The Mona Hatoum exhibition, Present Tense’, at London’s Parasol Unit was very affecting – by the time I came away, I had picked up a heavy sense of hopelessness and oppression in a harsh unstable world. Mona Hatoum has a way of triggering our deepest survival fears with a mix of femininity, intimate items of domesticity, together with undertones of violence – unobtrusive, insinuating, quietly creepy. Pretty colours and attractive materials draw us into the drama: …. colourful crystal baubles, a soft white scarf, tiny red glass beads.

The pieces that worked best for me were the smaller simple pieces:

… the white scarf displayed in a glass vitrine, embroidered around the edges with fine silver thread. The rest of the scarf was overlaid with galvanised steel fencing wire. Silver thread and steel wire glinted and caught the light entrancingly.

….a plain wooden chair, supporting an oversized web, like a spider’s, threaded with hundreds of glistening tiny red beads. For me, this spoke of obsession, repetition, neurosis: of being trapped in a comfortless existence, static.

However, some of the larger installations did nothing for me at all – like the piece below: ‘Nature Morte aux Grenades’.

 Mona Hatoum

At first I thought the coloured glass baubles were light bulbs – (‘OK’, I thought, ‘electricity, power, light’) – then I saw they were cast in the form of grenades – (‘OK, got that – warfare near to home’). Then I considered the steel trolley (‘hospital, morgue’) and its thick rubber top surface upon which the baubles lay (‘Insulation? More thoughts on energy, electricity, implied explosion’). Then I looked at the title of the work on the wall. Looked French to me.

The installation ‘Mobile Home’ was mesmerising. Familiar household objects … furniture, table mats, towels, toys, a couple of old suitcases… all moved slowly backwards and forwards on horizontal wires which were fixed at either end to steel road block barricades.

I readily got the sense of a displaced and transient population wandering the globe with their few precious possessions – and yes, it did evoke a degree of compassion, but try as I might, I could not quell the suspicion that Mona Hatoum had just collected the objects from the nearest charity shop. The assembled objects were somehow not quite right (the baby’s toy rabbit had obviously never been chewed, sucked, abused or loved in its life). One does not like the mechanics to show, and spoil a good fiction.

Does this exhibition help us understand what it means to be caught up in the political upheavals of the world, to live day after day in fear for one’s life, or to be forced into exile? Or is it a piece of titillating and superior entertainment for those of us who have no first-hand experience of atrocity. Depends upon one’s point of view I suppose.

It is good, however, that Mona Hatoum is giving a voice to the multitudes who have no voice of their own. The exhibition runs until 8th August.

About throughstones

I am primarily a visual artist, living on the North Devon coast, a beautiful semi-rural area in South West England. I am interested in full engagement with 'place' and the eternal movement of life - particularly as it relates to what we call 'the natural environment'.
This entry was posted in Exhibitions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.