Monday, 14 July 2014


TATE BRITAIN: BP Walk through British Art

In the 80s Mona Hatoum became known for her performance and video pieces, which often used her own body as a site for exploring the fragility and strength of the human condition under duress. Here she is shown walking barefoot through the streets of Brixton in South London, with Doc Marten boots - usually worn by police and skinheads - attached to her ankles by their laces. To walk through dirty sticky city streets barefoot is bad enough. But to be shackled, as animals and birds are sometimes shackled to prevent their escape, is the stuff of nightmares – or at least of fairy tales. Those Big Bulbous Black Boots have a life of their own, tumbling and clattering at her heels, never letting go, as if inhabited and animated by invisible monsters.

Mona Hatoum has a reputation for confrontational  themes: violence, oppression and voyeurism. Her video presentation Corps 'etranger (Foreign Body) was shortlisted for the Turner prize  a decade later in 1995. It featured the eye of a medical camera journeying through her body, harsh technology intruding into soft tissues. It’s said that she had to get a doctor from the Pompidou Centre to help, as no one here would do an endoscopy for a non-medical or non-research purpose. As I viewed it, standing inside a white tubular column seeing and hearing the sights and sounds of pulsating channels propelled by peristalsis, was I a voyeuristic ‘foreign body’ inside the artist?

There is more. Hatoum was born in Beirut, to a Palestinian family and attended Beirut University College from 1970 to 1972. She came to Britain as a student in the mid-1970s, settling in London in 1975 when civil war in the Lebanon made her return home impossible. The Turner Prize catalogue suggests ‘On another level,  the artist herself,  as both woman and exile, could be regarded as a ‘foreign body’ by a patriarchal European culture’. 

My absolute favourite work of hers is reviewed in my Blog 48. Mouli-Julienne (x21) is a dramatically enlarged 1960s vegetable shredder.  You stand there like Alice in Wonderland looking up at something which is a bit like a huge black prancing horse. At your feet are three discs with multiple cutting & shredding edges, each 2 metres in diameter. I was flooded with memory: I used this type of shredder to convert grown up food into pureed baby food, scorning tins & jars from shops. Later came my anthropological take: how all humans convert nature into culture. We break off bits of the earth & chop, shred, peel, core, mash, wash, bake, braise, stew, grill those bits even if it’s not entirely necessary from a nutritional aspect.

 Mona Hatoum says ‘ you first experience an artwork physically. Meanings, connotations & associations come after the initial physical experience'. 
Yes, she's right. 
To see Mouli Julienne go to Blog 48 or to this site:
For an overview of Walk Through British Art at Tate Modern see:

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