Emma Hart: Mamma Mia!
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You could cut the tension in this room with a knife. And Emma Hart does, and with a fork and spoon too. Giant cutlery swishes slowly through the air like a ceiling fan in her first major show here at the Whitechapel; the result of her winning the Max Mara Art Prize for Women and the six-month residency in Italy that came with it.
The cutlery casts shadows beneath bulbous ceramic lamps. They’re like disembodied floating heads, shining speech-bubble-shaped spotlights on the ground. The outsides of the lamps are black and white, and covered in fingers, like heads resting miserably in hands. But inside, colours are waiting to burst out: blues and yellows and greens in the shape of breasts and mouths, heartbeats and teardrops.
Hart is tearing at thoughts of therapy, of couples and families bickering, of vivid inner lives crushed under the weight of the monochrome tedium of the everyday. The speech bubbles on the ground are painfully tense conversations; they become teardrops, they bisect and overlap, but they remain empty.
The truth is, I hated this show at first. It looks like a half-empty Ikea lighting showroom, like someone’s robbed Ryness. I had my head in my own hands, just like the ceramics, thinking ‘lamp art… fucking LAMP art, that’s what we’ve come to’.
But the ceramics are actually great – beautifully made, carefully painted, perfectly colourful on the inside. Grayson could learn a thing or two. And the starkness and emptiness here is a story of relationships and how hard they can be. Hart is trying to say the unsayable, and she’s stumbling on her words, like we all do. Once the nasty tension of the room creeps its way into your psyche, Hart will have you convinced, and you may need to call your therapist.