Emma Hart’s current exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery comprises Mama Mia! – the installation she produced upon winning the prestigious Max Mara Art Prize for Women in 2016 – and some entirely new work: a new collection of sculptures entitled BANGER.
Developed during a six-month residency in Italy, Mama Mia! explores the complexities of family dynamics and reflects her study of the Milan Systemic Approach style of family therapy. A series of head-shaped ceramic lamps looms from the ceiling, projecting beams of light, shaped like speech bubbles, on to the ground. To engage properly with each head, you need to stand directly underneath and look up at the unique paintings within them, an experience that recreates the voyeuristic intimacy of therapy. The playfully crude painting style creates a similar humour to the work of David Shrigley – painfully human, down-to-earth and virtually impossible not to identify with. The paintings refer to both physical and emotional elements – a series of dice look like teeth, fingers cover faces indicating various emotional states, a pattern of two silhouettes engage in a cyclical exchange, in which are both depicted saying “I feel…”. More sinister and traumatic aspects of family life are conveyed through the recurring images of wounds with stitches, and via the fans beneath each light, which are made to look like giant pieces of cutlery. Rotating ominously like helicopter blades, the fans allude to the potential power of domestic experiences to cause pain and destruction. The heads are suspended by red cable, which is attached to a wall in a formation reminiscent of sound waves. An evocative element of the exhibition is a solitary head, on its side on the ground, as if fallen, which projects its beam of light onto the most active section of the sound wave. The Italian influence is present here not just in the concern with family, and the mother figure in particular, but also in the references to majolica, a traditional Italian form of patterned earthenware.
In the upstairs gallery, BANGER is a series of fourteen sculptures themed around driving and the physical elements of a car. As you climb the stairs, you are confronted by Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t After You, a largely blackened out rear view mirror, where clear spaces in the shape of headlights establish a theme of looking, reflecting, and the anxious anticipation of the unknown. Hart plays with the idea of viewpoints throughout the exhibition, and the pieces work together effectively to present a metaphor for human introspection and the challenges of navigating through everyday life unscathed. The child-like concentration of primary colours compliments the playful humour of the work, often prompting a jolt of mirth as you process what you’re looking at. These elements belie Hart’s razor sharp insight and the complexity and power of the pieces. Similarly, it’s only once you’ve reached the conclusion of each gallery that you realise just how cleverly coherent and cohesive the work is.
The Fruitmarket Gallery is publishing a new book to accompany this exhibition, which – rather excitingly – is to feature a brand new short story from Scottish writer Ali Smith, influenced by her conversations with Emma Hart during the development of BANGER. The launch for this will be on Mon 10 Dec 6pm – 7.30pm. Emma Hart will also be appearing in conversation with Fruitmarket Gallery director Fiona Bradley on Mon 21 Jan 6pm – 7pm.