Installations, sculptures, drawings: An artist, Miya Hannan’s website. Her practice is influenced by Asian death philosophy and rituals, as well as by her scientific education.
Our society values youth more than age and progress more than tradition, and thus death is treated as taboo. The source of my art practice goes back to my experiences working within the medical field in Japan. While interacting with patients for seven years, I was left with many questions around the issues involving the end of life. Over time, I developed my own philosophical views about death in order to deal with this difficult topic. Influenced by archaeology and Eastern philosophy, as well as by scientific knowledge, my installations, sculptures, and drawings represent my understanding of the importance of accepting death on a larger level.
I view the world as one comprised of layers and linkages of history, a chain of lives and events that leads from one to the next. The use of repeated or layered elements such as anatomical shapes and people’s names depicts this concept in my artwork. Millions of creatures and human beings have come and gone over time, becoming part of the layers of the land. Scientists believe that all these strata are linked, telling us stories of who we are and where we come from. Like a scientist, I am driven to look for the missing links between strata. I gradually formulated this idea of linkages as I grew up in Japan and studied science. In Japan, the souls of the dead live on, spirits exist within nature, and land retains its destiny—people inherit the histories of the land on which they live. I am interested in the relationship between humanity and the information trapped in nature.
Materials and processes that echo the temporal and fragile nature of physical beings drive my imagination. Bone ash, which often appears in my artwork, is an especially meaningful material since it represents Japanese rituals. The Japanese believe that ancestor worship brings them happiness; thus, they have much respect for ancestors’ bone ashes. Although my scientific background might lead me to doubt these superstitions, I have never questioned my respect for my ancestors. The dead stay with the living in the form of memory, story, knowledge, and genetic code. Every dead person exists around us in some way, creating layers of rich histories that enhance our lives. My work depicts my view of death as another form of being alive.
I was a scientist in a country with many superstitions, which gave me the ability to perceive the world from two contrasting perspectives. In my artwork, I am interested in creating the unity of opposites that constitute our world. Scientific and nonscientific, silent and communicative, still and active—these are the dichotomies that inform my work. I present the structure of the world as a conjoined totality, evoking a spiritual quality beyond the materiality.