The Pick - Alarming vision

December 23, 2010

Current Disturbance

This is Tomorrow

Whitechapel Gallery, London

The Anglo-Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum's Current Disturbance is an exceptionally disconcerting installation. It consists of a tight rectangle of 240 wire cages, each containing a bare bulb, which all flash on and off in turn. Black wires snake their way into a vast shady mess in the centre. The sound of the electric current has been amplified until it becomes sinister and jarring.

Earlier works of Hatoum's such as her giant unfolding cheese grater, Grater Divide, might be seen as essentially comic, something from a surreal cartoon or Gulliver's Travels, or perhaps as an oblique comment on the Palestinian or the female condition. But Current Disturbance is unavoidably political. Stay in the room for a few minutes and it soon conjures up a battery farm, a prison and even a torture chamber.

Hatoum came to London in 1975, at the time of the civil war in her native Lebanon. (She was startled by the prevalence of CCTV cameras even then, something that may also feed into Current Disturbance.) Much of her work has consisted of performances and body art. She tramped around Brixton Market barefoot dragging a pair of Doc Martens. She stood in a cubicle deep in mud, desperately struggling to get upright. She drew on endoscopy to present contrasting images of the inside and outside of her own body. More recently, however, she has moved towards abstraction and conceptual art.

Current Disturbances stands alone in the Collection Gallery at the Whitechapel Gallery (until 6 March 2011), a space devoted to important, rarely seen art collections from around the world. The first show consisted of material owned by the British Council.

Hatoum's installation forms the third part of Keeping it Real: An Exhibition in Four Acts - an ongoing programme to show material drawn from the D. Daskalopoulos Collection, which is usually stored in a warehouse in Greece. The first part, The Corporeal, focused on body art and included Marcel Duchamp's urinal Fountain. It was followed by Subversive Abstraction. The series will conclude next year with Material Intelligence (18 March-22 May).

Also on show at the Whitechapel until 6 March is This is Tomorrow, which draws on the gallery's archives to commemorate its path-breaking 1956 show of the same name. This brought together 12 groups of artists, architects, musicians and graphic designers. It helped to launch the careers of figures such as the aspiring pop artist Richard Hamilton, who seized on the opportunities offered by the fact that the initials of the exhibition title spell the word "tit".

On display are the posters, leaflets, invitation cards and installation photographs that once created a buzz around This is Tomorrow. The Whitechapel has also published a facsimile of the original catalogue, including the adverts for long-defunct bookshops and roofing contractors.

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