Audrey Hansa puts women and non-binary people in the fast lane

The artist and UW-Madison student discusses their April solo show at the Commonwealth Gallery.

The artist and UW-Madison student discusses their April solo show at the Commonwealth Gallery.

Hansa's new show centers around seven characters.

Hansa’s new show centers around seven characters.

A recently widowed 60-year-old defies the expectations of her church-going community to start racing dirt-bikes with the youth. That’s #25. A dominatrix leads a gang of women who drive around in a classic convertible and beat up abusers. That’s #7.

Featuring and expanding on these characters and five more through mediums including prints, zines, and repurposed helmets, Audrey Hansa‘s new exhibit, Take Me With You, which runs April 13 through 21 at the east side’s Commonwealth Gallery, seeks to immerse visitors in the different worlds of different types of racers. Some of them actually compete in races, whereas others race around in their vehicles to complete missions.

They’re all linked by having a different number plastered on their helmets, being badass in their own ways, and their femme and/or non-binary identities.

Audrey Hansa.

Audrey Hansa.

For Hansa, a UW-Madison student, this is their most ambitious exhibit yet as well as their first ever solo show. It resembles Hansa’s past work, which features boldly painted figures that pop out of their frames, but this time the effort brings narrative, over-arching cohesion and mixed mediums into the fold. The interplay between the prints of the different characters and each of their own worlds, the quick glimpses of their stories through zines and the 3D manifestations of their helmets bring an inherent sense of rapid motion to the show—it’s an effect that almost brings Hansa’s work into the realm of animation.

In advance of the exhibit’s opening, Tone Madison sat down with Hansa to talk about what led to and went into this exhibit as well as what Hansa hopes attendees will get out of it.

Tone Madison: Since we’re talking a week or so before the exhibit opens, what are your final preparations looking like?

Audrey Hansa: I’m laying out the pieces, installing in the middle of the week before the opening reception. There’s always something to run into no matter how much you plan it?

Tone Madison: And everything in the show itself is pretty much all new, right?

Hansa's exhibition poster for

Hansa’s exhibition poster for “Take Me With You.”

Audrey Hansa: Everything is completely brand new. The helmets have seen some exposure because of a UW painting show last semester. But I’ve kept it low-key and not shown much beyond my group of friends.

Tone Madison: What does the racing aspect mean to you, and why is it such a central aspect of the show?

Audrey Hansa:  I was talking to someone yesterday about this. I was thinking the art world itself is cishet-, white male-dominated, not that I had to find an example of that which is unfortunately kind of easy.

I just like the attitude of it. It was more of a brainstorming session of “oh, I like Roller-Derby” and that kind of, this is a weird way to phrase it, “rock and roll attitude.” I’ve also always sort of had a thing for helmets because I love the visual aspect of them, so it was kind of an excuse to go into that. And then also the visual history of racing is in itself pretty cool. I kind of slowly just happened upon it, and it didn’t really limit me to one specific identity or story because there’s so many different types of racing out there. There’s so many different avenues to take it.

Tone Madison: And where along the way did you know you wanted to incorporate the mixed medium stuff and the individual narratives of the characters?

Audrey Hansa: I’ve always loved the idea of being interdisciplinary, but because of things beyond my control—like having specific assignments—or just my own doing, I was prevented from making things that overlap. I decided it would be a way more well-rounded experience for myself as an artist and also for the viewers if it was this crossing between different forms of media.

Tone Madison: What were your thoughts as you were creating the characters in the show? How conscious were you of the differences between them and yourself?

Audrey Hansa: The history of my work is me making pieces that are semi- if not full-on autobiographical. That [could] be me making characters that physically represent me or my emotions or feelings.

But, after looking at my work over a few years, it kind of felt a little one-sided and I wanted to tell certain stories, whether they were a little ambiguous or a little simpler or maybe more detailed and involved. I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t … It’s fine if you want to make things about yourself but it gets stale after a while.  I want to phrase this in a way that doesn’t make me sound like an asshole, but for lack of better word: if I’ve been given this gift of making art, then I should be able to use it for good. I think representing different people and their stories are good, so it’s like, use your powers for good then. Also, when I decided to take on this exhibit, if I’ve got a lineup of seven characters, then they all shouldn’t be the same or directly in the same realm.

So, I’m kind of putting the spotlight on them and taking a step back because I just want them to speak for themselves and tell their own stories. But at the same time I did create them and their stories. It’s this weird thing. So to put it into simpler terms, I’m just trying to tell more stories. I just think it’s important.

Tone Madison: How you decide what each character’s gender or ethnic background is? Because it kind of feels arbitrary given anybody can be anything, but then it obviously isn’t either.

Audrey Hansa: If my African-American art history professor reads this he would be amused, because he tells us all the time that nothing is ever arbitrary. Artists could always easily make one decision over another. My intention was just to expand upon people that just don’t look like me. It came from my understanding that I should represent people of color. I should represent non-binary folx.

Especially in this political climate, it’s not like I felt I was pressured into it. It’s necessary. You could just as easily not represent other people, but why would you do that? And, obviously I can’t represent every other kind of person out there with seven people. That’s really narrowing it down. But in that brainstorming and development process, that’s when you’re designing any kind of character.

It’s like in the concept art for animated movies. Like, maybe for this main character there’s five different versions of what they could’ve been. In the early stages I drew so many different versions of characters, but in the end you just kind of know what fits. So, it wasn’t ever like, “Oh, I need to put in this kind of person,” it was just, “It would be cool if I did this.”

Tone Madison: It’s almost intuitive rather than calculated?

Audrey Hansa: Yeah, it’s intuitive. And it’s almost like making that conscious decision is really important.

Tone Madison: Lastly, what do you hope people get out of it?

Audrey Hansa: You can only hope that at least one person will get something out of it and will take something good away from it. Whether it’s a really small detail, or whether it makes someone laugh. Or, it could even be something big like, “I want to go into printmaking,” or “I want to go break out my dad’s motorcycle and take it around the block.” That’s my intention: to bring positivity and light but also show different aspects of humanity.

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