Born in Beirut to a Palestinian family, Mona Hatoum has lived and worked in London since 1975. She originally went to England just to visit, but remained after the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon prevented her from returning. Hatoum became widely known for a series of performances and works on the human body after studying at the Byam Shaw and the Slade School of Art.
Since the early 1990s, her work has developed into large-scale installations that aim to engage the viewer in conflicting emotions of desire and revulsion, fear and fascination. She often transforms familiar objects—such as chairs, beds, cots, kitchen utensils and even the human body itself—into strange, threatening and sometimes dangerous things. In “Corps étranger” (1994), for instance, a video installation displays an endoscopic journey through the foreign interior terrain of her own body.
Hatoum has participated in numerous group exhibitions, including the Turner Prize (1995), Venice Biennale (1995 and 2005), Documenta XI (2002), Biennale of Sydney (2006) and Auckland Triennial (2007). Her solo exhibitions have been featured at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1994), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1997), the New Museum of Contemporary Art and MoMA, New York (1998), the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (1998), the Castello di Rivoli, Turin (1999), the Tate Britain, London (2000), Hamburger Kunsthalle, Kunstmuseum Bonn, and Magasin 3, Stockholm (2004), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2005). The XIII Biennale Donna, in the Palazzo Massari in Ferrara (2008), was entirely devoted to a Mona Hatoum solo exhibition entitled “Undercurrents.”
The 2004 winner of the prestigious Sonning Prize, given biennially by the University of Copenhagen, Hatoum is also the 2004 winner of the Roswitha Haftmann prize from Zurich. From 2003 to 2004, she served as Artist-in-Residence on the DAAD program (Berliner Künstlerprogramm, Deutscher Akademischer Austrauschdienst). More recently, she was named the 2008 Rolf Schock Prize laureate in art. She currently divides her time between Berlin and London.
From the Brochure:
Beyond the Violence Vortex into the Beauty Vortex: From Pomegranate to Hand Grenade to Murano Glass Grenade
During her 2009 Creative Arts Fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, Mona Hatoum created works which required time and attention: delicate weavings with human hair, a set of small paper cut-outs, and a series of two hundred hand grenades blown in mirrored glass with a craftsman in Murano (Venice) and shown shortly after at the Fondazion eMerz (Turin) in a display entitled Natura Morta (2009). There, scattered on the Mario Merz spiral table, Doppia Spirale (1990), the iridescent Murano glass grenades seem to reflect, as Hatoum explains, the vortex of violence.
Designed to disperse shrapnel upon exploding, the first Byzantine hand grenades had a body made of stone, ceramic, and later of glass. The small explosive shell took its name from the French grenade for “pomegranate,” because it looked and behaved like the many-seeded fruit that explodes once it is overripe, disseminating its seeds over a wide perimeter. The pomegranate is native to the region of Persia and the western Himalayan range. Knowing no borders it has been cultivated for several millennia in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India, Russia, and also in South China, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean region. In Hatoum’s still life Natura Morta, the grenade appears as both vital fruit and deadly fire.
Bearing the name of a luscious fruit upon a lethal weapon, different models of fragmenting bombs, fabricated from hard plastic or steel, were used by the artist to produce her multi-colored glass grenades. In this transformation, Hatoum seems to reduce the hand grenade’s potentially destructive power to smithereens were it to be thrown. Too often the brute force of war has brought overwhelming events of pain and suffering upon entire communities, who seeking justice through retaliation in the aftermath of trauma have descended into a whirlpool of chaos. Reenactment of victimization is mostly at the root of violence in society. Unspeakable trauma itself scatters and wanders with its self-perpetuating, out-of-control spiraling of evil energy that keeps amplifying. In the vicious cycle of trauma, victims unconsciously seek repetition of trauma, consequently often becoming the next aggressor. To interrupt the aggressive “trauma vortex,” be it the Rwandan genocide or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many have advocated an understanding of the etiology, source, and unconscious processes of vicarious trauma, in particular with children.
With their reflective surface, Hatoum’s Murano glass grenades visualize the mirroring victim/perpetrator loop, so that the viewer can recognize the senselessness of rampant violence and become aware of other options, turning the collective “trauma vortex” into a shared “healing vortex,” to use the words of Gina Ross or Viveca Hazboun. Trauma concerns the loss of connection to the self, to the others, to life, to nature, to beauty. Together we have the obligation to heal and restore these broken connections, enabling the dissolution of the transgenerational cycle of violence into curative practices of compassion. The precarious splendor of Hatoum’s glass grenades, almost like brittle Christmas balls, request and imply our own fragilization for a productive dispersal at the border so it allows a passage to one another. In this way, Hatoum’s art contributes to a certain working out and breaking up of trauma that takes place in the aesthetic and ethic fields. Here the Bataillean modernist notion that “beauty is desired in order that it may be befouled; not for its own sake, but for the joy brought by the certainty of violating it” is reversed in a twenty-first century feminine and constructive manner.
By Catherine de Zegher