Monday, January 6, 2014

Five days at Battersea Arts Centre

During the last week of March 1980 and under the threat of the closure because of cuts in the arts, Battersea Arts centre was the host of five days of installations, films and performances by established and up and coming artists at the time. Among the artists who exhibited at this group exhibitions there were the names of Silvia Zinarek, Bill Furlong and Mona Hatoum, it was one of Mona’s first video performances.

Mona Hatoum’s video performance on the first evening of the exhibition, displayed the concepts of gender bending and her desire to look behind the surface of social constructs. Hatoum pointed her video camera directly to the audience in a full house of punters, who experienced an optical trickery. She panned up and down the rows very slowly focusing on parts of their bodies, faces, arms, legs and crotches appeared on a monitor in front of them. Hatoum broke through the anonymity of the audience, introducing an almost voyeuristic pleasure of seeing oneself and other members of the audience as a performer. This illusion culminated when parts of naked bodies suddenly appeared on the screen. The audience’s initial reaction was that Hatoum had some sort of x-ray device in the camera and that made the audience feel threatened and violated. This fear turned into good humours when the same naked parts kept appearing on the screen over and over again. Hatoum had in fact three assistants behind the screen using another camera, mixing the bodies of the audience with their own naked bodies.

That was the time when Hatoum experimented with the issue of surveillance and the concept of this performance was born right after the rejection of a similar proposal for an exhibition at the ICA and at SLADE. In the late 70’s and beginning of 80’s Battersea Arts Centre was a very radical art exhibition space. Artists like Bruce McLean and Mona Hatoum found a home to present their avant garde art at the time.

Don't Smile, You're on Camera, 1980
11' , Betacam, PAL, noir et blanc, son
Collection Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (France)