“Home”, an artistic exploration of the estranged familiarity.

Artist: Mona Hatoum

Title: “Home” (1999)

Characteristics: Wooden table, 15 steel kitchen utensils, electric wire, 3 light bulbs, software and audio (displayed: 6000 x 3500 mm)

Keywords: alienation, unheimlich, estragement


Mona Hatoum’s work, explores the different aspects of psychological and physical space we inhabit. Many of her works, are influenced by conflict and war, refugee crises and displacement. Her installations create spaces that are filled with household items, in an attempt to transform the space of the gallery into a psychological space of “familiarity” and sense of “homeness”. At the same time, the use of certain objects breaks down abruptly the sense of familiarity and subverts the meaning of the space, transforming the familiar into its abject twin.

The creation of this uncanny feeling seems to result to a disorientation for the observer, a sense of alienation from what is supposed to be “familiar”. This seems to be an allure to the way a crisis works. For example, during grand scale conflicts such as wars and social upheavals, as well as during family conflicts, the home that supposed to be a safe place, is transformed to a threatening space.

                        “Having always had an ambiguous relationship with notions of home, family, and the nurturing that is expected out of this situation, I often like to introduce a physical or psychological disturbance to contradict those expectations”.

Her work “Home” (1999) is consisted of a table covered with metal kitchen appliances and objects. Also, a lighting equipment controlled by a computer software emits light periodically on the objects on the table. The whole space is protected by wires that prevent the beholder to access the table mainly for safety reasons as the lighting equipment works with high voltage.

With a first look, these objects give off a quality of familiarity by a reference to the kitchen. For example, it may evoke memories of family moments in home, or memories about cooking before a family dinner.

Its polished wooden surface though, the metallic legs of the table, as well as the fluorescent light above and the clean white background, subverts this feeling and transforms it to something threatening. The kitchen knife is transformed to a medical scalpel, and the kitchen table to a surgical table. Meanwhile the exposed electrical current, transforms the warm light emitted on the objects to a dangerous threat.

This kind of estranged familiarity is explored substantially in the psychoanalytical work of Sigmund Freud, Julia Kristeva and Jacques Lacan.

The “unheimlich” as Freud names it, comes as a rupture within what feels stable, familiar and predictable. According to psychoanalysts, when we enter the “symbolic stage” – the plane of language and symbols – we move our mental experience from a direct contact with our surroundings that is fully “good” or fully “bad”, to a linguistic or “discursive” level.

On that level, the pleasurable and the non-pleasurable; the good or bad, become part of the linguistic realm of signs and signifiers. As such, an object is not fully benevolent and good, and not fully hateful and evil but rather, it is in proximity a holistic and unified mental image of the object; a signifier.

Our contact with a paradoxical aspect of what we expect mentally from an object, disrupts the continuity of the mental space we inhabit, and enables a contact with another probability of that space. A space that is occupied with the evil twin of what is “familiar”.

It is in this space that we feel an eerie, otherworldly sense of estranged familiarity.


Home 1999 by Mona Hatoum born 1952
Mona Hatoum, Home, 1999, installation 6000 x 3500 mm, Tate collection. Photo: Tate Gallery.

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