This idea of people and things being ‘somehow related’ but also
fundamentally separate is Hart’s preoccupation in Mamma Mia!,
her solo exhibition currently on display at the Whitechapel Gallery. How can individuals
interact ‘normally’ within networks of everyday relationships, which always carry the potential for conflict and miscommunication? How
can one confront the mundane domestic tensions, but also
the scope for trauma and estrangement, that characterise family relationships
Mamma Mia!, arranged in almost total darkness, instils both reverence
and discomfort in its viewers. A series of upside-down and bulbous ceramic jugs are clustered around the gallery. Several
are suspended by red ropes, and cast pools of light in the shape of speech
Others are herded into the space’s upper corners by whirring fans that
seem to slice them, or lie on the ground. It would be
difficult to miss the resemblance these jugs bear to severed heads: unsettlingly, the upended openings of the jugs become
gaping mouths, expelling words in addition to light and liquids they might have held.
Hart’s craftsmanship is clearest in the beautiful iconographic
patterns inside the jugs. Their crimsons, ochres
and dark blues recall the vividly coloured maiolica prints of Faenza,
where the artist studied during her residency.
But there is also something of Gustav Klimt in Hart’s
bright yellow geometric shapes. Flickers of Grayson Perry, an eminent British ceramicist, also shine through in a female
figure bound by venus fly traps and green vines, I WANT WHAT YOU’VE GOT, EVEN WHEN I AM ASLEEP, 2017.
Hart’s interest in the problems of aesthetic and interpersonal
relationships is clear in the clash between interior and exterior patterns. The exteriors of each jug bear much simpler patterns, generally in the form of monochrome line drawings. The crowded interior patterns disrupt the starkness of the outer shells, enacting Hart’s preoccupation
with visual relationships that are both unified and somehow conflicting.
Mamma Mia! also takes the failure of
communication as its theme. The way the jugs are arranged –
bunched together, facing one another, or deliberately apart –
recalls Hart's experience observing family therapy in Milan.They seem to be engaging in dialogue, like therapeutic subjects, but their speech bubbles often interfere with one another. In her arrangement of the jugs, Hart seeks a way of representing the
destructive patterns of behaviour and the utter failure of communication
she often observed in therapy sessions.
It seems as if she has found her medium. Mamma Mia! is an incredibly
rich and expressive work. Two things prevent the installation from
becoming excessively complex: the precision of Hart’s careful contrasts between unity and separation, and the work's irreverence. Hart’s exploration of domestic life and its tensions is
tongue-in-cheek: the blades of each ceiling fan are in fact
oversized knives, forks, and spoons, and there is something fundamentally
laughable about these mute, globular heads strung up light Christmas lights.
Emma Hart’s Mamma Mia! perfectly balances humour and conceptual
complexity. Enter only if you are prepared to spend thirty minutes in a dark
room on a hot summer day thinking through a single work – because,
once inside, you’ll want to.
|What||Max Mara Art Prize for Women: Emma Hart review|
|Where||Whitechapel Gallery, 72-78 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Aldgate East (underground)|
12 Jul 17 – 03 Sep 17, Friday - Wednesday 10:00 - 18:00, Thursday 10:00 - 21:00, Closed Mondays
|Website||Click here for more information|