Shell Shock

Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma
Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, MO
06.04.18 – 11.08.18

A shadow is a shell of its counterpart. It is a reflected summary; an ominous silhouette of an object bathed in light. Some shadows are flighty, like Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up and whose shadow cannot quite be contained; others are stuck to us like glue, dark and expansive, lurking in our tracks at all times.

On a bright morning, the Gateway Arch will cast a distinct shadow upon downtown St. Louis, the city’s Old Courthouse and nearby Busch Stadium. On an equally vivid afternoon, the ‘Gateway to the West’ will instead motion towards the East, reflecting onto the Mississippi River and, beyond that, Illinois.

Just three miles from St. Louis, East St. Louis is a shell of its counterpart. St. Louis swarms with beer, barbeque and baseball, while its Eastern shadow lacks the bare necessities of a place to call home. Vacant lots, pollution from nearby chemical plants, families living on welfare and / or below the poverty line, staggering rates of violent crime; there would be little reason for someone from St. Louis to venture over to this side of the river, other than, perhaps, to pay homage to the childhood home of jazz legend Miles Davis. Residents of East St. Louis, on the other hand, are locked into the social and economic constraints of their shadow city, left to stare at a shining gateway that only grants access to those already living to the west of it.

Not too far from the Gateway Arch lies the Pulitzer Arts Foundation. This past April, the Pulitzer opened its doors to Mona Hatoum’s first major solo exhibition in the United States in over twenty years. Titled Terra Infirma, its translation into the context of St. Louis has had poignant reverberations. Designed in the 1990s by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the Pulitzer undulates with natural light and negative space, and as we wander through the museum’s bunker-like galleries, Hatoum invites us to think about the larger shadows being cast beyond its concrete walls, past downtown St. Louis, through the Arch, across the Mississippi River, and into a neglected city where disaster has become commonplace.

‘Waiting is Forbidden’ declares a blue sign as we enter the exhibition. It could be mistaken for a security warning from the museum, were it not for the Arabic script above the English inscription. Taken out of its original context, where it would easily be read as ‘No Loitering’, the sign now serves as a dystopian reminder that the act of inaction is unacceptable in the alternative world that we have entered. Waiting will not get us anywhere, so we move along.

A steel and aluminium circle filled with sand occupies the Main Gallery. Reminiscent of a miniature Zen garden used to calm anxiety and reduce stress, the work, titled + and -, is split in two by a linear motor that steadily rakes uniform lines through one half of the sand at the same time as levelling the other half. One half creates, while the other destroys. The effect is curiously mesmerising, but unlike a Zen garden this perpetual motion is out of our control and our anxiety cannot seem to subside.

Nearby, what appears to be a grinding tool has been inflated to an enormous size. La grande broyeuse ( Mouli-Julienne × 17 ), a menacing steel structure, towers over us like a nightmare out of Alice in Wonderland, while its domestic familiarity stirs up a certain nostalgia. This obscuring of the meaning and utility of everyday objects is characteristic of Hatoum’s work, in which household items resemble torture devices and the most ordinary of objects feel ominous and strange. Like + and -, Hatoum’s practice thrives on duality and an ongoing tension between attraction and repulsion, elegant minimalism and the promise of danger.

Hatoum makes pointed art-historical references with works such as Impenetrable, an ode to the interactive op and kinetic art of Jesús Rafael Soto, while her subversive use of materials shatters their original interpretations. Unlike Soto’s Penetrable series, in which viewers are encouraged to get lost in suspended curtains of brightly coloured plastic tubes, Hatoum’s Impenetrable creates an impasse from all angles. Barbed black lines made of steel and fishing wire shoot down from the ceiling and prevent us from entering, although we cannot help but imagine what would happen if we did.

Downstairs, Hatoum continues to test us as we teeter on the brink of destruction. A baby’s crib has been constructed from glass laboratory tubes in Silence, giant cheese graters have been reimagined as perverse furniture in Dormiente and Grater Divide, shiny black marbles create a seductive circular void on the floor in Turbulence ( black ), and an entire domestic space has been electrified, rendered hazardous and inaccessible, in Homebound. Familiar items are thereby laced with hostile undertones, while the question of utility remains unclear. In No Way III, for instance, the holes in a colander have been plugged with steel nails, which now protrude outwards and threaten bodily harm. In T42 ( gold ), two teacups appear to have melted together, losing their usefulness and vanishing into a Surrealist dreamscape. Like Meret Oppenheim’s 1936 sculpture, Object, in which a classic teacup, saucer and spoon have been coated in fur, Hatoum’s work interrupts the meaning of things and dares us to re-evaluate the comforts of our homes.

In producing this volatility, Hatoum compels us to challenge our own notions of stability, whether it be in a gallery of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, a neighbourhood of St. Louis, a particular region of the United States, or any country in the world. After all, what is stable about a child growing up in poverty in a so-called First World country? What is stable about a nation where kids go to school fearing they might be shot to death by a classmate? What is stable about a border where children are torn from the arms of their immigrant parents? What is stable about political rhetoric that attacks women’s bodies, discriminates against minorities, and continually threatens nuclear warfare? Stability is relative. All it takes is one shift in scale, one skew in design, one obfuscation of utility, and the comfortable equilibrium of our realities will disintegrate into thin air.

With these slight alterations, Hatoum distorts our playful and childlike memories, taking symbols of safety and turning them sinister. In Misbah, a brass lantern hangs from the ceiling in a dark room and reflects images of war upon the walls as it spins round and round. Named after the Arabic word for ‘lamp’ or ‘light’, the work draws inspiration from an object that might otherwise lull a child to sleep or quell their fear of the dark. Now, we are swathed in a dizzying shadow-play of armed men and explosions that have come to haunt our dreams. What begins as unease is soon transformed into the realisation that this is not just a nightmare. For many children ( and adults ), there are concrete reasons to fear the dark; there are monsters that live under the bed; and threatening shadows do not only come out at night.

What happens when disaster does not only interrupt the normalcy of life, but becomes indistinguishable from it? In Terra Infirma, Hatoum presents a world in which exile is not just a physical reality but an emotional condition, and anyone can be made to feel like a stranger in their own home. We see instances of this all over the world, from Hatoum’s previous homes in Palestine and Lebanon, to the ongoing war in Syria, terror attacks and increased border control across the globe, and police brutality, racism and violence in cities across the United States, St. Louis included. For the lucky few, fear, paranoia, conflict and survival are figments of a distant world that they dare not penetrate; for millions of others, these emotions are played on a seemingly endless loop, like lines drawn in the sand and erased soon afterwards.

When a bomb explodes or a bullet is fired, all it leaves behind is a shell. There is no Zen garden to subdue the shock, no comfortable bed to sleep on, no favourite teacup to drink from, and no recognisable house to return to. All that is left is an ominous silhouette of a place once called home. Through her impeccable use of metaphor, Hatoum closes the distance between order and disorder, between our quiet haven and someone else’s chaotic hell. As disaster and disarray become more normalised each day, Terra Infirma offers a moment of silent contemplation for us to consider how much discomfort we, as a society, can truly impart and / or endure.

‘Waiting is Forbidden’, Hatoum reminds us as we conclude the exhibition and make our way back to the entrance. Beyond the museum’s walls, the ground does not feel so stable anymore; our shadow does not feel so flighty; and that bridge to East St. Louis does not feel so long.


2018 年4 月6 日—2018 年8 月11 日

译 / 梁霄

影子是其对象的壳。它是一种得自反射的概括,一个沉浸在光芒中的事物留下的不祥轮廓。有些影子如此翩然,就像彼得·潘, 那个永远长不大的男孩,没人能抓住他的影子;还有些影子就像胶水那般粘在我们身上,漆黑而容易膨胀,一直潜伏在我们的足迹中。


距圣路易斯仅3 公里之遥的东圣路易斯,就像是前者的影子。圣路易斯到处都是啤酒、烤肉和棒球,而它位于东边的影子甚至不能被人们称为一个家。空置的土地,附近化工厂排泄的污染, 在贫困线上挣扎或者接受社会救济的家庭,还有惊人的暴力犯罪率;如果不是为了向爵士乐传奇人物迈尔斯·戴维斯儿时的故乡致敬,圣路易斯的市民几乎没有什么理由冒险来到河的这一边。而另一方面,东圣路易斯的市民则深陷于影子城市带来的社会与经济束缚,只能紧盯着一扇仅允许那些已经住在它西边的人进入的闪亮大门。

普利策艺术基金会就位于圣路易斯拱门的不远处,今年4 月, 艺术家莫娜·哈透姆近20 年来的首次美国大型个展“弃土”在此地开幕,展览于圣路易斯背景下发生的转化收获了令人深思的反应。日本建筑师安藤忠雄在1990 年代设计了基金会,自然光线与消极空间充盈着整个建筑。当我们漫步于谷仓式的展厅内部, 哈透姆邀请我们思考那道投射在混凝土墙壁之外的更大的影子。这道影子穿过了圣路易斯,穿过了拱门和密西西比河,延伸进了一个被忽视的城市。在那里,灾难已经成为司空见惯的事。

观众步入展览时,会看到一块蓝色的标牌上面写着“禁止等待”。如果不是因为使用了阿拉伯文,这块标牌很可能会被误认为展厅内的安全警告。人们非常容易将这句话的本意解读为“禁止逗留”,但此时此刻,它似乎变成了一则反乌托邦式的提示: 在我们即将进入的另一个世界里,不作为的行为是不受欢迎的。等待不会让我们抵达任何地方,所以我们继续前进。

一座盛满了沙子的圆形钢铝容器占据了主展厅,令人想起用来平复焦虑和减轻压力的微型禅景花园。这件名为“+ 和–”的作品被一根直线电机分成两半,电机在容器的一半沙面上稳定地划出均匀的线条,而另一半沙面则保持平整。一半用来创造,另一半用来毁灭。作品达到的效果令人着迷,但不似禅景花园,这种永恒的运动超出了我们的控制,而我们的焦虑也仿佛无法平息。

《+ 和–》旁边的另一件作品《大磨床(茂利—切丝机x 17)》则将一件似乎是用来研磨的工具放大到了巨型尺寸。这座气势惊人的钢结构作品就像《爱丽丝漫游仙境》里的一场噩梦那样耸立在观众头顶,而它作为家务用品的熟悉感却能够激起观众的某种思乡之情。模糊日常器物的意义及其效用是哈透姆创作的特点,透过作品,那些家居用品似乎与审讯刑具没什么两样,而最为普通的物件也会给予观众不祥和诡异的感觉。正如《+ 和–》, 哈透姆的艺术实践激发着物品的二元性与吸引和排斥之间的持续张力,饱含极简主义的优雅与危险的承诺。

通过作品《不可穿越的》,哈透姆对艺术史做出了有针对性的指涉。《不可穿越的》旨在致敬欧普艺术与活动艺术先驱赫苏斯·拉斐尔·索托,而哈透姆对材料的颠覆性使用则完全消解了索托作品最初的解释。索托的系列作品《可穿越的》由大量悬挂在空中的色彩艳丽的塑料软管构成,艺术家鼓励观众置身其间, 而与索托的创作截然相反,哈透姆从各个角度为观众制造了死路。钢管与钓鱼线组成带刺的黑线从天花板射下,阻止观众进入空间内部,即便所有人都会不禁想象,如果闯入将发生什么。

哈透姆在楼下的另一层展厅继续考验着观众,使观众感觉自身徘徊在毁灭的边缘摇摇欲坠。作品《寂静》是一张用玻璃实验管制作的婴儿床,巨大的奶酪切割器则在《多米安特》和《刨丝器》里被重构为反常的家具,闪亮的黑色弹珠在《湍流(黑)》中组成了地板上的圆形空间,而在作品《回家》中,哈透姆给整个家宅空间通上了电,使其变得危险和难以接近。熟悉的物品因此沾染着潜在的敌意,而关于它们的效用问题仍然尚不清晰。例如, 在《没门3》中,一只滤碗被钢针堵住了所有的滤孔,这些钢针向外突出,有可能对任何接近它的身体造成伤害。而《T42(金)》则展现了两只熔接在一起的茶杯,它们变得不再有用,仿佛即将消失在超现实主义的梦境中。梅拉·奥本海姆在1936 年创作了器物雕塑《物体》,她给一只古典的茶杯、连同茶托和勺子都覆盖上了一层皮毛。与梅拉相似,哈透姆打断了事物的意义,令我们敢于重新思考我们的家是否舒适。

在制造这种易变性的过程中,艺术家逼迫我们挑战自身对于稳定的看法,无论我们身处普利策艺术基金会的某个展览空间, 还是身处圣路易斯的某个街区、美国的某个特定地域,甚至是身处世界上的任何一个国家。毕竟,在一个所谓的“第一世界国家”, 对一个从贫困中成长起来的孩子而言,什么是稳定的?对一个校 园里的学生害怕被同伴枪杀的国家而言,什么是稳定的?对一条永远上演着移民母子分离的边境而言,什么是稳定的?攻击女性身体、歧视少数族群、不断威胁发动核战的政治言论又有什么稳定之处?稳定是相对的。改变它只需要比例上的一次变换,设计上的一次倾斜,效用上的一次模糊处理,我们现实中的舒适平衡也将随之化为乌有。

通过细微的改变,哈透姆歪曲了我们那些淘气而天真的记忆, 将安全的象征变为邪恶。在作品《米斯巴赫》中,一顶黄铜灯笼从天花板垂下,照亮了黑暗的房间。它不停地旋转、旋转,在四周的墙上映射出战争的画面。“Misbah”在阿拉伯语里代表着“灯” 或“光亮”,哈透姆以这个单词为作品命名,并从一种日用品上获得了灵感。这种东西能让孩子在夜晚安眠,消除他们对黑暗的恐惧。而身处展厅内的我们,则被笼罩在一个令人眼花缭乱的影戏中, 此时此刻,持械的人和爆炸的画面往来于我们的梦境。面对作品开始时的不安很快转变成了另一种意识:这不仅仅是一个噩梦。对许多孩子(和成年人)来说,惧怕黑暗是有原因的:床底下或许藏着怪物,可怕的暗影不单只在夜间出现。

当灾难不仅影响了生活的常态,甚至变得无法与其区分时, 会发生什么?哈透姆通过展览“弃土”呈现了一个被流放的世界。在这个世界中,流放不单是一种物理现实,更是一种情感状态, 在这里,任何人都可以变成自己家中的陌生人。我们能在世界各地看到这样的例子:哈透姆曾在巴勒斯坦与黎巴嫩的家,炮火不绝的叙利亚战争,全球范围内的恐怖袭击与边境管控升级,警察暴行,种族主义,还有蔓延美国全境的城市暴力,包括圣路易斯在内。对于极少数幸运儿来说,恐惧、偏执、冲突和求生是来自 一个他们不敢介入的遥远世界的虚构;对于其他数百万人而言, 这些情绪在无穷无尽中持续循环,就像线条被画在沙面上,很快又被抹去。

当一颗炸弹被引爆,或者一颗子弹从枪口射出,它们剩下的只有一个壳。没有禅景花园能减缓我们的弹震症,没有舒适的床能睡,没有喜欢的茶杯能拿在手中,也没有能从记忆中被辨认的家园让我们回去。只剩下一个曾经被称为家园的地方的不祥轮廓。莫娜·哈透姆无可挑剔地运用着隐喻,拉近了秩序与混乱之间的距离,也拉近了我们的安栖之所,与他人的炼狱之间的距离。伴随着灾难与失序的日渐常态化,展览“弃土”提供了安静的片刻, 使观众得以沉思:在一个社会中,我们究竟能真正接受和(或) 忍耐多少不适。

哈透姆在展览结束观众返回入口时提醒所有人:“禁止等待。” 美术馆的墙外,地面不再那么稳定;我们的影子不再那么翩然; 而通往东圣路易斯的桥也感觉不再那么长。