Emma Hart: Mamma Mia! at Whitechapel Gallery
Entering the space at London-based artist Emma Hart’s new show at Whitechapel Gallery, Mamma Mia!, is like stepping into another world – or rather a serene universe of ceramic planets, like ethereal pods projecting light. As if in a celestial chapel, the pieces resemble sacred effigies, almost alive, about to break free with emotion, or give birth.
The sixth edition winner of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, Hart’s new exhibit combines multidisciplinary media with ceramic clay sculptures, presenting with wit and perceptiveness explorations of how feeling and experience are interpreted, or misinterpreted. The pieces produce lamp-like light circles below them, as explained by the artist: “the heads…cast pools of light on the floor in the form of speech bubbles as though they were conversing”. Suggesting various emotional states such as paranoia, fear and rage, the works seem to be probing deep-seated internal psychological motivations and patterns of behaviour. Originally a photographer and videographer, the artist has stated that she has found the camera to be frustratingly inaccurate, while clay is immediate.
Upon close inspection, each pod, or lamp, is a kind of macrocosm unto itself, expressing different aspects of the feminine psyche. With gorgeous ceramic shells, the interiors are painted with various symbolic motifs, touching on the perhaps more secret elements of the female experience, such as envy. I Want What You’ve Got, Even When I Am Asleep (2017) depicts seemingly textile design-inspired images of green women shackled by Venus flytraps with green eyes hovering over them, watching. I,I,I portrays faces with teardrops all uttering only one word, “I”, as if to represent our isolation within ourselves, a human tendency to perceive life through prisms of narcissism and the pain of our separateness. Other works display variations of sly comments on womanhood, such as converging curves, mutations of McDonald’s arches into pink breasts – hinting at the commercialisation of femininity as well as prosaic banality in motherhood – or a red-splashed interior with hands holding eggs, appearing to be about menstruation and fertility
Viewing Emma Hart’s Mamma Mia! is a kind of foray into an alternate world, a spiritual meditation – enlightening, moving and yet also humorous, like a tongue-in-cheek “comic book” playing with ideas. The work is fun, but also deeply thought-provoking and transcendent.
Emma Hart: Mamma Mia! is at Whitechapel Gallery from 12th July until 3rd September 2017. For further information visit here.