Two big slabs -- the remains of a pair of skinned and gutted animals -- hang cheerily outside a local storefront on a sunny day. For folks who have never trained in butchery or worked as meatpackers, this sight will evoke... [more]
Two big slabs -- the remains of a pair of skinned and gutted animals -- hang cheerily outside a local storefront on a sunny day. For folks who have never trained in butchery or worked as meatpackers, this sight will evoke at least some curiosity and perhaps downright disgust. The scene is particularly compelling since the animals, stripped of their skin and robbed of their innards, evoke nothing so much as a lynching. They hang defiantly against gravity as though they have rightful claim to the space they occupy. They are stationed in the foreground of Mona Hatoum's photograph "Carcasses" like sentries outside open doors. Their duty? To make conspicuous the space they do not fill.
Hatoum, who was born in Beruit but has lived and worked in London since 1975, has actively produced performance pieces, video art, and sculpture since the early '80s. Though she appeals to the eye with familiar shapes, objects, colors, and pleasing spatial relationships, closer inspection reveals deeper complexities. Her 1992-93 installation "Socle du Monde" initially appears to be a warm, solid, unobtrusive black cube. But as the viewer approaches, the work reveals itself as an elaborate network of iron filings attached to magnets and steel plates built to a cube-shaped frame. Thus, the piece is experienced twice, first as something familiar and reliable, then as a more intricately contrived world of interacting materials and elaborate visual patterns. Curiosity gives way to further curiosity, examination gives way to further examination: the piece breeds like a living thing.
Hatoum relies on this same technique in the 1995 "Hair Necklace," in which a harmless necklace of large brown beads turns out to be an eerie composite of wood, leather, and human hair. She uses it again in one of her most famous works, the 1994 "Corps etranger." This video installation immerses viewers in a claustrophobic barrage of unrecognizable images and unusual sounds. It takes a moment to realize that the sounds are actually magnified recordings of human internal organs, and the images are endoscopic photographs of the artist's own insides.
Hatoum draws us into unexpected relationships with her work. The familiar becomes grotesque, and the grotesque reveals itself as familiar. She celebrates the subtle fact that seemingly stable objects are always prepared to become something else entirely. [show less]