13 January – 25 February 1995
White Cube Duke Street
Densely black and light-absorbing, Mona Hatoum’s sculpture Socle du Monde (1992–93), physically dominated the gallery space. Paying explicit homage to the work of Piero Manzoni, it also related to the aesthetic of Eva Hesse and her subversion of the cold industrial forms of Minimalism. While the underlying structure is an imposing cube constructed of mild steel (not unlike the kind of Minimalist works presented by artists such as Robert Morris and Richard Serra), Hatoum coated it in a material that adhered to the metal surface, gathering in meandering channels to create patterns that seem organic and alive, resembling, perhaps, rippling intestines or sea urchins. On closer inspection, this energetic surface reveals itself to be made up of millions of iron fillings—their formations are determined by a network of magnets placed on the inner surface of the cube.
The visual associations with a body turned inside out generate a sense of unease. At the same time, the dark, organic exterior has a tactile fur-like materiality, which is extremely seductive. The live magnetic fields cause the filings to ripple and reorder, creating a work that exists in a state of perpetual flux; it demonstrates it has a temporal quality in the presence of the viewer. In this way, the artist is able to subtly imply instability and estrangement, while creating the uncanny sense in her audience that appearances can be deceptive.
Mona Hatoum’s early work in the 1980s was performance and video based. Although her practice has since shifted focus to incorporate sculpture and installation, it still has a theatrical presence; the human body also remains central to the work. Hatoum attempts to elicit an intense physical engagement from the viewer as a means of exploring identity and displacement, themes that relate to her personal experiences of exile. In her earlier performance work there was a greater emphasis on political, and overtly autobiographical, content, but by evolving her working method, Hatoum balanced her personal and aesthetic concerns and, in the process, opened up space for the viewer.