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Onion Universe Installation

"It was like walking into an enchanted forest,”  
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It was like walking into an enchanted forest,” was how one visitor to The Onion Universe extolled the installation, undoubtedly articulating the wonder shared by many in attendance.

“From the early stages of planning, Hanne contrived to make this a truly collaborative experience by spurring the whole community and the entire “onion food chain”—from the growers to the grocery stores—to become involved in the creative process. In an unsolicited gesture of participation, friends and neighbors would save reams of onion skins and tag them to her door for mixing into her signature handmade onionskin paper; and as an audience-participatory performance Hanne invited gallery visitors to Bring Your Favorite Onion Dish for impromptu potluck with an artistic flair.

Among the raw materials for this ambitious installation were more than two hundred pounds of onions and the scores of onion sacks, all suspended from the ceiling as orbiting planets in vast onion galaxies and nebulae. The captivating cosmos overhead was mirrored in an earthbound labyrinth of onionskins on the floor, guiding the interplanetary voyagers as they wound their way through the onion sacks and became unwitting participants, unsuspecting Onions in the Sack.

Included in this complex constellation were many smaller satellite exhibits and auxiliary happenings. The Onion Museum was a collection of personal effects and found objects in addition to over two dozen handmade onionskin paper bas-reliefs with archival paper pulp contour drawings, capturing the raw, unrefined, rough-hewn impact of prehistoric cave paintings. The Talking Onion, an oversize bulbous sculpture complete with a recorded monologue recounting the life experiences of an onion.

It also showcased The Onion Universe artist’s book, a manuscript, handwritten and illustrated with colored pencils on watermarked Onion Skin® paper, that formulates Hanne’s onion philosophy and enumerated The Seven Qualities Of The Onion as “earthyness,” unity, smell, taste, strength and courage, health, and purity (included in MoMA collection and sold in reprints by Printed Matter in New York).

For the One Hundred Pots of Onions composition, Hanne filled one hundred planters with polluted soil samples, each labeled with its source of origin, and grew onions with widely varying results, all to illustrate her growing concern about pollution while at the same time highlighting the hardy character of the onion as a symbol of nature’s cycle of renewal and rebirth in spite of our abuse.

Performing in an outfit fashioned from palm bark and sitting in a see-through hut built of palm branches and onion sacks, Hanne told the Seven Good Luck Stories—homespun tales of unlikely but true personal good fortune and happenstance, while peeling onions with the audience participating.

The process of onionization was Hanne’s attempt at ridding unhealthy, polluted places and stuffy, self-important people of their toxins and artifice. In The Onionization of the Big Apple she dressed symbolically in seven layers of natural-fiber clothing and onionized seven carefully selected locations, most notably the New York Stock Exchange, United Nations, World Trade Center, General Motors and local utility power plants, all to such outstanding acclaim that the New York Department of Agriculture offered to sponsor a recreation of The Onion Universe in New York City.

The number seven made its first appearance here as an idea sprouting from the seven layers of the onion itself to inspire Hanne’s artist name, H7L. They have since become prominent symbols in Hanne’s art, used to alternately evoke and invoke the magical powers long attributed to both plant and cipher throughout religion and history. Coincidentally, assembling the elaborate installation took precisely seven days. Numerous smaller versions of The Onion Universe have been recreated for international art events and projects, including C.U.A.N.D.O. and Plexus; and parts of the The Onion Museum were exhibited at the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, New York.

Various aspects of The Onion Universe and related installations, performances and happenings have been written up or reviewed in New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, several publications in The Hamptons,Long Island, most major Danish newspapers; and shown on CBS News in New York and San Diego.

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