Week 2 Human Being/Being Human: Research

Mona Hatoum

Sources:

Mona Hatoum, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College 2005

Mona Hatoum: Unhomely, Kirsty Bell, Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin, Holzwarth Publications

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Doormat, 1996

Mona Hatoum seems to specialise in recording/creating situations that are "paradoxically familiar yet discomforting." These paradoxes are arguably vital to her sculptures and installations, as bodily supports and familiar domestic objects (such as swings, welcome mats, chairs, cribs and kitchen utensils) are constructed out of materials that incise and destroy the body. By constructing these ordinary objects out of aggressive, sinister materials (especially the cold, clinical nature of steel,) Hatoum is able to subvert their familiarity; transforming the traditional sense of homely comfort into one of terror and unsettlement. The most disturbing piece of hers is arguably 1993's Incommunicado (see below) and the spooky atmosphere created by the sharp (almost like cheese-wire) steel rods at the base of the crib:

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Confronted with the metal barbs and razor sharp edges of these sculptures, most of us disavow our impulses toward direct physical contact, yet a cyclical repulsion and attraction shocks us into awareness of their potential. Hatoum pulls us into the absence (implied presence) of the agitated, lived body that these sculptures await- and in so doing, draws us closer to the phenomenological body-subject. Merleau Ponty states that the "lived body is both object and subject. From the point of view of a subject, the body is not an object outside of consciousness but the only way of being present in the world and being conscious of it."

Hatoum's ability to grant household objects an element of fear linked well to my initial feeling towards the eyelash curler I produced drawings of in class yesterday, and this same idea that a simple metallic household object can always be damaging in the rules and conventions it imposes onto us (in the case of the eyelash curler it represented the psychologically damaging effects of the "beauty myth" on women.) After thinking about how my object could be subverted into a different use, most of the ideas I came up with involved increasing the size and scale, and so in this sense the brainstorm also linked well to Hatoum's giant metalworks. 

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Paravent, 2008

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Day Bed, 2008

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Home, 1999

 Overall I identified particularly with Hatoum's works that highlighted the fragility of the domestic environment, especially those involving household utensils. The cheese grater pieces (as well as Home's use of general kitchen utensils) were particularly emphatic in expressing the discomfort of an "Unhomely" environment, and so I think I will consider this domestic aspect further in my sketchbook. The five found objects I brought in today to class were also distinctly domestic and the ritual I produced was an ode to the repetitions of tea-towels/j-cloths in the kitchen - overall I think I am definitely going to focus on the mundane, domestic aspects of being a human being (which are ultimately intrinsic into being human.)

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Ai Weiwei

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"The activism and the art are one, Ai has said; and almost all the art in this show speaks to the conditions of Chinese life."

"Ai's gift is for the humanisation of conceptual art."

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Marble Stroller, 2014

Ai's work is similar to Susan Collis in that each piece revolves around the subversion of a traditionally Chinese crafts, objects or materials, either historically significant (tieli wood from the Qing dynasty, white marble or porcelain) or culturally (the silver bicycle) and transforming their meaning through amplification of size, deconstruction, reconstruction or applying ancient practices in the recreation of modern forms. Ai uses the same motif of elevating an everyday object through craft and material to one of intense significance and value, in particular his works with marble:

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Surveillance Camera (2010)

 

Sources: Ai Weiwei Exhibition at RA, visited today on 23.9.15

Guardian review of Ai Weiwei by Laura Cumming, published 20.9.15

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25.9.15 Agnes Martin

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Susan Collis

Source: Susan Collis, Since I fell for you, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 2010

Collis' exhibition consists of numerous representations of everyday phenomena made with "an astonishing technical virtuosity and precious materials." A central part of each of the pieces is the notion of the double-take, or the trompe l'oeil that requires us to look again more closely at Collis' work, only to be resolved through the confounding of our expectations.

"At first glance, the exhibition appears empty, not yet ready for visitors, but through closer inspection it discloses subtle interventions, objects and artistic gestures, betraying Collis' preoccupation with the processes of production."

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A large part of Susan Collis' practice plays on our visual perception through the manipulation of everyday objects, replicating accidents with craft processes and precious materials. An excellent example of this is 2008's Our appetite for lies (see above) which on first glance appears to be a dusty paint splattered stepladder, yet encorporates diamond, topaz, picture agate, white opal, Brazilian opal, fossil coral, freshwater pearl, cultured pearl, white mother of pearl, gold mother of pearl an white howlite. By using these materials Collis elevates the perceived value of the stepladder, and in doing so makes us questions the system of "valuing" an object itself. Is a mistake outlined in pearl more valuable than an intentionally accurate painting? By posing the question of material worth versus the notion of craft and objects within the craft process, she is able to subvert the viewer's expectations and causes their real perception of  value to be challenged.

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100% Cotton (detail) 2002

Collis aims to achieve a balance between the relationship of materials employed and the objects that are made; a juxtaposition of something quite beautiful and yet quite ordinary. She states: "I have always wanted my work to bring together two different opposing terms, like tidy and untidy, clean and dirty - to bring them together and see what happens. I think this ties into my feelings about craft. Craft in my mind has that 'good' label and that's what draws me to it; to make something look bad, dirty or stained using these processes that are usually deemed good and worthy, to jumble up the two."

This can be seen in her earlier works; especially 100% cotton where recreation through an intensive period of making is complemented by the random or instant mark it mimicked, in this instant paint splashes via paintstaking hand embroidery. Such emphasis on process and particular media gives rise to the notion of workmanship and by extension craft.

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Since I fell for you, 2009 (detail) -Walnut, mahogany,iroko, white walnut, sycamore, maple, pear wood, lapis lazuli, silver, bronze and silver leaf.

Overall, I think Collis' work links well to Mona Hatoum and Ai Weiwei's in her ability to elevate ordinary objects into a state of 'other-ness', in this case through heightened value. She demonstrates a similar attitude to the notion of 'craft' as Ai Weiwei, and immortalises household items as painstakingly beautiful artworks. I want to apply this approach toward the "everyday" to my developments for the Human Being/Being Human project, focusing on domestic items and rituals that go on within the household itself. Her work made me think about adding value to everyday objects through craft and material, and led to my embroidery experiments with J-cloths that I carried out in my book.

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Martha Rosler

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Source: MoMA website

Watching Semiotics of the Kitchen proved greatly influential on my ideas process- Rosler's feminist (parody?) stance seemed slightly similar to Mona Hatoum's in that she presents the domestic kitchen space as a place of oppression, in this instance naming kitchen implements that symbolically entrap women in the "happy housewife" role. The semiotics in the film operate on several levels; on one hand the implements are symbolic of female repression within domesticity, yet on another her body itself becomes a symbol in the final few letters of the alphabet. The words she shouts out are also semiotics for the objects, and so in the j-cloth pieces I embroidered I want to point out how words and letters used in this performance are symbols themselves.

"When the woman speaks, she names her own oppression." In this sense Rosler is referring to the kitchen implements, yet she has also said of this work "I was concerned with something like the notion of 'language speaking the subject,' and with the transformation of the woman herself into a sign in a system of signs that represent a system of food production, a system of harnessed subjectivity" - summarising the complex order that is enforced throughout domestic life and the human use of language as a whole. 

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Agnes Martin

Source: Agnes Martin retrospective at the Tate Modern

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The Islands, 1961

In a good contrast to the message of domestic oppression I got from Mona Hatoum and Martha Rosler's work, Agnes Martin's grid pieces showed how repetitive structures and tight ordering can create a sense of calm and freedom. With many of the titles alluding to outdoor or intangible pleasures such as Morning, Friendship, Adventure and The Sea, I thought the pieces demonstrated a wonderful tranquility, and they made me rethink my initial idea of a tightly ordered grid as oppressive. While in the metallic context of Hatoum's work the simplicity of the grid can seem bare and unyielding, in Martin's paintings and drawings the simplicity of composition suggests a quiet joy.

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Morning, 1965

While I only went to see the exhibition on a whim (after Emma suggested it as the grids looked similar to my j-cloths) I am really glad I went as I now have fresh ideas about humans' need of order, and how this relates to disorder (linking back to the messy/clean idea of my kitchen ritual.)

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25.9.15 Agnes Martin

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Agnes Martin 25.9.15

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