From Seminary to Slayer
F Newsmagazine sat down with SAIC alum, Terence Hannum
By Shannon Race
Forget about Jeff Koon’s colorful play on pop culture, you will never find a pack of puppies or beautiful glass hearts in this bad boy’s artwork. From Seminary to Black Sabbath rock, SAIC alum, Terence Hannum, has managed to grace both spectrums of the religious world, and all in the name of creating his art.
Clean shaven and steam-pressed, Hannum looks nothing like your average heavy metal on-looker—with the exception of one small, floral tattoo playing hide and seek from behind his sweater’s sleeve. But even the flowery surprise, although rendered with a masculine flair, reveals few clues about this multi-faceted artist’s love of the hard-core.
Sitting down over a cup of coffee, Hannum spilled about growing up in a church-going family, almost taking his religious studies to a priestly level and being dubbed “prolific.”
SR: Can you explain a little bit about this quote from Timeout magazine? “Terence Hannum’s drawings, paintings and video installations cull the perphery of heavy metal subculture and amplifier worship to analyze the nexus of music, myth and ritual.”
TH: I’m trying to find this place where music and ritual combine and a lot of it comes from my belief that music acts like our substitute mythology. We’re kind of like this demystified culture in a lot of ways, where we don’t really have much of this cultural value like mysticism, well we do in a lot of ways, but nothing that’s really deep and serious. For me, I felt as I studied religion that music carries over a lot of these certain tendons. There are the holy days and certain rules that have to be applied, there are holy relics, there’s boundaries that get pushed, and I found that really fascinating as I was able to kind of step back and look at them.
SR: I know you studied Religion and Philosophy in your undergrad, but can you explain exactly how you arrived on this type of work?
TH: I’ve always been attracted to dark things, and heavy metal was like this gateway, and I think a lot of it had to do with how I was raised. I grew up in a church going family. My polar opposite side, my mother, read Tipper Gore’s Raising PG Kids in an X-rated Society, based around the anti-heavy metal of the late 80s, but my dad, with my allowance, made me buy my first tape, which was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. So I had these binaries pulling at me, but it also was really important because Tipper Gore, as annoying as she was, showed that there’s a boundary that our culture expects and that certain music pushes that boundary. I’m very interested in how far out something goes, what’s real and what’s not. Heavy metal is very broad and it’s not very descriptive, but it gets me to this place of a lot of interesting territory and it plays a lot with these ideas of the profane and the sacred.
SR: There was a time when you considered attending a Seminary. What changed your mind?
TH: I went and worked for a church in an internship and it just turned me off to how mundane it was, how little was discussed and even how difference would be looked down on. It certainly wasn’t an academic environment, even though there were very smart people there. It makes sense; it’s not the place to discuss issues of attestation or heretics, etc. And that was what I was, and still am, interested in. Groups left out of these dominant narratives.
SR: So, what are your religious beliefs?
TH: I’m not very religious; I’m just fascinated by religion. It’s the most interesting element of humanity to me, religious expression.
SR: You combine heavy metal and cathedral lighting in a lot of your work.
TH: Yeah. I’ve never been interested in popular culture, ever. I’ve always kind of felt that the dominant conversations in a lot of art have been about pop culture infiltrating a lot of artwork and then abstraction in some of ways and these larger phenomenological questions that come with abstract painting or sculpture and I always felt that with pictorial art it was hard to find that territory. I never felt that the conversation was started about that in some ways. So I kind of delve deeper and collect a lot of records and attend a lot of shows and think a lot about the culture that develops around the subculture. It does feel sincere to me and earnest.
SR: Is this subject matter permanent for your work or have you considered working beyond your primary content?
TH: Before it was never really that overtly religious, it was more about reframing these profane expressions in a sacred way. I can’t speak about the future, but I feel really comfortable; I’m actually really satisfied where the art is right now. I feel there’s so much I have to work on and that I want to get through. I think it’s good; I’m excited to work. I want to make things and it’s not all contingent on an exhibition or a sale, I just want to make this stuff and assess it and then go on to the next step.
SR: So you’re both an artist and a curator, what is it like being on the receiving end of both spectrums?
TH: I hate it! I hate being a curator, I don’t want to do it, ever, but it’s kind of apart of my job at Columbia; I curate a small gallery for faculty and staff and students. In that department I do a lot of media stuff, I get called on a lot to help people out. I’ve come to resent things that keep me from making work.
SR: Has your artistic talent aided your role as curator?
TH: I think it does sometimes, because I know the question to ask. I feel I can kind of handle logistics a lot easier. It’s like a weird relationship.
SR: Has curating helped in shaping your artistic ventures?
TH: Oh definitely, I take along time to mull over a move. And whether it’s transferring an idea to video or a painting or a series of drawings or making the zine, I take a long time and I commit to it. So I’m always like “I could do it this way” and then I’ll work with a bunch of artist’s work and I’ll be like, “hell no, I could’ve drawn this so much faster.” But I think it’s good to challenge yourself, even if it’s an area you’re not comfortable with.
SR: Now, you’re also in a band.
TH: Yeah, Locrian.
SR: Is this where a lot of your inspiration for work develops?
TH: A lot of it will come from being backstage at a venue and seeing like a stack of vintage amplifiers, or just the way people handle their equipment, and I’ll start thinking about the reverence with which they’re setting up their drums or the way they’re putting together some pedal configuration. And it will start to evoke other images, like what if this wasn’t in this basement and by that pool of vomit? What if this was outside? What if this was in a church? What if this happened somewhere else and what do these actions mean in a different context?
SR: That makes me think of your drawing, Vigil.
TH: Yeah. I’m interested in people’s motivations for listening to music and engaging in it. I think it’s really fascinating and it goes to the core of who we are in a lot of ways.
SR: Scott Treleaven has dubbed you as ”prolific.” Thoughts?
TH: I mean I’m totally honored. We’ve been friends for years and we got to make a zine together, and we’ve collaborated a lot. I worked for him at a gallery, we installed a show of his and we hit it off. [We have] a lot of the same interests in media cult and hardcore music, goth. It was nice to find someone else who was as serious, if not more, than I was. So it’s an honor, and I guess I am prolific.
SR: What does the future hold in terms of your work? Have you set any goals for yourself?
TH: Yeah, the zine’s. Actually I’ve had a lot of support from Scott from Western X Exhibitions through his Western X Edition’s imprint, he’s been selling a lot of zines. He’s going to have a show in January where they’re all going to be displayed and some of the drawings and maybe a sound component. So I’m really excited about that.
SR: So, when can we expect to see you curate your own show?
TH: Well it will be that show [in January], but at the moment that’s about it. I’m excited, that’s enough on my plate. It’s been a pretty busy year, so I’m happy to see it wind down and finish these next two zines. The November [zine] is going to be done for the Editions and Artists’ Books. And then the December Issue will be a collaborative piece with this musician and designer, Thomas Ekelund from Sweden. I have one more drawing to make and then I’m at the end, so I’m excited.