Friday, 19 August 2016

Mona Hatoum, Tate Modern, London (4 May-21 August 2016)

Over My Dead Body, 1988

Mona Hatoum was born in 1952 in Beirut.  During a visit to London in 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon and Hatoum was forced into exile in the UK.  She stayed in London, training at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art between 1975 and 1981.  Themes of confinement, constriction and surveillance re-occur in her work, from early performances to sculpture and large scale installations.  Grids, boxes and crates become cages and cells.  This major retrospective at Tate Modern features examples of all these mediums from her thirty five years of artistic engagement while she has lived and worked in London.

I had very high expectations of this exhibition, having frequently referenced Hatoum’s work when I was studying and then being mesmerised by her mini-retrospective at Parasol Unit in 2008.

Homebound (2000) is a standout piece here.  In fact, it has an  omnipresence throughout the entire exhibition.  The installation consists of a variety of furniture and objects (tables, chairs, cots, toys, kitchen utensils, lights, birdcage) connected to each other with electric wire through which a live current runs.  A barrier of steel wires separates the viewer, but as the objects light up in turn the sound of the whining current surges round the room.  The amplified sound of the electrical current can be heard throughout the exhibition instilling a sense of general foreboding as you walk through the galleries and into room Homebound is installed. 

Homebound, 2000

This sense of foreboding is part of the overall experience of visiting this exhibition.  Light Sentence (1992) is equally disconcerting.  The title is a play on the idea of a lenient prison sentence.  A single light bulb hangs in the middle of a structure made of square wire mesh lockers, stacked to create a three-sided enclosure.  The light bulb moves slowly up and down casting constantly moving shadows in the room, which creates a sense that the room itself is moving.  It is very unnerving (I actually started to feel a little motion sick), but it is also very striking.

Light Sentence, 1992

Hot Spot (2013), is another striking sculpture with an equally menacing message.  Here, the play on words in the title refers to a place of military or civil unrest.  By lighting the whole planet in red neon, Hatoum reflects wide and very contemporary fears.  For me, what makes Mona Hatoum a "must see" contemporary artist whenever she exhibits, is that she has the rare ability to present strong ideas in a sensuous fashion.  Her understanding of how different materials can affect people makes the conceptual side to her work very strong.  

Hot Spot, 2013

This can even be seen in the collection of smaller sculptures, models, samples and source materials contained in the exhibition.  A small selection of brightly coloured hand grenades from Nature Morte aux Grenades (2006-2007) made from Venetian glass and arranged like sweets, both appeal and repel.

Nature Morte aux Grenades, 2006-2007
Detail from Interior/Exterior Landscape, 2010

Hatoum's menancing sculptures and installations are driven by political concerns but never shout too loudly to diffuse them of their power.  This combination of her ability to juxtapose materials to their greatest visual impact with dark and unsettling narratives, are still as mesmerising for me as when I first encountered her work.  This exhibition is disturbing, but most definitely not disappointing.

Undercurrent (red), 2008

Cellules, 2012-2013