Works exhibited: Bunker
The work of Mona Hatoum is marked by the condition of exile from the Beirut where she was born and brought up as a member of a Palestinian family itself already in exile from its country of origin. She was in London in 1975 during the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war and has been based largely in the UK for the subsequent forty years. Her work Bunker (2011) consists of a series of architectural forms that reproduce the proportions of buildings in Beirut damaged over the period of long drawnout conflict during her absence from the city. They are stylized substitutes for the original buildings, all constructed in sheet steel pierced in the same grid pattern in a formalized representation of the effects of shellfire. This formalism generalizes the condition of these individual structures, although their varying outlines draw them back to their original aspects and locations in an actual urban environment. They are like memories that have been distorted by temporal and spatial distance; exilic in the pull they exert on the artist’s sense of self as relics of a familiar world made strange – as reference points and means of orientation that seem the more essential the more they grow obscure.
But although these works have specific origins, they are presented as part of an art exhibition in which their reception ties them to the category of sculpture. Viewers are unlikely to grasp immediately the historical experience intrinsic to their production and will recognize instead their similarity to the classic works of high modernism. They echo the forms and materials used in a tradition that emphasized pure abstraction from the burden of representation. Hatoum seems to occupy this position strategically in order to restore the link between art and history, aesthetics and politics. Her Bunker is among other things a rebuke to the modernist desire to isolate the artwork within its own protected environment, forcing recognition of the family resemblance between sculpture and dwelling,precinct and battleground.