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Rebecca Solnit on Transgression in the Art of Mona Hatoum


At the Paris Review website, Rebecca Solnit engages in an extended reflection inspired by the work of installation and multimedia artist Mona Hatoum. Among other things, Solnit delves into what it means to transgress “borders” of all kinds, from national border to ethical borders. Here’s an excerpt:

Much of the work in this Mona Hatoum exhibition operates by shifts of scale that render the familiar unfamiliar; cities, the whole planet are reduced to the scale of small two-dimensional cartographic representations, to maps; domestic objects become menacing when they are enlarged to the size of furniture; furniture becomes unfamiliar, as a wheelchair becomes destabilizing, possibly damaging, the seats of swings are embossed with maps of cities, various beds become objects of discomfort or even torture; hair becomes an ethereal mat, a series of spheres, estranged from the body that produced it.

Scale is a form of orientation; changing it generates disorientations that reawaken the eyes and mind. Seeing these works, your own body wakes up to itself; they are visual art, taken in through the eyes, but suggesting possibilities and disruptions of body in proximity to them, marbles on the floor to trip on, a grater of a bed that could shred your flesh, cages, swings. You could do things with these artworks; they could do things to you; they place the body in question and sometimes in jeopardy.

Mona Hatoum, T42 (gold) (1999). Via Paris Review.