Mona Hatoum’s practice focusses on using household objects and modifying them to explore the line between the familiar and the uncanny. Investigating themes such as the political and the individual, the domestic and the hostile, Hatoum brings together beauty and horror while engaging her audience in conflicting emotions.
Homebound consists of a combination of kitchen utensils and household furniture, connected to each other with electric wire, through which runs a live electric current. A programmed dimmer switch makes the bulbs flicker and fade up and down. The crackling, buzzing sound is the amplified hum of the fluctuating electric current which adds to the sense of threat. A barrier of steel wires protects the viewer from potentially lethal electricity and also creates a caged-in environment. The title plays on ideas of domestic confinement or house arrest.
The Uncanny: A concept in art associated with psychologist Sigmund Freud which describes a strange and anxious feeling sometimes created by familiar objects in unfamiliar contexts.
Furniture and other household objects feature prominently in Hatoum’s work, often modified to explore the unsettling within the everyday. Grater Divide is based on a Victorian foldout cheese grater that has been scaled up to the size of a room divider that cuts aggressively across the space. Similarly, Daybed is based on a vegetable grater enlarged to the size of a bed that promises discomfort and pain.
Are my pots uncanny? They don’t serve the traditional function of pots. While making them I was often faced with the desire to complete them, through firing, glazing and firing. I thought about the amount of time put into each pot, and continued to ask myself why I was making them to destroy them again. Then I realised after performing the work from the Work In Progress show all the way through until my last session in the Lens Based Media Studio that they were changing form, not function. All of the women and children impacted by trafficking, not just in the context of ‘comfort women’ during WWII, could be described as being forced to change form. They were ‘used’ and their bodies violated, changed forever.
The term ‘hot spot’ refers to a place of military or civil unrest. Using delicate red neon to outline the contours of the continents, this sculpture presents the entire globe as a danger zone – what Hatoum describes as a ‘world continually caught up in conflict and unrest’. When I look at Hatoum’s work I can see the way she looks at the world and her relation to it. Her work explores being at home in a dangerous and conflicted world.
“an exhibition that manages to be both personal and political, in a series of encounters with the body and the world, journeys and confrontations at once intimate and global.”
Thinking about this evaluation of Hatoum’s exhibition at Tate Modern (4 May – 21 Aug 2016) I’m drawn to “a series of encounters with the body and the world” and what that means when applied to my own practice – where I’m taking one aspect of the history of systematic violence against women and exploring the impact of ignoring it, allowing it to alter the shape of the view of women in society. The dissolving clay speaks of the damage done by silencing voices, but also speaks of the violence upon the body, with the pieces flaking away gradually over time. The kind of trauma inflicted throughout history has gradually reduced women down, not just through physical trauma but emotional and mental trauma too.
These ideas are central to my practice; the first fight for women who have experienced gender based oppression, in any form, is to be heard. But how can we be heard if we as women have been reduced down so far that we’re not even seen as equal by society? If we were seen as equal, would gender based violence even occur any more?