Drawing upon themes interwoven in everyday life and the larger situation of our inherently unstable world, Hatoum’s work is currently on view at White Cube Hong Kong.
TEXT: Aaina Bhargava
IMAGES: Courtesy of White Cube Hong Kong and the artist
A toy truck, rolling pin, and stools lay strewn about amongst chairs and a table, all constructed from wood wrapped in chicken wire, and later burned. Singed and charred in parts, these standard household items stage an eerily disturbing domestic scene, marking the introduction to Mona Hatoum’s exhibition which is currently on view at White Cube Hong Kong. Entitled, Remains of the Day, the namesake of the show, and stemming from a work that won her the 10th Hiroshima Art Prize (2017), this installation captures the catastrophic effects of the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Encapsulating her practice, it also aptly sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition.
Winner of White Chapel’s Art Icon award, and nominated for Hepworth Sculpture Prize, both within this year, the acclaimed Hatoum finally makes her debut in Hong Kong. In conjunction with White Cube she presents a series of work that reflect the culmination of a highly diversified practice in regards to materials and medium, but are also informed by a personal history and concern for the consequences of global political instability. Born in Beirut, to Palestinian parents, the artist and her family, like many other Palestinians were never able to procure Lebanese identity cards. This sense of displacement once again resurfaced while in London (where she is still based) during the seventies when Hatoum was unable to return to Lebanon where civil war had erupted. Consistently impacted by a sense of uncertainty, Hatoum’s work constantly grapples with the volatility of displacement and security of identity through the lens of the familiar.
This is particularly reflective in her installations like Remains of the Day, where the safe and intimate concept of home has been aesthetically challenged by a dark and catastrophic makeover, conjuring images and feelings associated with the destructive consequences of warfare. In another piece, a colorful set of ceramics items resembling decorative house and tableware, which upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be various types of grenades. Hot Spot (stand), an installation which similarly echoes increasing instability, consists of a steel grid globe featuring continents delineated in red neon lights while emitting an electrical buzz, and sense of anxiety, putting viewers on alert. The term hotspot referring to areas charged with political conflict, in this case representative of the whole world. Further emphasizing the vulnerability of current global conditions is Turbulence, a piece composed of tiny black marbles arranged in a filled circle on the ground. Made in China, and used to create the eyes for Buddha statues, these marbles directly reference the unsteadiness of the floor we walk upon and that of the world at large.
The nature of the materials Hatoum employs to create her works is equally as significant and symbolic in conveying her ideology. Orbital, an earth like sphere constructed from rebar – steel bars often most visible in areas struck by urban destruction, also features pieces of rubble, giving the appearance of planets orbiting in space. In her smaller more personal works, such as Nail Necklace, she effectively creates a necklace stringing nails along piece of her own hair. She again uses her naturally curly hair to form circles in Composition of Circles I – III, and in Hair Grid with Knots, using an organic, wild and unruly material to create a formal organized, minimalist grid.
Exploring the minimalist aesthetic is prevalent in her works on paper, particularly the Drawing Heat series, in which she applies heat to parchment paper to yield pale lines, yet again forming a grid. In contrast, hexagonal bathroom tiles constitute the base of her Frottage drawings, where by rubbing graphite on parchment paper over the tiles, a pattern reminiscent of a barbed wire fence is produced, with harsh and urgent pencil marks jutting out along the sides and edges. Once again, she demonstrates the ability to put a subtle yet jarring spin on the ordinary and everyday.
In employing a range of materials and experimenting with varying techniques and mediums, Hatoum continues to grow her distinguished practice, pushing boundaries as she does so. As someone who started her career as a performance artist, the evolution of her personal journey has evidently impacted that of her artistic one, which is palable in her work. For someone who prefers not to attach many feelings to her work, Hatoum’s art certainly elicits an emotive and curious response. Mastering a formal and minimalist aesthetic, Hatoum renders art that reads simple in appearance, but is conceptually heavily layered and charged with tension.
Mona Hatoum – Remains of the Day
White Cube Hong Kong
7 Sept – 17 Nov 2018
About the artist:
Mona Hatoum was born into a Palestinian family in Beirut, Lebanon in 1952 and has lived in London since 1975. A major survey of her work was organised by the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2015) and toured to Tate Modern, London and KIASMA, Helsinki (2016-2017). She was awarded the 10th Hiroshima Art Prize and exhibited her work at Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (2017). A large survey of her work was organised by The Menil Collection, Houston in 2017 and toured to the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St Louis, in April 2018. Hatoum has been nominated for The Hepworth Sculpture Prize and will participate in an exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield in October 2018.