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Mona Hatoum’s exhibition and artist talk at Tate Modern showcased a broad range of her practice and relationship with performance, sculpture and installation; how she addresses key themes and her choice of materials. What she focused on was how work doesn’t reveal clearly or directly and that the meaning of work can change with its context. Hatoum frequently deals with confrontational themes such as violence and oppression; she focuses on referencing the human body, its vulnerability and resilience. Her focus is now on sculpture and installation whereas her earlier works involve performances and video works. Looking closely at her works, there is a strong essence of confinement, composition and a phenomenology with materials; the exploring and juxta-positioning of materials to create jarring relationships. She discussed how a lot of her work is inspired by place, location and environment; I can relate to that quality and how work can be a continuous circle when working out of a studio space. One of my favourite sculptural pieces is Cellules, mild steel cages that contain blown red glass forms that are trapped yet still look as if they are emerging from their cages. The simplicity of form, use of grid lines and colour explore minimalism, the physical approach to making  and that jarring of materials that explore texture.

Mona Hatoum, Cellules.

Maps are an abiding motif for Hatoum and Present Tense that was in the exhibition explores the raw, organic use of materials where 2,400 blocks of olive oil soap from the town Nablus, North of Jerusalem sits on the gallery floor in a grid format. The surface has been embedded with tiny red beads that depict the map of the 1993 Oslo peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. For me the work has such a strong presence and sense of the artists touch, all blocks vary in size and shade of colour which presents a human presence and context. This piece was difficult to conserve, the difficulties of preserving the quality of the soap as the surface would mottle over time were apparent and a continuous battle.

Mona Hatoum, Present Tense. 1996

The exhibition gave an insight to her way of thinking, after researching her work, to have the opportunity to engage with it in the flesh was jaw dropping. The scale, colour, material choice, forms and early performance documentation was instantly mesmerizing and the show was beautifully curated. She discussed how space should be used as a source of inspiration; an extension, expansion and intuitive way of producing work. Works can stay in the mind long before they become materialized. There continues to be intense connotations in her work, a strong essence and abstraction of materials. One of the questions that was asked was how she deals with identity; Hatoum responded with how identity is constantly changing and that she doesn’t focus precisely on ‘identity’ as it is instantly stereotyped.

“I’m never trying to make a direct political statement. There are issues in my head, but they’re in the background; they’re not foregrounded in the work, and they’re not specific to my own history. In the mature work, I’m thinking about form most of all. I am focusing on the materials, on the aesthetic. In fact, I sometimes spend time trying to remove the content, the better to arrive at abstraction. The tension is between the work’s reduced form and the intensity of the possible associations.” (Mona Hatoum, The Guardian)


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