Hannah Collins



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Not on display

Hannah Collins born 1956
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, mounted onto cotton
Support: 2880 × 3660 mm
Presented in memory of Adrian Ward-Jackson by Weltkunst Foundation 2013


Platespinning 1991–5 is an extremely large black and white photograph mounted on fabric. It depicts three rudimentary wooden stands in a triangular formation; one is centrally positioned in the foreground with two placed behind. The low stands each hold four tall, thin poles on which balance spinning white plates. The scene is starkly lit so that the hovering plates, slightly blurred by movement and bleached out by the exposure, appear as if in negative against the background of a photographer’s blackout cloth in an empty room with bare floorboards.

The photograph is mounted on cotton which is tacked, unstretched, to the wall like a banner. The large scale – over three metres wide – and presentation are typical of Collins’s work of the 1990s (see also In the Course of Time II 1994 [Tate T06971]). She has described these photographs as both ‘sculptural and pictorial’ (quoted in Irish Museum of Modern Art 1997, p.84). The life-sized format of the work obscures the boundary between the space in the picture and the physical space in which the viewer stands. Coupled with the subject matter, this has the effect of placing the viewer in the role of audience to the performance that is taking place. Although the title of the work refers to the familiar circus act, the performer who has set these plates spinning is notably absent. The simple structure of the set and the balanced, symmetrical composition of the photograph paradoxically belie the resulting chaos and destruction that would occur should the spinning cease and the plates smash to the ground. This physical tension, increased by the absence of the spinner, suggests abandonment and a state of vulnerability: an exposed situation teetering on the edge of collapse. The work is related to an earlier photograph, The Plate Spinner 1988 (reproduced in Museo de Arte Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá 2010, p.113), which shows the same room and props, but significantly includes the performer engaged in spinning plates.

Unlike In the Course of Time II, which shows an exterior scene in a graveyard, Platespinning is representative of Collins’ early photographs of interiors, in which she constructed new spaces and still-life subjects. Thin Protective Coverings 1986 (reproduced in Museo de Arte Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá 2010, p.100), for instance, depicts a room lined in cardboard that shares a similar sense of vulnerability with Platespinning. Plate spinning is a performance commonly seen in travelling circuses, often nomadic and on the outskirts of society. After this work, from 1996 Collins expanded her interest in marginal groups by focusing on border and migrant communities from different cultures. This developed into new bodies of work in photography and film.

Further reading
Breaking the Mould, British Art of the 1980s and 1990s. The Weltkunst Collection, exhibition catalogue, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin 1997, p.84, reproduced p.85.
Hannah Collins, La Revelación del Tiempo, exhibition catalogue, Museo de Arte Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá 2010.

Melissa Blanchflower
August 2013

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