Thursday, 20 January 2011

48. HOME 1999 by MONA HATOUM

Hatoum is one of the artists I most admire, but at first sight this is testing my loyalty. A bare table is covered with shiny new metal cooking utensils. An electric current surges through coiled wires to potentially lethal effect. An irritable and relentless buzz runs through the wires, made audible by an efficient sound system. Lights flash at random. Worse still, the table is protected from us (and we from it?) by a grid of taut barbaric wire through which we have to peer. Those hooks can be centimetres away from your face.
The text on the wall says that the home is not always a safe nurturing place but contains the threat of violence and harm. I calm down and look at the table. It’s scary. These utensils are designed to leave nothing alone. They’re what we humans use to transform nature into culture. We pluck bits from the earth (and from animals) and shred, grate, cut, mince, squeeze, stamp and scrape them. Then we bake, roast, fry, marinate, poach, steam, boil, baste, simmer or grill them. Each culture decides the right way to do this. It’s what makes us who we are.  Hatoum differs. She sees 'kitchen utensils as exotic and beautiful objects' and' I often don’t know what their proper use is’.  

The Independent,22.3.00 E Woodman.S Bancroft
Hatoum says she was ‘raised in a culture where women have to be taught the art of cooking as part of the process of being primed for marriage. I had an antagonistic attitude towards all that... (this work is) more hostile than comforting’. 

I’m reminded of the first time I saw Hatoum’s Mouli-Julienne x 21 , a copy of a 1960s vegetable shredder, in the Duveen Gallery at Tate Britain. I used one like it to purée carrots and spinach and apple for my children, only this was enlarged 21 times. And at its feet were three discs with multiple cutting and shredding edges, also like the ones I used, except that they were two metres in diameter. They lay there slim, flat and self-effacing, as if carelessly lying around in a terrible Hansel and Gretel kitchen. 

 Once again attraction and repulsion meet and heighten our physical & psychological response.

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