Mona Hatoum’s Installations Distort the Familiar at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation
World-renowned artist Mona Hatoum deals in the uncanny. In “Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma“—which traveled to the Pulitzer Arts Foundation from the Menil Collection in Houston—Hatoum’s multi-dimensional work disorients the viewer physically and emotionally, transforming the familiar into something alien. Through August 11, 2018, patrons of the Pulitzer have the chance to experience Hatoum’s first major solo exhibition in the United States in 20 years.
Mona Hatoum’s career spans four decades and several continents. She was born in Beirut to a Palestinian family but was forced to settle in London after the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. Much of Hatoum’s work in “Terra Infirma” plays with simultaneous opposites—light and dark, humor and fear, creation and destruction—addressing universal themes of displacement, instability, the fragility of the body, power and surveillance.
Mona Hatoum. “La grande broyeuse (Mouli-Julienne x 17).” Image courtesy of Pulitzer Arts Foundation.
Hatoum’s sculptures and installations feel at home in the Pulitzer’s light-soaked galleries and hidden crevices. The works are placed in conversation with one another, a playful dialogue with unmistakably menacing undertones. In the main gallery, for example, a giant vegetable peeler—big enough to julienne a human curled into the fetal position—squats beside a water wheel taken from an old knife factory, from which a strand of interlocking leather gloves dangles like a string of dismembered hands.
Although all the pieces were made prior to this exhibition, much of Hatoum’s work is produced in, and for, a particular architectural space, inspired by its history or function. The specific acquires a wider meaning through the viewer’s interpretation. First, though, the work must “seductively engage” the viewer. “Thoughts come later.” Hatoum repeatedly employs formal minimalist elements—like the circle, the cube, and the grid—to suggest far more complex and unstable concepts. “There’s a contrast between the elegant aesthetics that lure you in and the harsh reality beneath,” says the artist.
The exhibition tells a story as you move through the gallery, building tension, culminating in an explosive climax in the final room. Stationary, monumental sculptures give way to pieces that levitate, spin, fold and sizzle. Hatoum’s installations inject danger into the Pulitzer’s sanctuary-like space, a mixed sense of dread and unquenchable curiosity for what lies around the next corner.
A lively series of public programs accompanies the exhibition, inspired by its themes of migration, exile, and protest. Chicago-based artist Aram Han Sifuentes will collaborate with community organizations and museum patrons in the “Protest Banner Lending Library.” Musician Louis Wall will craft a sound installation featuring stories written and recorded by immigrants and refugees in their native languages, with a live-performance component to come.