When walking through the white walls of the Tate Modern, the senses seem to crackle and reverberate throughout Mona Hatoum’s retrospective – the first UK survey of her work. The audible hum and buzz comes largely from Homebound, a large-scale installation that can be heard throughout the show. Kitchen utensils and household furniture have been connected to each other with wire and 240 volts run through the piece as a programmed dimmer makes light bulbs flicker to mimic the amplified current. The work questions the idea of home by presenting an unsafe and threatening environment, suggesting how unsettling the everyday can actually be.
This is just one example of Hatoum’s minimalist and surreal works that challenge the expected. Again using kitchen-based objects, the sculptures Grater Divide and Daybed, both lull us into a false sense of security as seemingly elegant pieces of furniture. On closer inspection, a scaled-up cheese grater room divider cuts across the space and a vegetable slicer daybed alludes to pain and discomfort.
Over 100 works from the 1980s to the present day are showcased in the exhibition from performance to sculptures, video pieces to works on paper. Her large-scale installations and scaling-up of objects have become a trademark and these modifications of familiar items help her question ideas and introduce themes of confinement, constriction and conflict. This is emphasised by Clarrie Wallis’ curation, which instead of a chronological order, presents Hatoum’s work as a series of juxtapositions and conversations.
Hatoum was born in Beirut to a Palestinian family and settled in England in 1975 after war broke out in Lebanon. While attracting attention at the Slade school in the late 1970s, it was her Turner Prize-nominated artwork, Corps étranger (Foreign body) in 1995 that garnered her more notoriety. The artwork sits right at the beginning of the show and takes the form of a video installation that’s equally as fascinating as it is disturbing. An endoscopic journey, the viewer stands in a cylindrical structure as images of Hatoum’s insides are projected at their feet.
The power of Hatoum’s work is her ability to transcend local and personal issues and make them universal and it’s why she remains one of the most important artists in her generation. Hot Spot epitomises this sentiment perfectly as the glowing red globe bathes the gallery space in a powerful, scarlet glow. Taking note of the “hot spots” of military and civil unrest in the world, Hatoum’s sculpture outlines the continents in delicate neon lights. Presenting the whole world as a danger zone, the artwork’s message feels uncomfortably relevant today.
Mona Hatoum is on now at the Tate Modern, London until 21 August 2016.
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