Untitled 1997 is a landscape-orientated colour screenprint on white wove paper that depicts the Greek-American opera singer Maria Callas (1923–1977) hovering above a stacked pile of United States military airplanes. Pictured within a digitally altered black and white photograph, the aircraft all face to the left of the image and are assembled on a beach in a precarious heap that extends from the bottom-left corner of the work to the top-right. Located above the planes in the upper left portion of the print is a cut-out figure-length photograph of Callas which is tilted so that she appears in an almost horizontal position. The image of the singer is approximately the same size as the largest of the aircraft below her and she is pictured wearing a long dark cloak with her head turned to face the viewer. Covering and surrounding Callas’s body is a curving and transparent blue shape that gives the impression of a force-field. The work is signed by the artist on its reverse.
This work was made in London in 1997 by the Irish artist Siobhán Hapaska, who digitally altered found photographs to create a collage with ambiguous connotations. In a 1999 interview with the curator Suzanne Cotter, Hapaska explained her commitment to making works that resist straightforward interpretation:
The inability to identify the origin or the precise meaning of a work creates an acute sense of dislocation, which is important to me. It’s not about affirming what you know already. It’s about enabling people to register that maybes can have greater value.
(Quoted in Sezon Museum of Modern Art 1999, p.18.)
In depicting a renowned singer floating above an assemblage of grounded military planes, this work perhaps suggests the triumph of art over warfare, with the disproportionately large size of Callas further emphasising the importance of creative expression. There may be additional supernatural connotations to the work, given the witch-like costume worn by the hovering Callas and an attendant sense that perhaps she has caused the curious pile-up of planes. The work’s combination of manipulated images taken from different sources, as well as the ambiguous associations it evokes, can be related to the claim made in 1997 by the critic Jennifer Higgie that Hapaska’s ‘terrain’ is ‘a place of time warps, mental journeys, displaced images and dislocated languages’ (Higgie 1997, p.61).
Born in Belfast in Northern Ireland in 1963, Hapaska studied in London at Middlesex Polytechnic (1985–8) and Goldsmiths College (1990–2). Her practice has mainly involved making sculptures and installations, often featuring multiple sensory elements and unusual combinations of materials that evoke notions of speed, travel and technology. Hapaska’s interest in bringing together organic and artificial materials can be seen in Delirious 1996 (Tate T12505), which consists of a painted fibreglass sculpture that intersects in three places with a wooden stand, and which has an accompanying audio system. She has also created highly realistic life-size figurative sculptures made of wax, such as The Inquisitor 1997, in which a robed figure sits on a modernist chair while holding a white sculpture that emits a monologue in English and Latin. Hapaska’s photography includes Holiday 2003, which depicts a woman dressed as an air stewardess in front of an ageing military aircraft, and Phantom 2003, an image of a badly damaged fighter jet next to a domestic vacuum cleaner.
This work is part of Screen, a portfolio of eleven prints by London-based artists that was published in 1997 by Charles Booth-Clibborn under his imprint The Paragon Press. The works were all made between February and July 1997, and are presented together with a title page and colophon by the graphic designer Phil Baines in a black buckram-covered wooden case. The title of the portfolio refers to the technique of screenprinting and also alludes to the fact that many of the featured artists work with screen-based media. Each print exists in an edition of seventy-five, with the first forty-five produced in portfolio sets, of which the portfolio owned by Tate is number thirty-three.
Jennifer Higgie, ‘Out There’, Frieze, no.37, November–December 1997, pp.58–61.
Siobhán Hapaska, exhibition catalogue, Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo 1999.
In Print: Contemporary British Art from the Paragon Press, exhibition catalogue, Cvijeta Zuzoric Art Pavilion, Belgrade, London 2001, p.21.
Supported by Christie’s.