Home, Mona Hatoum.
by Trish Deseine
Text by Rachel Taylor
Home consists of a long table covered with gleaming metal kitchen appliances. The table has a polished wooden top and heavy metal legs on wheels. The industrial connotations of the table are offset by the domestic kitchen utensils on its surface, including graters, scissors, a colander, a whisk, a ladle, salad servers, a sieve, a pasta maker, presses and a heart-shaped pastry cutter. Wires snake through the installation, connected to each utensil with crocodile clips. The wires conduct electrical currents to the objects periodically illuminating small light bulbs positioned beneath the sieve and colander and inside an upright grater. The current is controlled by a software programme that alters the frequency and intensity of the lights. Speakers amplify the crackling sound of electricity coursing through the wires and the metal objects. The sculpture is set back behind a barrier of thin horizontal steel wires that separates the viewer from the potentially lethal current.
Hatoum appropriates objects related to the domestic kitchen, traditionally a feminine domain, and gives them a menacing, uncanny edge. The work’s title expresses an ironic, ambivalent relationship to the safe, nurturing environment that the word home implies. The artist has explained, ‘I called it Home, because I see it as a work that shatters notions of the wholesomeness of the home environment, the household, and the domain where the feminine resides. Having always had an ambiguous relationship with notions of home, family, and the nurturing that is expected out of this situation, I often like to introduce a physical or psychological disturbance to contradict those expectations.’ (quoted in ‘Mona Hatoum interviewed by Jo Glencross’, in Mona Hatoum: Domestic Disturbance, p.68) Home evokes the small scale anguish of domestic drudgery and the claustrophobia of gender roles. Hatoum has commented, ‘I see kitchen utensils as exotic objects, and I often don’t know what their proper use is. I respond to them as beautiful objects. Being raised in a culture where women have to be taught the art of cooking as part of the process of being primed for marriage, I had an antagonistic attitude to all of that’ (quoted in Domestic Disturbance, p.65).
Earlier works by Hatoum in Tate’s Collection also suggest an underlying threat in the domestic environment. Incommunicado, 1993 (Tate T06988) is a baby’s cot with sharp wires replacing the mattress. Divan Bed, 1996 (Tate T07277) reproduces a daybed in hard tread-plate steel. The handles of Untitled (Wheelchair), 1998 (Tate T07497) are sharpened blades. In each case an object that should offer comfort is made inhospitable, even potentially violent. Like Home, these works suggest a host of suppressed hostility in the relationship between caregiver and receiver.
Hatoum’s experience of home is complicated by the fact that by the age of twenty-three she had been twice dispossessed. She was born in Beirut to Palestinian parents exiled from their homeland. In 1975 during a visit to London, Hatoum heard that war had broken out in Lebanon. Prevented from returning to Beirut she remained in the UK. London continues to be her base, but Hatoum thinks of herself as a nomad and her work as an artist has allowed her to lead a peripatetic life, traveling the world for residencies and exhibitions. This sculpture was originally commissioned for a show at ArtPace in San Antonio, Texas. It was produced in an edition of three; Tate owns the second in the edition.
Home is an early version of an installation that formed part of a major display of Hatoum’s work in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain in 2000. The work in the exhibition, entitled Homebound, 2000 (Alexander and Bonin Gallery, New York), reproduced the structure of Home on a larger scale, with electrical cables connecting entire suites of furniture. In both works, as Sheena Wagstaff has pointed out, electricity runs through the wires like blood coursing through veins and arteries. This makes it possible to read the domestic objects as bodily organs, and the installations as a whole as symbolic representations of the human body (see Wagstaff, ‘Uncharted Territory: New Perspectives in the Art of Mona Hatoum’, Mona Hatoum, Tate Britain, p.31).
Edward W. Said and Sheena Wagstaff, Mona Hatoum: The Entire World as a Foreign Land, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, 2000, reproduced p.8.
Laura Steward Heon, Janine Antoni and Jo Glencross, Mona Hatoum: Domestic Disturbance, exhibition catalogue, MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts, 2001, reproduced pp.52-3 in colour.
Tamar Garb, Jo Glencross and Janine Antoni, Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Centro de Arte de Salamanca and Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, 2002, reproduced p.77 in colour.