Mona Hatoum: Berlin Retrospective

The image shows a mobile-like installation hanging from the ceiling; it is composed of chairs and various kitchen tools such as a grater, siege, and ladle. Under the structure, various cables are loosely lying around. The installation is a work by the artist Mona Hatoum.
Mona Hatoum, Electrified (variable V), 2022 © Georg Kolbe Museum, Photo: Jens Ziehe.

Review
Mona Hatoum
September 15, 2022 – January 8, 2023
Georg Kolbe Museum, Berlin

I

How to arrive at such a reduced language? Yet so intense.

Mona Hatoum investigates geo- and sociopolitical conditions: areas affected by war; modern housing shaped by destruction, micro and macro power relations.

The world’s on fire. Kabul, Baghdad, and Beirut as pars pro toto.

A simple aesthetic: white, black, red; industrial materials such as iron and steel. Home objects such as kitchen towels, hanker chiefs, suit cases, blankets, chairs, and tables. The materials speak to the topics. While keeping their outer shape, the objects receive an eery existence through their arrangement. Home under threat and tension.

Despite the terror, the works carry beauty, a love for the underlining subject – earth, the city, home. But there is an invisible barrier, a stress testifying to the matters’ urgency.

Ein Bild sagt mehr als tausend Worte [An image says more than a thousand words].

The image shows an installation of six chairs, a table and a stool. The objects consist of wire with ashes filled into it; they seem burnt. The installation is an art work by the artist Mona Hatoum.
Mona Hatoum, Remains of the day, 2016-2018 © Georg Kolbe Museum, Photo: Jens Ziehe.

II

Circles. Everybody could draw them, more or less adequately. But Mona Hatoum does them with hair. It is a subtle yet genius gesture. Care, accuracy, a sense for the material. And disgust for what is usually perceived as detritus, separated from the body and its original function. Just as the neckless out of the cut off tops of finger nails. In Mona Hatoum’s work the terrifying comes in aesthetic garment.

Tectonic, 2022, gives the word a whole other meaning. The work consists of 48 glass plates, placed on 192 glass baubles. Together, the plates form a map of the world. Earth, its surface and composure are fragile. 

Cage for One (2022) is a meeting point between a prison and garden decoration. Again, the work is highly aesthetic but scary, violent. References to Medieval hanging practices, #forone.

The trainlines in the exhibition hall complement the eery atmosphere.

Electric (variable V) (2022), hangs by the literal thread. Tension, a fragile complex balance; and play. While investigating the terrific, Mona Hatoum’s works remain gentle. The curiosity and playfulness of a child, the wisdom of the woman.

This work is female, if not surrealist, dada or Joseph Beuys. Other candidates probably wouldn’t turn to sieges, graters, and ladles as artistic material. The electric installation references the male. Thinking it through, the work shows the fallacy of these attributions.
[Look at this genius aesthetic engineer.] 

The image shows an object in form of a ball, standing in a room. Its surface resembles entrails or the structure of the brain. It is a work by the artist Mona Hatoum.
Mona Hatoum, Inside Out, 2019. © Georg Kolbe Museum, Photo Jens Ziehe.

The exhibition shows an artist constantly reinventing herself through the material: wire and ashes, carpets, concrete, paper, glass. The back room of the ground floor focusses on the human body. Entrails, hair, blood. It’s a system. Home and earth as guiding motifs. 

The shadow play on the lower ground floor appears beautiful, moving stars, a comforting round. Only at second sight one sees its men with rifles walking the walls. 

The lower ground floor presents Mona Hatoum’s performance works from the 1980s. Political conflicts and gender debates, videos and archival sketches. This floor is heavy, war and death come in an obvious way. The Negotiating Table (1983) shows the artist lying on a table covered with blood and entrails in a plastic bag. In the background, news snippets and the voices of politicians talk about peace.

Live work from the black room (1981) juxtaposes the living artist with her chalk outline. Wearing a black jumpsuit in a black room, the artist repeatedly falls down, draws her own outline, stands up and places a candle inside the shape. Little by little, the room is lit in white and light. There’s hope in the dark, just as there is beauty in the terrific.

The exhibition unfolds achronologically, starting with the later and subtler work and proceeding to the early openly violent. The first are no less intense, and the latter no less poetic. Both are existential.

At the stair case between the two floors, a mirrored writing in marble: Depressed. Deep Rest. Pause as a means of reconsidertaiton. #thepotentialofthevoid.

Balance. Graphical, conceptual. This is a finely curated show, coming up to Mona Hatoum’s finely composed works.

The image shows an installation view of the exhibition 'Mona Hatoum' at Georg Kolbe Museum, Berlin, 2022.
Mona Hatoum, installation view, Georg Kolbe Museum, 2022. © Georg Kolbe Museum, Photo Jens Ziehe.

The first part of this review relates to Mona Hatoums exhibition at n.b.k., September 15 – November 13, 2022. Both exhibitions form part of a major retrospective by Mona Hatoum taking place at n.b.k., Georg Kolbe Museum, and KINDL – Zentrum für zeitgenössische Kunst, Berlin.