reviewed 01 April 2011, London, United Kingdom
Mona Hatoum, Bunker, Whitecube Mason’s Yard, 25 Feb – 2 Apr 2011
This exhibition features a varied composition of art work employing both sculpture and installation discussing contemporary socio politcal issues in relation to the Middle East. In so doing the role of the artist as ‘self-influencer’ is also explored.
Hard hitting themes
Mona Hatoum’s work in the wake of a now dominant & essentially borderless frontier of globalization and geo politics is critical of the bi-products of these incursions. The work is austere decoupled from the indulgence of sensation with a terse consciouseness that heightens the self reflexive pitch anchored to it. The exhibition is made of simultaneous narratives which together open up a dialogue concerning the imaginary and war – its implications/effects. In ‘Suspended’, 35 swings are hung from the ceiling unused which creates a poignant statement and with ‘Bunker’, you will be haunted and distressed by the neat arrangement of metal building-like structures which betoken a sense of loss and mourning.
The artist herself born in 1952 grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, raised within a Palestinian family. Considering the locale into which Hatoum was born it is quite poignant that she revisits her experiences and purges them through artistic creation, that this channel of intense regional misery and anguish can on some level bething a reaction for expansive self reflection, for often explored within Hatoum’s vocabulary are themes such as identity and otherness. If we revisit works like ‘Hot Spot’ 2006 we see that this is done delicately where the logic and treatment of her art allows it to stand alone even divested of there inner conceptual personae.
Swings, the innocence of something so indexical to childhood and culturally porous that almost everyone everywhere would have interacted with one at some point affords the piece a communal imaginary by which the higher meaning of the work is expounded. There is from the moment of recognition, in seeing these 35 empty swings a gut feeling of unease and emptiness. Who sat here? why are they empty? Why does the red connote blood? The interesting juxtaposition of the swing on which, clearly visible, carved into the seats are capital cities etched in what may or not be a symbolic martyr’s red annexed to the fact that the people who are within these countries and nations depicted on the swings are being affected by changes wrought about by others.
This part of the exhibition is rewardingly different enough in visual formulation to give one ample chance at appreciating the art for and in itself. However, there was a really strong connection here, although the work stands out in its own right as an excellent and compelling piece of sculpture it just so happens to simultaneously articulate and be used as a vehicle to discuss wider themes about which the artist feels strongly and upon which we have previously touched. Each of the structures are architectural in appearance, they appear to have been distressed by violent action, ravaged and marked on one level as if to show the scars visited upon buildings whilst at another remove connoting the sense of suffering borne by the nations caught up in the fall out of war.
A sobering and sedate exhibition with hard hitting themes presented in a compelling way. Strong aesthetics coupled with socio/geo-political narratives make Mona Hatoum’s work resonate with a depth and integrity.
written by: Colin Humphrey