Mona Hatoum: Projection

Jessica Cook


When one thinks of the work of 20th century Catalan artist Joan Miró, images of brightly colored paintings featuring abstract birds, women, moons, and stars immediately come to mind. So, what does Miró’s work have in common with the large-scale installation artwork of contemporary artist Mona Hatoum? Hatoum, the winner of the 2011 Joan Miró Prize, exhibited her show Projection at the Fundació Joan Miró with the intent of creating a dialog between the contemporary avant-garde art world and the work of artists such as the award’s namesake, who represented the forefront of 20th century artistic vanguard. The exhibition attempted to draw attention away from works explicitly focusing on geopolitics, a subject Hatoum’s work has become well known for. Instead, Projection discusses the universality of subjects of time, nature and the human experience, as well as responding to 20th century art movements such as Minimalism and Surrealism.

Hatoum’s Cube (9x9x9) features a cube: a central form of Minimalism. However, whereas minimalists evoked the cube form to argue that art has a reality distinct from that of the outside world, Hatoum re-envisions the cube, by relying on the physical material of barbed wire to emphasize the connection (and disconnection at times) between art and the current environment. Her use of the barbed wire to create the structure evokes darker notions of barriers, confinement, and physical punishment within the quiet repetition of the cube itself.

In pieces such as Web, Hatoum advocates for a greater appreciation of quotidian life, creating a giant spider web of blown glass and balls and wire, which hangs horizontally under the gallery ceiling so that visitors walk under the structure to experience it. By warping the scale of the web, Hatoum emphasizes the incredible intricacy of the structure, while concurrently portraying its fragility through the materials she uses. By enlarging the web to fantastic proportions, Hatoum builds upon the efforts of Surrealism to exhibit familiar objects in unfamiliar, fantastical settings in order to evoke wonder and confusion. Web encourages viewers to view everyday objects with curiosity and to continually rediscover the world in which they function.

In + and –, Hatoum again uses large scale to create a motorized piece of machinery that rotates in a large reservoir of sand, pushing the sand into ridges with one metal arm while the smoothing newly-made ripples with the other arm. Here, Hatoum constructs a metaphor for the cyclic quality of life itself, vividly emphasizing the ephemeral impact that individual people or nations have, in contrast to the eternality of existence. As the cycle spins, it concurrently creates and erases the sand ridges, mimicking the mechanism by which experiences are created and forgotten with the passage of time. Hatoum re-imagines the hourglass, creating a system in which time does not “run out” with the flowing of sand, but instead moves cyclically, causing the sand to ebb and flow as the machine turns.

Thus, Hatoum’s engagement with the work of past movements like Minimalism and Surrealism builds upon central ideas to continually propose new interpretations and directions. Like Miró, her work fundamentally deals with the human condition, and she evokes universality through the subject matter she engages. As this exhibition shows, Hatoum’s willingness to engage with “human values of concern to all cultures and societies” is a kind of 21st century reimagining of “Miró’s view of mankind after his experience of three devastating wars”(“Mona Hatoum”).

Mona Hatoum’s exhibition Projection was on view from June 22, 2012 – 9/24/12 at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona.