Two men, one big, one skinny, push a piano up a Hollywood villa’s flight of stairs. No matter how they go about their arduous task, the big thing keeps rolling back. Watching this famous Sisyphean scene from “Laurel and Hardy” a hundred years later, we might recognize a quite contemporary reality: Two ill-paid freelance delivery men, trapped in a jinxed condition defined by exploitation of labor and insurmountable class difference. Similar to the social critique comically expressed by slapstick, Hanna Kaminski’s canvases appear playful at first glance, but speak of existentialist deadlock.

Continuing modern traditions of painterly formalism, Kaminski’s hazy compositions are barely figurative. Yet, cartoonish elements tease us into looking for narrative clues. Greenish, blue and orange clouds of colour condense into a recurring set of shapes: Waving hand palms, loud mouths, spit and teeth. Whatever is manifesting in these paintings – it is struggling over space on the stretcher frame like a rowdy crowd in a too narrow elevator. And don’t these decorative vertical stripes look a hell of a lot like prison bars?

For the lack of better words, Kaminski’s art has a way of ‘coming too close’. Evoking the pictogrammatic modes of address we’ve grown used to since the advent of text messaging, the artist’s canvases reverberate with the noise of our heavily mediated environments. Instagram, for example, where videos are mostly shot with selfie cameras, has accustomed us to a visual reality in which random strangers are only an arm’s length away. Here, the whole world seems stuck in 5-second-loops: Phrases, melodies and jokes repeat. Meanwhile, addictive software design keeps us tethered to our phones.

Slapstick once provided comical relief from the oppressive conditions of a new Fordist world order. Today, apps have brought about a new freelance precariat, while commercializing even the most private spheres of interhuman relations. In a medium once praised as a space of contemplation, Kaminski’s paintings withhold closure and relief. Playing nice, their thick emotional charge is tangible. Like bottled up frustration; like a laugh stuck in your throat. There is no such thing as a harmless joke.

Text by Katharina Weinstock, August 2021