Review of the Mona Hatoum: Reflection at Chantal Crousel Gallery, Paris

In some of her interviews, Mona Hatoum mentions that one the excitements of being an artist is not knowing where you will find yourself with a new exhibition. However, the show Reflection at the Parisian Chantal Crousel Gallery is her sixth project, marking 20 years of their enduring collaboration. The latest show brings on stage the artist’s review of the conceptions of intimacy and domesticity, not alienating the distinctive nature of her work themes of exile and conflict. Pieces on display at Chantal Crousel could be familiar to the audience in Mona Hatoum’s other recent exhibitions. Formally quoting everyday objects in a delicate way, her works hold acute internal contradiction.

The show is titled after a photograph of the artist’s mother sewing, shot in late 1940s in Beirut in a domestic interior. The work, printed on three layers of tulle, employs an optical effect of movement and volume: it basically creates the impression of a dim mirror or a screen. Fragility and softness bounded by firm edges reverse into ideological sharpness of fine forms in the artworks.

A visit commences with the installation Cellules (2012-2013), a series of cage-like objects made from steel rods that are used in house-building. Hatoum explains that this material reminds her of tradition of clannish communal living in her native country, where the younger generation lives with their family and each branch of familia lives in a newly built upper compartment of an expanding dwelling. Sometimes parents start to build the extension in advance, but due to economical and political reasons the building doesn’t get finished and a room creates less a sense of space and more a sense of being a cage.

The composition, Turbulence (2012), dialogues with a structure of Cellules: it’s made from multifold of chatoyant small glass stones, provoking the effect of water’s surface. The imitation of flow draws the attention from the rigid element of a piece: the artificial lake is locked into an exact shape of a perfect square.

Mona Hatoum’s artistic approach is frequently and rightly attributed to women and feminist art. Thus, installation Electrified II (2010), is composed of pierced kitchen objects, hanging from the ceiling and connected to a working light bulb, that can give an electric shock if anyone touches it. She also actualised the use of human hair in her works, moving through her career: Hair Necklace (wood) is a work of particular importance, its twin was on show at the gallery in 1995. The necklace on a mannequin seems to be a laconic string of beads, while close inspection reveals that the beads are made from small hairballs. Hair is a sensual material, it belongs to a body, but can be easily detached. It’s a mirroring of a thread, the standardised archetype of femininity, time and flow of history. The matter of the body, especially her own one, is inseparable from the artist’s work: it implements a story, a coded narrative – as for example in her radical experiments, Corps étranger (1994) or Deep Throat (1996), installations that use endoscopic projections of the artist’s body interior. Adjacent to the necklace Mona Hatoum installs a mesh, representing a piece of barbed wire fence, that appears to be hair-knitted.

The apparently familiar world of Mona Hatoum’s creations creates the feelings of fear and imminence, at the same time keeping a resistance to the aesthetic delicate form that echoes intellectually challenging matters.

Ekaterina Shcherbakova

Mona Hatoum: Reflection, 30 November until18 January, Chantal Crousel Gallery, 10, rue Charlot, 75003 Paris.

Image: Mona Hatoum, Reflection, 2013. Courtesy of Chantal Crousel Gallery