Tag Archives: Don’t Smile You’re on Camera

Smile/Don’t Smile – For the Love of Mona Hatoum

4 Mar

Mona Hatoum explores the dialectical opposites in life through her art. The ideas of placement vs. displacement, absences vs. presence, as well as boundaries vs. freedom all come through in her works. Employing a minimalist approach, she integrates the use of household objects, video art and a variety of other forms to distill the essence of the human condition.

Don't Smile You're On Camera, 1980

She chooses to use video installation to bring out the idea of surveillance in her works ‘Don’t smile you’re on Camera’ and ‘Corps Estranger’. In the former, she deals with the intrusion of private boundaries which she effectively does by turning the camera onto the viewers. The observer becomes the observed and this engendered interesting and vociferous reactions from the public. She was inspired by the workings of a CCTV and wanted to highlight to her audience that they were perpetually watched around the clock, Big Brother style.

Corps Estranger, 1994

‘Corps Estranger’ takes on a different approach. It deals with self-recognition and has to be the ultimate invasion of privacy since the inner workings of one’s body is explored. We are taken on an endoscopic journey that explores the orifices of her body, in a bid to educate us that despite our physical differences on the outside, we are all essentially the same from the inside.

This concern stemmed from the Renaisannace view which postulated that the body housed something ‘spiritual’.  Through her work, she turns the tables, and shows that the body is actually dispossessed, with no governing body. The vestigial reference she made highlights issues of feminism. As the endoscope traverses through the female body, the viewer is forced to view the female body in a different light. Notions of a ‘passive female victim’ or a ‘vagina dentate’ crop up and force one to reevaluate their preconceptions of the female stereotype.

Common everyday objects were utilized in ‘Incommunicado’ as well as ‘Homebound’ and ‘Short Space’. Her sensitivity to various chromatic properties of objects affects the viewer in 2 stages. First, when they encounter it, and second, upon closer inspection – where their perception subsequently morphs into something unfamiliar.

Incommunicado, 1993

In ‘Incommunicado’, the base of an infant’s cot was replaced with knives which resemble a cheese grater. The idea of presence and absence is dealt with here as we feel the presence of the infant in the room although the emptiness of the cot suggests otherewise. This disrupts the viewer’s initial idea of a safe surrounding since the notion of a baby being sliced by the wire is a potentially threatening one.

Homebound, 2000

Through the use of a variety of household appliances in ‘Homebound’, she conveys the similar idea of disrupting the traditional of home as a place of nurturing. She allows electricity to course through the objects and this thermicity brings out a sense of perilousness. This parallels her vision of “challenging one’s assumptions of the world” and how we should not accept everything at face value. By taking something as recognizable as an infant’s cot or household appliances, Hatoum effectively transforms “something familiar into something uncanny” as she hopes for us to delve deeper into the surroundings we live in.

Thermicity is a predominant theme in her work. As aforementioned, the electricity coursing through ‘Homebound’ brings about an unsettling feeling. Especially with the penetrating buzzing sound, it seems as though it’s going to explode any minute which in turn conveys a sense of danger. Yet, the red, hot, pulsating energy is so alluring, we are drawn to it. Like how “moths are drawn towards light, yet they disintegrate when they reach it”. The buzzing in ‘Homebound’ (a result of an amplification of electrical current) suggests the similar idea of disintegration. She deftly brings out the sense of beauty amidst danger through her work. The viewer is left to reconcile the apparent danger he/she is in and beauty that co-exists in this world that should not be taken for granted.

Hot Spot, 2009

The recurring themes of fragility and vulnerability stem from her tumultuous background of being exiled from her country. Although dealings with the state of exile and instability aren’t “issues [Hatoum] would like to address directly”, they surface in her choice of materials, such as household objects, metal and cables which convey the instability of the environment we reside in.

Mona Hatoum’s choice of materials and usage of space in dealing with the human condition are unlike any other artist as they utilize her personal experiences to elevate her art to an all-new social level. Her employment of New Media is a commendable one as it allows her to deal with a variety of issues in an engaging way.

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