The Demoniac Babble: Estelle Hanania

Who are these frightening creatures, wandering  along the verdant landscapes? And what are they scheming? In the remote countryside of Switzerland, they are referred as the “Ugly ones “. Estelle Hanania followed an unusual group of men, who each winter put on impressive homemade costumes built out of branches, leaves, grass and other bits of plant life. As part of the tradition, the group travels together to the forest in where they sing and dance away the bad spirits from the lands. It is a captivating series in which Estelle enjoys building up the mystery. She plays with our perception, editing together somewhat confusing and “caption free” images. 

“I’m attracted by a feeling of disorientation and excitement that you can find in these gatherings and costumed traditions…. I loved this kind of situation where everything gets confused and uncertain, but you still can define the most familiar shape which is the human figure, vanishing.”

The work exudes an impression of uncanniness, the images are almost gruesome, but as we go through the series it communicates instead a magic and poetic feeling, capturing the beauty of an ancient pagan tradition kept alive through the generations. We are fascinated in the way these ordinary modern men allow themselves every year to fall into a sweet madness, dressing up as “nature creatures” in order to defeat invisible forces, as children projecting themselves in imaginary fantastic fields. In the “Demoniac Babble”, the bodies are practically fully concealed by their organic coatings, we sometime see a glimpse  of a hand or a leg jutting out of the costume, however the human appearance is almost completely defaced. Estelle Hanania is concerned with the human body, how it can be transformed, covered or disguised. 

The series is part of a larger research project that sees Hanania travelling each winter, to various places across Western Europe, capturing different ceremonies and cultural traditions.  Recently published by Shelter press, here book Glacial Jubilé gathers all of these series shot since 2006.

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— Alexia Villard