure for international artists. A broad view of contemporary art practice is developed through this pairing.

The current iteration -- the sixth in the series -- also represents the final exhibition in the SFAC's main gallery in the historic War Memorial Veteran's Building. Following the exhibition, the gallery in this grand Beaux Arts building will close for a two-year seismic retrofitting and staff will begin planning for the next chapter in its history. When it reopens in July 2015, the SFAC main gallery will be inaugurated in a newly designed, multipurpose space. This installation of the Conversation series features new work by Bay Area artist Jason Hanasik and Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde. It explores themes of conclusion, transition and renewal at precisely the same moment in the gallery's history.

One is confronted with Smilde's work when crossing the threshold from the street. A large-as-life photographic wallpaper installation transforms the space of the gallery, and creates the illusion of an architecturally grand space. The image, taken in a historic building in Holland, presents a neoclassical interior, complete with sweeping archways and tall columns. Hovering in the center of the space, peculiarly, is a cloud. Or rather, one did hover briefly in that moment of the shutter click; only a moment later, it dissipated, as clouds tend to do, even indoor clouds.

Amsterdam-based Smilde grew up examining Dutch seascapes resplendent with expansive cloud-filled skies and wondered at the possibility of recreating the cloud itself for exhibition. You won't find out here how he does it -- it is a guarded moment of magic that involves precise chemistry, temperature, and lighting. The organic moment of cloud creation is a matter of studio production; the resulting photographs are the product of Smilde's fantastical experiments. Next month, the artist will visit San Francisco to privately stage cloud images in the historic Green Room of the Veteran's Building. The Green Room photograph will be added to the exhibition and available for purchase as part of a capital campaign for the new gallery space.

Smilde has created clouds in a number of historic spaces, solely for the purpose of capturing them in photographs. The work contrasts our sense of the ephemeral with the implied permanence of architecture. Buildings fall and rise, or are repurposed and re-imagined all around us every day. Even as we know the built environment to be in constant transition, we imbue it with personal histories, hoping it will remain unchanged. The wallpaper installation in the gallery allows for a moment of permanent impermanence, at least from the doorway. Moving forward, the illusion is broken and reality sets in. This is the conversation between Smilde and Hanasik's pairing: a parallel set of meanings arise from distinctly different works that challenge us to consider the past in the present.

Hanasik's new work for the exhibition poignantly addresses the foreclosure of the artist's childhood family home, furthering the theme of impermanence with unexpected emotional depth. His installation in the rear gallery features a recreated skeleton of the family den in his custom-built childhood home in Virginia. Raw wood beams create contemplative space to consider a series of home videos in the installation.

On one side, a video projection features footage of a wooded lot, evidently before construction. On the floor, a monitor presents a video from after the building was completed, as his father tours the house with camcorder in hand. A third video was captured after the bank seizure and features a final tour of its decades-old lived-in spaces, including trace evidence of family photos removed from the walls.

Few will assess the work with critical distance; most everyone knows someone who lost their home in the recent financial crisis. Many of us know many who have. This does not lessen the experience of Hanasik's work -- indeed it seems the emotional impact is heightened by our collective experience of the recent financial hailstorm that left few unscathed. In conversation, the two artists' work, timed perfectly within the gallery's history and our larger cultural history, offers echoes of storm clouds that once hung heavily, but have since receded, clearing paths for an unknown future.

This review originally appeared on KQED Arts' blog.

Iron Spotlight: Jason Hanasik

We have the good fortune to work with some pretty remarkable individuals, clients and partners alike. And every now and then, we’re stopped in our tracks by a truly curious character whose unconventional ideas and approach to life compel us to share his story. Today we’d like to introduce you to Jason Hanasik – installation artist, storyteller, Senior Manager.

Jason is unique in many ways and we could dedicate an entire series to his artwork alone, but what interests us the most about him is how he’s taken his experience in an artistic practice to a corporate profession. If being a widely exhibited and published artist, working in a variety of media including photography, film and installation, wasn’t enough, he also moonlights in the daylight as the Senior Manager of Digital Brand Communications for Gap-North America.

Jason is a natural storyteller. He understands the power a story has to capture our imagination and stir our emotions. His innate gift is felt in every piece he creates, and more recently he’s brought this invaluable skill to his nine-to-five. It’s a very exciting time in Jason’s life. Each day he’s generating stories of varying forms to help shepherd creative inspiration within his team. Most notably was the video he made for Gap Inc which became their contribution to the international “It Gets Better” video project. As Jason says, “I concept, capture, edit and deliver various stories for Gap’s internal and external customer. (Who knew there was a dream job for me in the corporate world?)” 

Here’s what he had to say:

Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?

I’ve been lucky enough to have many mentors along the way (notably photographer Jo Ann Walters and multidisciplinary artist Larry Sultan), but before any of them appeared there was my choral teacher, Mr. K at Salem High School in Virginia Beach, VA.  He instilled quite a few important concepts in me but his phrase, “music isn’t just notes and words” continues to inform my artistic and professional practice daily.

Musically speaking it made total sense but when I finally realized that the way to connect with people wasn’t through great technical proficiency or evocative ideas (although those help) in other media and investigations, everything suddenly clicked. Truly, it’s the authenticity and clarity (in all of its manifestations) of the message.  In short, whatever it is, it has to be more than just notes and words.

Where do you feel most at home?

Strand bookstore in New York City at 9pm on a Saturday night.

What is your proudest achievement in work?

A month or so ago, one of the designers on my team took me aside and said, “A year ago, I didn’t think I was going to be here in a year.  Working for you has not only made me feel more excited than ever to be in my role, but I feel alive again as well.”

What is your proudest achievement in life?

Towards the end of the reception for my first solo show in New York City, I saw a woman crying while looking at the end of my project “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore.”  I introduced myself and asked her if she needed anything.  She looked up at me with big, beautiful, wet eyes and said, “Thank you.  My son just got back from Iraq a few months ago and he just hasn’t been the same and I didn’t understand.  Now, I understand.”

What is your greatest extravagance?

Don’t tell anyone but I am about to hire someone to come clean my apartment.  I find it to be completely ridiculous that I need someone to do this for me and totally necessary at the same time.

At what points do life and work intersect?

I don’t see a disconnection between the two.  Then again, when I was solely pursuing my life as an artist, there was never a disconnection between what I made and who I was so the notion that my work should not be an extension of my life seems foreign.  Sure, there are weeks when it definitely feels like “just a paycheck” but more often than not, I am surrounded by really curious and interesting people who challenge me the way my good friends, other artists and family do.

What is your greatest fear?

I used to fear (and secretly sometimes still do) that the people I trust/trusted would one day turn around, start laughing and say, “Jason, you have no talent at all.  We’ve been lying to you this entire time.”

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

Be like a duck, where everyone can see, it should look like you are gliding effortlessly and elegantly along.  Below the water, in your gut, you should be moving as quickly as possible, course correcting where and whenever possible and no matter what, always be moving.

Can you recommend a book or poem that has changed your perspective on life?

In business, Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” and in art, “What we talk about when we talk about love” by Raymond Carver.

What’s your favourite cocktail?

Rye’s Basil Gimlet

If you could add one question to this questionnaire for our next interviewee, what would it be?

What non-profit is doing work most aligned with your vision for a better future?

Mine: The Ali Forney Center in New York City

This interview was originally published on Iron Creative's blog: Iron Spotlight.

The Warriors' Turn: Compassion and Control in Jason Hanasik's Militaria

by Jason Lahman

“A uniform provides its wearer with a definitive line of demarcation between his person and the world… It is the uniform’s true function to manifest and ordain order in the world, to arrest the confusion and flux of life, just as it conceals whatever in the human body is soft and flowing, covering up the soldier’s underclothes and skin…” ~ Hermann Broch

“Spontaneity is only a term for man’s ignorance of the gods.” ~ Samuel Butler

In October of 2011, a number of San Francisco artist Jason Hanasik‘s photographic and film works were installed at Krowswork Gallery in Oakland. Hanasik has become well-known for his portraits of military men. His images are uncluttered and sparse, but there is always something quietly seductive in the way they lure the eye beyond a first impression of simplicity. Hanasik’s photographs are only one aspect of his multimedia installations which incorporate film-footage and occasionally objects. When seen as a whole, these function not only as intense, visual biographies, but as serious tools for deconstructing the performance of “the self” in both public and private spheres. The lives of soldiers have given Hanasik an effective way to explore the processes of self-fashioning and self-revelation. In two of his projects, “I slowly watched him disappear” and “He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore,” Hanasik focuses on gestural control and the expression of spontaneity between men to get at deeper questions of identity, and to collapse our social ways of seeing men’s “innate” qualities.

For several years Hanasik has photographed Sharrod, a young African-American man who has spent much of his life within the U.S. military system. The images of Sharrod that make up “I slowly watched him disappear” reveal a great deal about how the body is made into a sign for things totally unrelated to its everyday biological functions. Who this young man is outside his (chosen?) career path is a tantalizing secret that hovers evasively beneath his intense gaze and his salute.  Hanasik has taken Sharrod’s picture in a number of civilian spaces that accentuate his presence as a soldier. They  also remind us that we are free at any time to see through that layer of social reality. Sharrod’s role as a cadet and future warrior is the visual starting point for any other question we might pose about who this young man is in the world.

In one photograph from this series, an official dress and comportment guide for young cadets rests open to the section which outlines the acceptable haircut along with terse explanations for why it must be so. To those outside the military, such manuals have a certain archaic quality: relics of an age when honor and sacrifice were more closely connected to day-to-day living and when the act of questioning formal dress-codes would seem an attack on civility.

The body of a soldier is not his own. The body in service to the nation is the representative of an idealized form with a set of particular functions connected to the programs of peace-keeping/warfare. In his classic text Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault discusses at length the way the human body of the warrior is programmed to be the component of a larger machine, to immediately respond with particular moves to command signals.  This draws in a closely-related subject of memorized movement: dance. Authors as far back as Plato (in his discussion of the pyrrhic dances) have pointed out that dance and military maneuvers have a long, entangled lineage. Through the calculations of gesture many bodies become one–or at least create the appearance of oneness.

In the film-loop "Sharrod (Turn/Twirl)" the subject is recorded as he turns 360 degrees while holding himself in the position of salute. In the small room at Krowswork where this was projected, I had the feeling that I was some sort of a clinician watching for the slightest twitch, an authority figure judging the ability of the cadet to maintain his posture. The sheer tedium of this performance becomes a kind of yogic exercise for the watcher–and fascination leads to other emotional responses: pity, respect, horror, consternation. Issues of age, class, gender, race, authority, and tradition flash like little sparks, troubling the surface of appearances. One wonders what the REAL story of this man/child is. How is it that we as a culture give so little thought to the actual lived experiences of those in the armed services? What hopes, impulses, feelings are flowing beneath the crystal surface of Sharrod’s eyes? I was surprised at the compassion this footage elicited in me, not because I felt bad for Sharrod, but because it suddenly became clear to me how much energy all of us exert performing our “selves” in order to manifest that image which the gaze of others has necessitated.

“In the Green Zone: November 2007” is a second loop which is generally shown alongside Hanasik’s series of photos and objects “ He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore.” Krowswork had installed this as a projection in a room full of old church pews where visitors could sit. With my back pressed firmly against the vintage furniture of worship, I noticed my posture changing. The turning image of Sharrod just a few feet away had affected me physically and I was suddenly aware of my spine and the ability to hold it erect. In complete contrast to these exercises in holding form, “In the Green Zone” shows two soldiers dancing together, caught in a moment of childlike fun, without thought, as it were, of meaning. It is not a memorized pyrrhic dance but a spontaneous expression of the joyful moment. We are unaccustomed in our society to seeing grown men engaging in behavior that is so gentle, funny and intimate.

The sense of recognition that I experienced grew stronger the longer I sat with the work. Then I suddenly remembered the 1894 Edison footage of two men dancing together. There is an uncanny similarity between these two pieces. On a phenomenological level we occupy the spot of the proverbial fly on the wall, peeking in at an unguarded moment in which men shed their social armor of aggressive and/or formal gestures and allow a spontaneous softness to emanate from their bodies. On a sociological level we can consider how these images show us the fluidity of a category as contentious and unstable as “masculinity.”

Hanasik manages to hold and frame his subjects in such a way that both the ambiguity of the real human being and the hard edge of their roles stand together. Like the image of Sharrod standing on the balcony viewed through a glass door on which milky reflections pass, we seem to see through a series of transparencies layered over these figures. They move back and forth between being just guys we might pass on the street, and mascots of a monolithic social-system whose very essence is rooted in the ancient rituals of choreographed violence.

But Hanasik does not judge his subjects nor does he encourage us to pass judgment on people whose professional way of life and its attendant disciplinary requirements is a mystery to many of us. Through his focus on gesture Hanasik allows authority and the performance of duty to exist in equanimity alongside the moments of its spontaneous release. “What are we?” these images seem to ask. “How is it we can be so many things: the machine parts of war, the exquisitely innocent children of nature at play?”  This is of course only a paradox because we think in binary categories. Hanasik’s images reveal to us that there really is no paradox. These image reflect back to us the truth of our impressive malleability, our capacity to perform and communicate through our bodies. This transformational elasticity is perhaps our species’ greatest trait, and one so basic to our very being-in-the world we rarely take the time to contemplate the ramifications of its uses.

This essay was originally published on

Expansion of a 15 Minute Conversation to 800 Words: On Jason Hanasik’s He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore.

by John Neff

Showing and telling, or not showing and not telling, or any combination thereof. Asking and telling: likewise.

He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore is an installation of photographs by Jason Hanasik. Or photographs presented under the name – the cover – Jason Hanasik. He took fifteen of the images, borrowing the rest from his sitters Patrick and Steven, surnames unknown. Hanasik’s portraits depict Patrick and Steven in and out of uniform. They are soldiers, Iraq War veterans and straight. Their photographs depict military life in Iraq, themselves. Hanasik is an artist, a civilian and gay. All of them have known one another since childhood.

How do I – a would-be viewer of the installation – know any of this? Some of the information is easy to come by, part of the protocol of institutional presentation: invitations, press releases, title sheets. But then...

Jason: hey john, sorry, was pulled away from my computer. so, the titles are a part of the installation but they are provided via a sheet of paper that people take around with them. i see the lectures i give during the shows as part of the project as a whole. 3:32 PM on Monday

So we are looking at an installation of photographs – mostly portraits – made and selected by Jason Hanasik, who appears before the audience but not in front of the camera. And there’s another man.

Jason: those relationships are obscure when people engage the work, and that’s purposeful. i am a specter in the series, as is josh – the marine whose death ignited the project. 3:34 PM on Monday

Josh was Steven’s best friend. Steven is Patrick’s younger brother. Patrick is Hanasik’s best friend. Josh and Jason were friends. Steven kept his distance from Jason (homophobia?) until, after Josh’s death in Iraq, Steven suddenly and unexpectedly opened up to the artist, sharing his confusion and grief at the killing. Shortly after that encounter – which occurred during a two-man car trip from hometown Virginia to holiday New York – Hanasik began his project He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore.

Traveling around the gallery in an uneven line, the collection of photographs suggests a journey through these spaces – Virginia to Iraq to New York to California – while the modulations of gaze between photographer and model (sometimes one and the same) in the images seem to chart a subjective passage from suspicion to openness.

Jason: the relationships i have with these men are “hidden” but still gestured towards. 3:35 PM on Monday

Although Hanasik the artist provides the project with a proper name, He Opened Up resists the narrative and stylistic unities we associate with an “Authored” work. His portraits derive equally from the conventions of photojournalism and that reservoir of approaches, images and themes we have come to call queer culture (think The Fleet’s In), finally resting in neither document nor fantasy. Their pictures, on loan (from what, Facebook?) and reframed as art, are no longer communiqués from a crisis, proofs of life. Yet they retain the brusque rawness of images dispatched without regard for style.

Jason: btw, i now see why you had trouble chatting with me. i was invisible – logged in but no one could see me. 3:37 PM on Monday

When Hanasik’s voice “appears” in speech or text, it does not smooth over the apparent incongruities in the photographic elements of He Opened Up. The verbal component of the project doesn’t function as an explanatory supplement standing outside of its visual dimension; rather, it is another figuration injected directly into the heart of the work.

Rendered as a first-person confession, Hanasik’s narration provides some biographical details – maybe true – about the figures we see in the photographs, but it does very little to explain the scenes depicted. What is that wooden goose? Why is Patrick in bed? Especially: who is that man carrying two bottles of piss? In this way, Hanasik’s lectures and texts are like the libretti of operas (and maybe his rehearsals of the complex connections among his subjects recall soap operas). They provide dramatic direction to his work, but do not suture words and embodied images tightly together. Zones open inside the project where collapses of coherence within and between images and language elicit aesthetic and emotional responses outside of, or at odds with, the work’s ostensible sentiments. (Something like Barthes’ punctum?)

Jason: could you elaborate on your previous point? 3:41 PM on Monday

For me, the strength of the project lies in the fact that it does and does not tell a story. I don’t want to see He Opened Up only as a document of relationships between civilian and soldier, gay and straight – or imagine the work as a humanist expansion of our appreciation of American masculinity. I want to suggest that, at the level of construction and form, He Opened Up demonstrates the ways in which differences and lapses in our understanding can make new connections and identifications – with self and with other – possible.

John Neff, 2010

Originally published for a catalogue created for the exhibition "He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore" at Iceberg Projects in Chicago, IL.

The Art of Loss in Jason Hanasik’s ‘He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore’

by Tammy Rae Carland

“We are first of all, as friends, the friends of solitude, and we are calling on you to share what cannot be shared.”

-Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship

The young men in Jason Hanasik’s photographs are hiding in plain sight; they are embedded in the landscape, camouflaged, leaning in and out of frames, coming and going in a state of bewildered betweeness. They seem present and absent at the same time. The images are a combination of landscapes and portraits taken by Hanasik of two brothers, Steven and Patrick, who are on furlough from the military or in pre-deployment. The series also includes photographs taken by the soldiers while deployed in Iraq. The common dominator, the relationship that Hanasik shares with these men, is a deceased friend (soldier) who was killed in Iraq. The absent young man is Steven’s best friend Josh. Patrick is Steven’s older brother and Hanasik’s best friend, and Josh was also a childhood friend of Hanasik’s. The specter of Josh, who is not present, and Hanasik who is present but invisible behind the camera, leads to an emotional push and pull; a symbiotic portrayals of tenderness and urgency hold each individual image. In these photographs, like most photographs, what is not there is just as meaningful as what is there. In Iraq, at home, in uniform, out of uniform, looking, not looking, confronting, avoiding, they all feel the same; they are all engulfed in the same emotional current over and over again. The repetition is soothing if not sublime.

The title of the series, He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore, reveals a narrative of disclosure, secrecy, vulnerability and movement through time and location. The work is photographic story telling, a coming of age tale in which the reader has entered either mid-epic or post-ending, like a movie that starts backwards or a novel that starts in the middle. The work is sad, lonely, brooding, melancholic, sexy and emanates emotional stagnation; the photographs are replete with stuck feelings. If it is in fact true that the process of grief is the only way to get from the past to the future, that grief is the threshold in which all losses get attended to, then Hanasik has built the door.

Hanasik’s eye is empathic; it is not a politically critical eye that is summing up the one-dimensional cardboard cut out expectations of the male American Marine. He has managed to puncture the façade, imaging men that are struggling with a continued attachment to their chosen identity and purpose. They are in crisis, a crisis of faith, intention or selfhood that only the unwarranted death of someone too young can throw us into. They are experiencing a disillusionment and trauma that simply needs to be lived through in hopes of getting to the other side. Hanasik has labored over a nuanced investigation of inter personal relationships and has arrived at a complex and intimate psychic history of individuals and institutions. It is fairly understood that feelings accommodate memory, that how we think and feel about something creates a shape-shifting experience around how we process, remember and record it as a memory. Then the inverse must also be true, that memories accommodate feeling; the loop always closes with not a tactile truth but rather a set of triggers, emotions that are translucent envelopes for experience.

The confines of masculinity have always inspired complicated and confusing feelings and actions. Masculinity is the unmarked social norm that all gendered and sexual identities are positioned against and with, rendered almost invisible in its reduction, refinement and privileged position of non-otherness. It is also equally hyper-visible, claustrophobic, anxiety-ridden and burdened with conformity, its egocentric fragility barely scathed and deconstructed despite decades of gender scholarship. There are such profound expectations placed on us to deliver our emotions within a gendered social norm, and nothing could possibly be less flexible in terms of gender expression and individuation then the military identity. A brotherhood built on overblown expectations, a working class masculinity that promises escape and delivers conformity within a strident caste system. This is where it matters to me that Jason Hanasik has been friends with his subjects most of his life, that they share a working class military childhood. Where it matters to me that Hanasik is queer and that his subjects are not. It matters because I come to understand his subjects as a surrogate for his own coming of age narrative. I believe it would be an oversimplification for someone to consider this work simply as a queering of the military male stereotype. Hanasik’s portrayal of these young men at this particular juncture in their lives and careers is a vehicle for his own grief and self-empowerment; it is both a relating to and refusal of the outcome of these profound expectations and limitations of masculine identity.

He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore is what happens when we try to record the undocumented, the unuttered and disappeared. It is what is possible when we insist on a continuity and involvement with the personal relationships that have imprinted us, when we seek connection as opposed to disconnection with our past. It is also a body of work that lays bare the limitations of compassion and witness when we attempt to suture - even tenuously - a shared wound.   Diane Arbus so poetically stated, “A photograph is a secret about a secret”, and when you unpack this quote you arrive at a secret, not what lies behind and within the secret, the truth or story, but rather at the façade, the cover-up – it is the secret itself.

This essay originally appeared in the Spring 2010 Volume 43:1 edition of the Society for Photographic Education's journal "Exposure." 

Editorial Statement: Aperture Portfolio Prize

by Nima Etemadi

Despite commonly held assumptions, complex visual treatments of straight male masculinity are hard to come by. One could even argue that artists avoid the subject, perhaps for fear of veering uncontrollably into the realm of homoeroticism, a trap of sorts that presents itself at both the most and least overt ends of the masculine continuum

In light of this trend, Jason Hanasik’s (b. 1981) He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore is quite remarkable. Invoking the Soldier—commonly a tired, shop-worn masculine trope—Hanasik upends expectations, creating a beguiling portrayal of a gender (and military) in limbo, where individual men struggle to navigate the cultural expectations put upon them.

Try as they might to contain it, emotion and vulnerability permeate the lives of Hanasik’s soldiers, Steven and Patrick, as they vacillate between the hyper-masculine world of military service and the more delicate reality of their home lives. Steven’s self-portraits, taken on duty in Iraq, show him in various states of composure, sometimes confident and collected, sometimes weary or mournful. Patrick’s expressions are more cautious, perhaps reflecting a self-consciousness about how the camera could cast him. Even so, Patrick’s surroundings betray his sensitivities—whether basking in a beam of sunlight or standing by his front door, complete with a “welcome” sign that bears an uncanny resemblance to him, Patrick’s softer side emerges tacitly from his shell.

The portfolio is also striking in that it occupies an indistinct sexual space very comfortably. Hanasik, who is openly gay, won his subjects’ trust to such an extent that, in portraying them as the multifaceted people that they are, he was allowed to photograph them in traditionally homoerotic poses—Patrick in bed, Steven in a meadow. It is a testament to Hanasik’s skill both as an artist and curator (since he did not take all of these photos himself) that these images do not tip the project into an overly sexualized realm. Rather, they serve to question not so much Patrick or Steven’s personal sexuality, but the relevance of the impulse to determine sexual preference in dry, finite terms, when so often reality is more complicated. Hanasik portrays his subjects, and by extension, men at large, as enigmatic conflations of seemingly opposing qualities: they are guarded, yet open; hardened, yet sensitive. His work questions our proclivities to pigeonhole and underestimate, encouraging us to find comfort in our ambiguities and emotion where we least expect it.

This statement originally appeared on's website when "He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore" was named a runner up in the Aperture Portfolio Prize Competition.

Jason Hanasik at +Kris Graves Projects: "He Opened Up"

by James Wagner

I think it's about the fact that guys often have trouble functioning as full human beings, but sometimes they're offered an opportunity and they grab it; and then sometimes they lose it. I'd say this is true of both hets and homos.

The artist himself describes his project as

. . a photography, video, and installation project which engages image making as a platform to intervene inside Western culture's traditions and expectations as they relate to masculinity, sexuality, and class. We, the men of these images and me, might not sit at an equal distance from the center, but we all have a complicated relationship to what is considered normal -- to our benefit and our destruction.

Jason Hanasik's show at +Kris Graves in DUMBO, with the (not quite) enigmatic title, "He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore", is an extremely moving exercise in storytelling with photographs, mostly the artist's own and some (not quite) "found".

Nine images are hung along one wall of the gallery and two more hang on a section of another wall to the left, with a final object, a hand-written letter reproduced as an inkjet print, at the near edge of a third wall on the right. Most of the photographs are dominated by the figure of a young male; some of the subjects appear several times. They are all marines.

Partly because the size of the prints varies and because they are each mounted at a different height, they appear to dance in front of the visitor, but without a real beginning - or an end; this is not going to be a simple narrative.

The images in the photographs bounce around in time and in space, and touch many emotions as they do so, as does their "story" itself; it's a story which could be written in many ways, and we can each find our own. Hanasik's materials provide a documentation of some intense, probably under-expressed, male friendships. They remind us of the difficulty we all have in characterizing the more heartfelt qualities of these friendships, whether we are parties to them or only observers.

The men photographed by the artist are brothers. Jason Hanasik grew up in Virginia knowing both Steven and Patrick, but he became a very close friend of Patrick, the older (his BFF, in fact). Jason and Patrick played football together in High School. Jason at first hardly knew Steven, who had his own best friend. His name was Josh, and he does not appear in these images. Their relationships, especially that of Jason and Patrick, were made more complicated as they grew older and each of them gradually became aware of Jason's homosexuality (including Jason himself), but Jason and Patrick's friendship survived, survived even the nightmares of Iraq, from which Patrick described this affectionate daydream in a letter to Jason:

Jason was the only one of the four who did not join the marines and so was the only one who did not go to Iraq, where Steven was a part of a tragedy (the death in combat of his friend Josh on what had been the first "tour" for both of them) he was unable to share with his comrades. Then, on the first leg of an impulsive road trip with Steven something happened that changed Jason's relationship to his best friend's more taciturn sibling.

The title of the gallery exhibition refers to the catharsis Steven experienced while Jason and he were driving from Virginia to visit Patrick and his wife in upstate New York, Steven opened up, and it made possible a real friendship between the two for the first time. Like that shared by Jason and Patrick its emotional intimacy didn't fit the simple antithetical forms we're told are the only ones we can expect from male relationships.

Three of the photographs in the show were taken by the straight-identifying Steven while he was in Iraq. The two that are not self-portraits, in particular, are witness of just how inscrutable male emotions, and male sexuality, still remain to the understanding of all of us, male or female, straight or queer.

The installation also includes a video taken with a pocket camera or cellphone. It appears on the gallery wall as a smallish, faint, projected image, a short loop, and it shows two beautiful, smiling young marines dancing a tango, complete with dips, on the balcony of a barracks courtyard inside Baghdad. There is no sound.

The video too is by Steven.

I remember, but only as someone who was able to watch from a safe distance, the horror of Vietnam, and what it did to the men and women of my generation: And the silence; all kinds of silence. It's excruciating to see it happening all over again.

After only a few minutes inside the gallery last week, I was already almost in tears, and at the time I had even less information than I am able to share in this post. Barry and I were fortunate to be able to hear more about the work in two conversations with the artist himself. Although at first I was somewhat reluctant to ask about the context of the project, Hanasik was generous in his replies.

I found that the images stand up either with or without much of a "background". Having seen them on line before talking to Hanasik and before we visited the gallery I know they can pretty much speak for themselves. That's why I had to get to the gallery: I wanted to hear them up close.

This review of the exhibition "He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore" originally appeared on

1000 Words: Jason Hanasik

by Tim Clark

These are some of my favourite images from the series He Opened Up Somewhere Along The Eastern Shore by Jason Hanasik. I have to admit that upon receiving this work I was quite bemused. I really just did not know what to make of it all. Yet, the work has an endearing eccentricity, one that reeled me in and made look closer. In short, it challenged my preconceptions and really got me thinking about how people in uniforms embody the ambivalent and at times fraught relationship between the individual and society. The idea that a group of soldiers can merge into a single body, be part of this kind of collective yet still subvert stereotypical gender codes is fascinating.  

Here is his short description about the series wherein he tells us about the people he portrays:  "He Opened Up Somewhere Along The Eastern Shore is a photography project which engages image making as a platform to intervene inside Western culture’s traditions and expectations as they relate to masculinity, sexuality, the uniform and class. The images included in this project are of my best friend, his younger brother, and the men who served with them in Iraq. The narrative which unfolds floats between fantasy, desire, friction, and our expectations. We,the men of these images and me, might not sit at an equal distance from the centre, but we all have a complicated relationship to what is considered normal - to our benefit and our destruction."  

Jason Hanasik is a recent graduate of the MFA program in Fine Arts at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, CA. His work is currently represented by Kris Graves Projects in Brooklyn, NY and has been collected by various private individuals across the country. Hanasik’s project He Opened Up Somewhere Across the Eastern Shore will be the subject of a solo exhibition this fall at Kris Graves Projects and an article in the Society for Photographic Education’s journal Exposure in 2010.

This review originally appeared on the blog: 1000 words Photography.

Beyond Blood: Exploring the Ties that Bind Us To One Another

by Leona Baker


Photographer Jason Hanasik introduces us to his "families."

What does family mean to you? Most of us would answer by first ticking off a list of those folks related to us by blood or marriage: parents, spouses, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins.

But 23-year-old photographer Jason Hanasik contemplates the question quietly before offering, "To me, family consists of the people who help us consistently along on our journey, providing insight and offering assistance through moments of transition."

Hanasik is slightly built and dressed in jeans a red T-shirt covered loosely by an unbuttoned, well-work dress shirt. 

He's giving me a guided tour of his exhibit Family Matters 1&2 currently on view at the Contemporary Art Center (now called the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art) in Virginia Beach.

The first half of the exhibit consists of images of Hanasik's "real" family: his father Jeff, his mother Jackie, his sister "Jen Jen," and an assortment of extended relatives — mostly women, including the family matriarch Ellen...or "Nana."

The second half is made up of pictures of Hanasik's other "family" — his friends and acquaintances in the gay community, with whom he says he found comfort during his journey into acceptance of his identity as a gay man.

After graduating from New York's Purchase College and traveling across country, Hanasik says he landed back in his hometown of Virginia in 2003, out of money and bored.

He decided to join the Hampton Roads Men's Chorus, where he met the people he would come to consider his alternative family — this family headed up by its own matriarch, Michael "Momma" Curtis, HRMC's president at the time.

"Momma" appears in quite a few of the images, as does his partner and chorus member, Steve Fazzio and HRMC founding director Stuart Stanley.

"Choral singing is like a selfless thing, " explains Stanley, "because you have to give yourself over to the group — if you do that over time, people are bound to form bonds."

And these "families of choice," he says, are common in the gay community.

"For whatever reason, if people are estranged from their biological family or they are physically separated from their biological family...for whatever reason gay people find themselves orphaned somewhat socially, they connect together in pods and social groups."

Hanasik was on of those people.  And for him, the timing was crucial.

"This has been the best experience I've had because I have so many questions."  he says. "I mean, I can read all of the literature I want, but I still feel like I'm alone a lot of time.  I mean, my parents can't help me with this.  They don't know, they don't have any idea what to do, what to say.  So these (men) have been my role models.  Other than the sex part, there's a whole other of the (gay) community that you have to understand to move through, just like straight communities where you're learning, but you're taught through books and TV shows and stuff like that."

On the surface, the body of work in Family Matters 1 & 2 sell well as a thumbing of the nose at the traditional notion of that much overused catch phrase of the recent political season, "family values."

Religious conservatives would like to legally define the parameters of the nuclear family as husband, wife and children.

Hanasik would like to open our minds to the possibility that the definition of family lies not merely in those with whom you share more nebulous set of connections marked by love, caring and share responsibility.

By baring the soul of his alternative family with equal attentiveness and sincerity, the artist invites us to explore that possibility.  He encourages us , too, to enter into a dialogue about our extended community as family.

While exploring the pictures that line the zigag of hallway leading into the Chihly-splashed atrium where Hanasik's exhibit ends, I pondered those issues.

"How many of us really fit into the Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids family model?" I wondered.

Growing up, I always felt like the odd girl out because my parents, high school sweethearts, were still married. More than half of my close friends and acquaintances were the children of single-parent households, divorce and blended families.

Then there are foster and adopted children, many of them of differing ethnic backgrounds than their guardians.  There are gay parents and extended family members raising children that aren't their own.

And then there are those families we choose — our churches, workplaces, community groups, support groups, and life-long friends. Our blood relatives are bound to us by science, but in an equally significant way, it's these other families that define who we are.

Family Matters 1 & 2 is running concurrently at CACV with Pepon Osorio’s Trials and Turbulence, an installation exhibition that tackles the shortcomings of the American foster care system.

Choosing work that touches on potentially tough issues, says CACV Executive Director Cameron Kitchin, fits in to the center’s overall mission.

“What we’ve been doing – we have very much taken on the position that museums are the new town square,” says Kitchin, “That they are a safe place for social dialogue...that they can act as common touch points for social issues.”

Hanasik says he experienced a slight snag in that dialogue when, after his show went up, he was told by a CACV docent who leads tours of the exhibits for students, that only the first half of his exhibit – Family Matters 1 (his blood relatives) – was being shown to those students.

But, he says, the problem was quickly remedied with a flurry of apologies.

“I got like three phone calls in one day...They were really good about it.”

And, says Kitchin, it was most likely based on a miscommunication.

“Our docents always select individual artworks,” explains Kitchin, clarifying that they are unable to give attention to all of the work in the center in one visit.

“We hold fast to the principle of artist freedom,” he says.

Nevertheless, the incident underscored, for Hanasik, the importance of making the work.

Gesturing around the pictures in Family Matters 2, he tells me, “I don’t see any sex.  I don’t see any kisssing.  There’s hugging that goes on in one picture.  It’s just...I’m interested in the fact the we are not seeing alternative families.  We’re not seeing the other couplings that go on to help us get from one place to another.  It just so happens that I chose this vehicle as my alternative family...What would hurt me the most is that I know for a fact that you have students coming through this thing that go home to that double family portrait ever night.  They go home to gay parents.  Whether or not the museum agrees with that or not, they would be only adding to the fact of why this whole picture was made in the first place.”

But Hanasik’s pictures are really about more than agitating the conservative establishment’s prescribed construct of the family bond.

Beneath the surface – and you don’t have to scratch very far – lie themes of isolation, miscommunication...or utter lack of communication...and yearning for things that cannot be.

“At first,” he says,” I was only interested in gender identity and socio-economic class status.”

But the act of making the images quickly evolved into a way for him to explore the dynamics of the relationships that surrounded him.

“I can’t always tell how I feel about somebody until I photograph them,” he explains. “And so, this becomes a therapy for me.”

In one picture, Hanasik’s mother sits on a stairwell looking into the camera.  His father rests nearby with his head and hand draped almost poetically over the stair rail in a gesture of wanting towards his mother.

“There’s a triangle going on with the viewer,” he says, turning from the picture to me and back. “And I’m trying to figure out the picture myself. And then I was like, well, this is normal.  My mother’s 6 foot, my father’s 5-feet-11, so all these gender gender ideas that everyone has these hang-ups about, I never was my mother who had the size 13 shoe and was like, ‘if anybody messes with me I’m just going know, like, don’t worry about’...My mother was always the dominant person.  And my father was not weak, it was just...he let her do that because she’s always been...that’s her personality.”

He takes me from image to image in Family Matters 1, offering the stories behind some of them and the things he discovered about himself and his family while creating them.

The results, he says, are portraits of the kind of frictions that we all experience with our relatives.

“We don’t have problems – I mean this is normal stuff going on, you know, it’s just not Leave it to Beaver.”

In both sets of pictures, the subjects often stare into the lens with dour expressions, something Hanasik causes the misconception that they are all angry or upset.

“The things that has probably been the most disappointing about this show is that everyone thinks (the people in the pictures) are depressed.  And I’m like, you do not walk through life,” –he plasters on a fake smile – like that. We’re told to do that in pictures. And so, this is just life.  This is what it looks like, or at least what I think it looks like.

The people in the pictures may not be depressed, but they are in many cases isolated, whether by the artist’s design or their own.

This could be a tell-tale sign of Hanasik’s self-professed love of photographers like Diane Arbus, but certainly the feeling of isolation is also a reflection of a certain truth – that we all live in our own heads. No matter how or with whom we surround ourselves, there is always a longing for a deeper connection that often seems just beyond our reach.

In one particularly striking image in Family Matters 2, chorus member Steve Fazzio sits shirtless on the bed inside his RV, the narrow confines of the kitchen compartments in the foreground creating a claustrophobic tunnel of separation from the viewer.

In another from Family Matters 1, labeled “Ellen at her Birthday,” Nana sits decked out in party dress, seemingly alone as the rest of the family chat and goes about their business without her.

Although taken primarily with a large format camera, most of the images have a softness about them, muted colors, and a slight dust of imperfect exposure that , in this case, seems to add to their air of everydayness.

“I don’t really consider myself a real artist,” explains Hanasik.  “I’m not too particularly interested in it.  I’m more interested in sociology and psychology than I am in anything else.”

Hanasik continues to explore both in what will become Family Matters 3, a documentation of his unconventional relationship with his best friend.  And he has begun work on project that touches on questions of sexuality in the military.

"Beyond Blood: Exploring the Ties that Bind Us To One Another" originally appeared as the cover story for the 3/29/2005 print edition of Portfolio Weekly: The Alternative Voice of the Seven Cities.

Review of "About Face" at Denise Bibro Fine Art

by Vince Aletti

With photos by Andrea Modica, Judith Joy Ross, Laura Letinsky, and Jed Devine setting the standard, the work in this appealing group show skews toward the unabashedly soulful. Women and children outnumber men as subjects, but virtually everyone is seen with an almost familial tenderness that gives even the so-so pictures an unexpected sweetness. Among the newcomers, look for Jason Hanasik, Steven DiRado, and Jo Ann Walters, all of whom are more than merely promising.

This review originally appeared in the February 18, 2004 print edition of The Village Voice.