Shannon Hanna @ Legs Wide Open Zine

by Charlotte Force

Meet Shannon Hanna –

She’s a spunky-smart Junior Vocal Major, her star sign is Pisces, she’s got crazy-cool hair, and she really hates ketchup.

 photos by Ursula Bowling (LaG Mag photojournalist)

photos by Ursula Bowling (LaG Mag photojournalist)

Let’s start at the beginning: why did you want to go to LaGuardia?

“I never really thought about going to LaGuardia,” she responds “…it wasn’t really my plan. I ended up wanting to go to LaGuardia last minute.” One she got into the high schools she wanted, it all of a sudden became the only option. “I couldn’t picture anything but to sing all the time.”  These days, she’s got a larger selection of delicious activities on her plate. She’s experimental art club and Girls Learn International at LaGuardia, does an internship at MoMA, and is part of a band called Gruesome Twosome. LaGuardia kids tend to do a pretty cool array of things, and Shannon is a prime example.

The common goal throughout her projects is pursuing the arts. Singing’s been her game from the beginning, but she also does visual art, performance art, social experiments, are mixes mediums together.

Legs Wide Open Zine

Legs Wide Open Zine is a project run collectively that Shannon helped found. Most commonly, ‘zines’ are a small circulation of self-published work usually published via photocopier. They can be about any topic, but Legs Wide Open’s concentrates on too-often censored topics such as body image, transsexuality, sexuality, etc. For instance, December’s theme was catcalling.

Shannon derived inspiration from Kathleen Hanna of the 90s punk-rock band Bikini Kill. Hanna was the one of the first people to compile an archive of zines, laying the groundwork for today’s community. Shannon had the idea for Legs Wide Open earlier this year, and set it into motion in December 2014. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and all she hopes for its future is that it reaches more people.

Gruesome Twosome and other musical madness

LaGuardia hasn’t changed Shannon’s musical goals: singing is still one of her main passions. She says, however, that her LaGuardia education has broadened her perspective. Recollecting her childhood, she recounts, “My parents aren’t really musicians.” Growing up, she says, her taste in music was limited. “We just listened to classic rock and soul music. I had no idea about European music and western music.” She hasn’t always been completely in sync with the LaGuardia curriculum, saying “I think there’s been some times when” she’s thought, “’Why am I doing opera?’, but it’s really developed my technique, and has changed my point of view”. What she takes away from her education at school is an awareness of all forms of music, be it operatic, grunge, or pop – however, she’s found her niche in punk.

Punk is Shannon’s home turf: she’s got a Mohawk, an electric guitar, and a rockin’ band to boot. “Gruesome Twosome” is an avant-garde duo which for now focuses on basic punk sounds, but moves to the rhythm of feeling. The band doesn’t “really follow a tempo or a basic tune, or have one influence. It’s all based on expression”. Soon they’ll start experimenting with “very random, not technical, house objects”,  but for now they’re “just getting acquainted”. An absence of beat is not for lack of understanding of music theory; the artists deliberately make this choice. As Shannon puts it, “It’s almost a theatre thing,” as in improvisation, “or like a poem. It could just be based on a word… or if I’m really angry, it’ll be very fast and pounding. We don’t follow a time signature (as a band).” The band is a two-woman group, comprised of Shannon, electric guitarist and singer, and fellow Junior Oonagh Caroll-Warhola, the drummer. Their motto is “It’s all based on the passion.”

I asked Shannon what kind of music she listens to, and she gave me a round-the-world answer: she began, of course, with punk, but added western, jazz punk, latin, folk, some rap, and jazz. Her Spotify is a beautiful, diverse place… I asked her to put it on shuffle and share the first song that came on. Frankie Cosmos’ “Art School” came up, which you can find here on bandcamp:

Role models, style icons, and musical influences

The first personal influence Shannon cited amongst her friends was Oonagh Carroll-Wahorla – “We do a lot of side projects. Also, I’m in experimental art club,” she continues, citing Allison Sherpa, Ingyin Aein, and Max Narr as friends who influence her. “We all have been, as a group… making experiments in the club. It sort of tests and breaks our boundaries.” She also does improvisation with her friends Maya Carney and Maya Charles. “We’re basically not talking to each other, but we all of a sudden just start making a song out of our voices and bodies. We have no plan or theme, we just to whatever is on our mind.” She works with lots of different people to create art and express herself. Shannon’s role models outside of her friends include Patti Smith, Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafzai, the women of Pussy Riot, and Björk – only a few of the expressive, empowering women that have made a difference in the world.

This girl has got great style… her influences in fashion come from all over the world. Her main influence, of course, is her mood: the most important thing to follow when choosing what to wear. She also noted that ‘momma Hanna is an influence, as well as the artist Yayoi Kusama and designer Betsy Johnson. Her love of punk also has something to do with the way she dresses.

Her Mohawk is actually a recent cut; turns out, it was an impulse. Shannon hangs out on the punk scene, so she thought it would be funny to give in to the cliché. Inspired by the movie “We Are the Best”, in which a couple of punk girls get haircuts, she went on ahead and just ‘did it’. “I just thought it would be cliché of me to do, because I am into punk music. I’m not trying to follow the image. I just thought it would be something funny for me to do.”

I asked her what advice she would give to kids who want to make a drastic change to their hair. She responded, “I would just say, ‘Be confident about it’. Even if you weren’t planning on doing it, that you should just know that it’s only hair. You should experience a bunch of different hairstyles before you have just one. You never know where you truly belong until you try it out.”

School Clubs and Internships

Shannon is in Experimental Art Club, where she can explore the physical dimension of her art. Experimental art club essentially consists of creating pieces with new combinations of mediums. They take inspiration from everywhere and anywhere, “It could be a spark of conversation, or just a dream or vision. We just make art out of it, and there are no boundaries. We’re just ‘sketching’.” She’s also in Girls Learn International, the LaGuardia branch of a greater organization that spreads awareness about feminism, women’s rights, and the human rights violations occurring across the world.

Shannon is in a program at the MoMA called Click @ MoMA: spatial/augmented/reality”.  She says about the program, “It’s based on the Björk exhibit, called “Vulnicura”. The program is based on spatial augmentation. We’re making videos and sculptures and music and putting them all together. We’re all doing a different part. They all sort of correlate. For instance, there will be a sculpture, then we’ll put a video on it, and there’s music – an audio portion, which is a lot like what Björk does. I’m really inspired by Björk.” The participants’ art will be exhibited in the education building of the MoMA starting April 10th.

Future Projects

On her horizon is an interview with the magazine “Style Like U”, an online fashion and arts publication where the likes of Tavi Gevinson have passed through. She’s hoping to participate in a project entitled “What’s Underneath”, which aims to deconstruct people’s ideas of outer body image, and dig into what makes people truly themselves. “It’s taking off your clothes and explaining what’s really inside your soul. It shows that your clothes don’t always connect to your personality and that you’re not everything that your clothes represent.” The project is part of the body image movement that Legs Wide Open has written about, which Shannon outspokenly supports.

The main thread of interest through these projects is expression and inspiration. To make music and art is to express. To be open about one’s feelings and help others is to inspire. She says, “I haven’t been doing art since ‘forever’, and I feel like I really want to stick to it. I feel like music and art correlate as ways of expressing myself. I always plan on doing both.” Therein lies the inspiration for her projects, past, present, and hopefully, the many more to come. Her goal is to one day become an art therapist, and use the lessons in expression she’s learned to inspire others.


Gruesome Twosome’s Soundcloud

Legs Wide Open’s Website

Shannon’s Tumblr

Shannon’s Instagram