Willie Doherty, ‘The Bridge’ 1992
Willie Doherty
The Bridge 1992
Tate
© Willie Doherty
Rachel Whiteread, ‘Untitled (Air Bed II)’ 1992
Rachel Whiteread
Untitled (Air Bed II) 1992
Tate
© Rachel Whiteread

Everyday circumstances

A number of artists who have come to notoriety since the late 1980s and early 1990s have been particularly concerned with addressing the basic realities of daily life in their work. For many of the artists, or their subjects, this has included an experience of trauma, violence or displacement. By alluding to those circumstances in their work they explore the ways that personal memory is implicated in a wider politics. This work engages with the legacies of the 1970s notion of the ‘personal as political’, or conversely demonstrates the impact of external politics on personal lives when the political becomes personal.

Even though much of this work has been representational and indicative of a return to figuration, the human figure itself has almost entirely disappeared. Most frequently, the figure or body is evoked through absence; it is suggested via traces (such as a used bar of soap on the side of a sink), clothing or anthropomorphic objects such as furniture or household utensils, or through uninhabited landscapes or interiors. Often these works concern the frailty and vulnerability of the human body through war or illness and address themes of mortality.

The sculptural works of Mona Hatoum and Rachel Whiteread draw their formal inspiration from two key movements of the 1960s, Minimalism and Arte Povera, combining an economy of form and use of industrial materials with abject or impoverished elements. In contrast to Minimalism, however, these artists invest their work with emotional and political content through allusion and suggestion. Walid Raad addresses the recent history of Lebanon as well as the reliability and interrelation of personal and collective memory in his work. The photographs of Raad and Willie Doherty both refer to contested territories that have become synonymous with daily conflict and the brutal intervention of violent acts on everyday life.