Article: Boundary Crossings: The Political Postminimalism of Mona Hatoum

Marja Sakari, PhD, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

 

First published in Christine Van Assche & Clarrie Wallis (eds.), Mona Hatoum. Centre Pompidou, Paris, 24 June–28 September 2015, Tate Modern, London, 4 May─21 August 2016, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 7 October 2016–26 February 2017. London: Tate Publishing, 2016, pp. 150–168. Transl. Silja Kudell

 

Investment in the look is not as privileged in women as in men. More than any other sense, the eye objectifies and it masters … In our culture the predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch and hearing has brought about an impoverishment of bodily relations.

Luce Irigaray[1]

 

Early minimalist art challenged the privileging of the gaze by foregrounding art’s relation to its surrounding space and the viewer’s corporeal experience.[2] Luce Irigaray’s critique of the privileged gaze is similarly subverted on many levels by Mona Hatoum. We can feel and hear her works – well-nigh even taste and smell them – and one of them literally even touches us. They are insistently corporeal, experienced viscerally within our guts. The materials she uses – cold steel, human detritus, dead skin, strands of hair, nail clippings, plastic, glass, soap and the like – play a highly potent role in the intricate signification process in which she embroils the viewer/experiencer.

The first time I saw her work was at the Centre Pompidou in the summer of 1994.[3] Earlier that spring, I had just seen a Robert Morris retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Guggenheim Museum SoHo in New York. Even though these two powerfully spatial artists represent different generations and genders, seeing their work in such close succession tempted me to draw parallels between them, particularly as both draw inspiration from the same traditions, minimalism and performance art. Many of Morris’s works in the exhibition marked an attempt to subvert the Western mind-body dichotomy, as Rosalind Krauss, the curator, stated in her seminal essay for the exhibition catalogue.[4] Yet, despite its powerful spatiality, its message was relayed primarily on an intellectual level, subordinate to the authority of the subject’s gaze. Many of Morris’s works occupied the gallery space as aesthetic artefacts, impermeable to our access.

A preoccupation with the Western mind-body dichotomy similarly pervades the oeuvre of Mona Hatoum.[5] Yet, her exhibition had a very different effect on me than Morris’s. With her work, my experience as a viewer was not just intellectual, but also physical and emotional. I identified with it viscerally, which compelled me to question how I relate to everything, from my own identity to world politics. How did she achieve such a powerful destabilising effect, and why did she move me in such a fundamentally different way than Morris, whose minimalistic art largely elicited feelings of aesthetic and intellectual gratification? Was it the political subtext that slowly unfolded through a complex web of associations, or was it that I am a woman and closer in age to Hatoum than I am to Morris? Many such questions filled my mind back then. Now, 20 years later, this essay offers a chance to revisit some of them – and perhaps to find answers.

[1] Quoted in Marie-Françoise Hans and Gilles Lapouge (eds.), Les femmes, la pornographie et l’érotisme, Paris, 1978, p. 50. Luce Irigaray is a French linguist, cultural theoretician, psychoanalyst and philosopher whose writings address the problem of the relation between man and woman vis-à-vis gender difference.
[2] Gregory Battcock (ed.), Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1995.
[3] See Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Centre Pompidou, Paris, June–August 1994. One of the featured pieces, Light Sentence, 1992, was later shown at the Ateneum in Helsinki in ARS 95, an exhibition organised in 1995 by the Finnish Museum of Contemporary Art.
[4] Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Mind/Body Problem: Robert Morris in series’, in Robert Morris: The Mind/Body Problem, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, 1994.
[5] See ‘Michael Archer in Conversation with Mona Hatoum’, in Mona Hatoum, London, 1997, p. 8.

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For more information on Mona Hatoum’s exhibition at Kiasma, visit

http://www.kiasma.fi/en/exhibitions-events/mona-hatoum/

Jari Silomäki, I Walk Hundreds – and Thousands – of Steps on Tiananmen Square (from the series ‘“We are the Revolution”, After Joseph Beuys’), 2013, pigment print, 77cm x 65cm, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Article: Unlike Minds: the Sleeping Artist and Other Modes of Resistance

Marja Sakari, PhD, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

 

First published in Demonstrating Minds – Disagreements in Contemporary Art. Edited by Patrik Nyberg & Jari-Pekka Vanhala. Museum of Contemporary Art publication 150. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma 2015

 

Stéphane Hessel, the German-born French diplomat and co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, voiced a rally cry to France at the age of 93 with his pamphlet Time for Outrage!(Indignez-Vous!, 2010).[1] The piece was originally written as a speech commemorating France’s resistance to Hitler’s occupation during the Second World War. For Hessel – a former resistance fighter and survivor of two Nazi concentration camps – the main struggle of the 21st century is not against political tyrants, but against ‘the international dictatorship of the financial markets’. His indignation was spurred by the growing gap between the world’s rich and poor, the crumbling of the welfare system, restrictions on the freedom of the Press, the unjustified political influence of the financial sector, the unfair treatment of illegal immigrants and the oppression of the Palestinians in Israel. Also voicing grave concern for the environmental crisis, he advocated peaceful, non-violent insurrection. His pamphlet urges us to be indignant, not indifferent – to take a stand and show outrage at times when we can no longer feel proud of the society we live in.[2] Speaking out and showing anger makes a political difference. Hessel’s key message is that injustice should not be tolerated in any form.

But social injustice and inequality show no sign of abating. The political climate is more volatile than ever: The Arab Spring failed to bring democracy to North Africa, the crisis in Ukraine is breeding fear among Russia’s neighbouring states, and Isis is gaining power and ground. Equality is far from a given: rape remains a widespread problem around the world, female genital mutilation persists, and sex slavery and trafficking are rife, even in the West.

How do contemporary artists deal with such injustices? What strategies can they employ to voice their indignation and mount a resistance?

[1] Hessel’s (1917–2013) pamphlet was translated into many languages immediately after it was first published in French. It sold millions of copies and is cited as inspiration for various global protest movements including Occupy Wall Street. https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stéphane_Hessel.

[2] Stéphane Hessel, Time for Outrage! Charles Glass Books, London, 2011.

Featured image: Jari Silomäki, I Walk Hundreds – and Thousands – of Steps on Tiananmen Square (from the series ‘“We are the Revolution”, After Joseph Beuys’), 2013, pigment print, 77cm x 65cm, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Marja Kanervo, Pallet I-III, 2013, installation, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

Article: Destabilised Gaze Positions and Reminders of Mortality

Marja Sakari, PhD, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

 

First published in Marja Kanervo. Esiinkatoavaa = (Dis)appearing. Edited by Patrik Nyberg, Jari-Pekka Vanhala & Maija Kasvinen. Museum of Contemporary Art publication 138. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma 2013

 

In his seminal work The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard discusses the poetic image, which he posits as something radically different from metaphor, a petrified image to which we have become habituated. A poetic image is something unprecedented, and thereby creating something unprecedented. [1] Marja Kanervo modifies spaces in much the same way as a poet conjures up images and spaces with words. By removing structural components so that displaced elements form written words (MORE/LESS, 2013), or by adding artefacts that redefine their surroundings, she transforms the physical site which the viewer occupies into a dream-like ‘imaginary space’ that is charged with an emotional intensity that is difficult to express in words. The pieces featured in her retrospective at Kiasma in 2013 – a textual panorama, a deconstructed Wendy house, hair-reinforced concrete panels, concrete beds with human hair stuffing, and shirts adorned with buttons of human teeth neatly folded in display cases – acquire their meaning through their emphatic materiality. We viewers are forced to ask ourselves: what are my personal reactions to these seemingly familiar yet strangely warped and disjointed dream-like states?

[1] Tarja Roinila, 2003. ’Gaston Bachelard, tilan ja poetiikan filosofi’, in Bachelard, Gaston, La Poétique de l’espace, 1957. Helsinki: Nemo, 12–14.

Featured image: Marja Kanervo, Pallet I–III, 2013, installation, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

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