Mona Hatoum

Interior/Exterior

2010

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In Tate Britain

Artist
Mona Hatoum born 1952
Medium
Bed frame, coat rack, bird cage, desk, chair, pillow, hair and other materials
Dimensions
Overall display dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Denise Coates Foundation on the occasion of the 2018 centenary of women gaining the right to vote in Britain 2019
Reference
T15265

Summary

Interior/Exterior Landscape 2010 is a room-sized installation. It contains, among other things, a hair-embroidered pillow which depicts flight routes between the cities most visited by Hatoum, a bag constructed from a cut-out print of a world map hanging from a metal coat rack, and a birdcage housing a single hair ball. Each element offers subtle references to Hatoum’s biography and to the history of surrealism, which Hatoum was introduced to as a child through her study of monographs on the artist René Magritte (1898–1967) and her reading of psychoanalytic writing by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, among others. The installation also contains a bare steel-framed bed without a mattress to lie down on, with long strands of hair hanging to the floor below like cobwebs, and a stool. In the corner of the room a chair next to the wall is conjoined with a small wooden desk so that the top of its curved back extends above the surface in a way which echoes Magritte’s illustration for the 1938 publication Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme (Abridged Dictionary of Surrealism). Hatoum also references Marcel Duchamp’s (1887–1968) work Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy? 1921, a birdcage filled with marble ‘sugar’ cubes which reflected Duchamp’s interest in the deception of perception. In Hatoum’s small cage, a hairball replaces the cubes. For Hatoum the use of hair is symbolically rich and has strong connections with memory – the Victorian locket, for example, containing a curl of hair from a loved one being a well-known form of keepsake. Although slightly disturbing, the overall effect of the hairballs is not one of revulsion but rather an uncanny evocation that is both delicate and unsettling.

Throughout her career Hatoum has produced a significant number of works during artist residencies or other work periods abroad, including stays in Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Jordan, Italy and France. This peripatetic existence has enabled her to produce a body of work from a distinctively transnational perspective. It is a nomadic lifestyle but not a nomadism informed by a pathos of exile – rather these residencies, situated within specific cultural contexts, have offered Hatoum the opportunity to encounter and explore local crafts and materials. From these experiences she has drawn a deep understanding of the vernacular of a place and its culture, and a sensitivity to the nuanced connotations of diverse materials. Interior/Exterior Landscape 2010 was made for an exhibition at the Beirut Art Center and relates closely to an earlier work called Interior Landscape 2008 which was created at the residency Darat al Funun in Amman, Jordan.

Curator Ralph Rugoff has argued that Hatoum’s room installations are critical in thinking about how to articulate personal space, like a bedroom, as an extension of identity and cultural belonging: ‘These sculptures imply a degree of alienation and uncertainty – a sense of not fitting in and feeling “at home” – is a crucial of our encounters with art, and integral to its capacity for displacing our readymade ways of relating to the world around us.’ (Ralph Rugoff, ‘Preface’, in The New Décor, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2010, unpaginated.)

Yet the work is not in any way straightforwardly autobiographical; throughout her career Hatoum has persistently aimed to elicit emotional and physical responses in the viewer. Her perspective is, curator Frances Morris has noted, ‘grounded on being in-between, belonging in both places and in neither, engaged and yet detached, conditioned by loss and yet empowered by it to create something new’ (Frances Morris, Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2016, p.7.) The impact of Hatoum’s work lies in this ability to balance the specific and the general, to draw on a particular cultural and political milieu and show how these connect with wider, universal concerns.

Further reading
Mona Hatoum: The Entire World as a Foreign Land, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2000.
Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Hamburger Kunstalle 2004.
Christine Van Assche with Clarrie Wallis (eds.), Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2016.
Michelle White (ed.), Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma, exhibition catalogue, The Menil Collection, Houston 2018.

Clarrie Wallis
August 2018

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Display caption

Hatoum’s work is concerned with themes such as violence, oppression, displacement and exile. Interior/Exterior Landscape presents a series of items that make subtle references to the artist’s biography arranged in a cell-like room. These include a hair-embroidered pillow depicting flight routes between cities Hatoum regularly visits, a bag constructed from a cut-out print of a world map, and a birdcage housing a hairball. This work uses the personal space of a bedroom as an expression of identity and cultural belonging.

Gallery label, January 2020

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