New York

Mona Hatoum

In her recent exhibition at Alexander and Bonin, Mona Hatoum continued her equivocal exploration of the domestic using forms derived from Minimalism. The results of this process, as she has previously demonstrated, may be characterized as menacing or suggestive of dislocation, exile, or alienation from the familiarities of home. This quality, as has been noted before, is entirely appropriate for an artist who was born in Beirut of displaced Palestinian parents and who has lived most of her life in London.

The centerpiece of the show was Mobile Home, 2005, in which a series of clotheslines strung between two metal barriers, which look rather like a headboard and footboard, mesh the tropes of private space and political conflict. Various items conjuring both domestic and nomadic life—a desk and chair, toys, dishes, a bedroll, suitcases—are attached to these lines so that when a motor in the barriers is activated, the objects crawl slowly in one direction, then in another. Homely linens are attached with clothespins to the upper lines, and the overall effect is one of instability and sad, grinding repetition. We immediately find ourselves in the world of familiar things gone out of whack—Hatoum’s stock-in-trade.

The exhibition’s primary formal device was a series of variations on the grid with its echo of the warp and woof of weaving and its concomitant association with the feminine and the premodern. The lines between the barriers were echoed in Undercurrent, 2004, a mat woven of electrical cords, each of which snakes out from the center to end in a lightbulb that pulses slowly on and off. The shape reappears in a pair of hair grids (small woven lattices mounted on vellum and framed) from 2005, and more chaotically in a set of four hair drawings and a pair of etchings from 2003 and 2004, in which the neat vertical and horizontal arrangement is replaced with an ungovernable tangle. It is employed more obliquely in Rest Assured, 2001–2005, a hammock made of silicone rubber that neatly embodies the kind of tension between form and function—here a tool for relaxation made of a material that will only relax so far before snapping briskly back—of which Hatoum is a master.

The viewer is thus able to swing easily from work to work, but the exhibition is not without ambivalence. It has all of Hatoum’s trademark angst and furthers her insistent formal and symbolic enquiry. Mobile Home does this most efficiently by piling grid on grid—from the clotheslines to the woven pot holders, the embroidered dish towels to the little wire cage hanging next to them on the clothesline, that inspired her sculpture Isolette, 1999. (The fact that this work was on view in an upstairs room also made the multi-floored gallery into a kind of grid, linking work to work.) Many of Hatoum’s most menacing works also have a chilly elegance, but in these she goes further, asking what might be implied by outwardly limited formal structures. The hair grids, for example, with their tiny, careful knots, are little calendars of effort, utterly personal as well as visually precise. The woven electrical cords and lightbulbs suggest, in addition to the dangers of electricity, lively thought.

Exploring the intersection of human body and artificial grid, Hatoum finally discovers that the initially rigid-seeming device may ultimately represent a zone of potential, rather than merely a site from which almost everything has been stripped away. The set of objects presented here may not convey happiness—a wire cage remains a wire cage, no matter how seamlessly it has been integrated into surroundings possessing a somewhat hopeful tone—but Hatoum refuses to let us off the hook with something so neat as rage.

Emily Hall