London-based Emma Hart works across multiple disciplines, employing ceramics, photography, video and sound to channel her uncensored sensibility into expressive installations. “My work is in pursuit of ‘the real,’” says the 42-year-old Hart: “Real life, real feelings, real autobiographical details. Rather than making sense of the world, I want art to generate the confusion, stress and nausea of the everyday.”
As the latest recipient of the biannual Max Mara Art Prize for Women – a collaboration between Collezione Maramotti, Whitechapel Gallery and Max Mara – Hart will be showing Mamma Mia!, a large-scale, multipart installation of ceramic heads. Covered with speech-bubble motifs and featuring open mouths as if in conversation with one another, the ceramic heads are meant to be an investigation into visual and psychological patterns of behaviour.
For Whitechapel head of curatorial studies Daniel F Herrmann, Hart’s project is “really a tongue-in-cheek play on British expectations of Italian culture. ‘Mamma mia!’ can be an expression of joy, anger, surprise, incredulity – it depends on the relationship between the speaker and the one who is spoken to, and the situation they are in,” Herrmann explains. “It’s perfect for Emma’s interest in the ways that people deal with one another.”
Completed during the six-month residency in Italy afforded by the Max Mara prize, the work took Hart to three different cities. In Milan, she visited the clinic named for pioneering psychologist Mara Selvini Palazzoli, who studied families, relationships and the physical spaces between people. In Todi, the artist designed a pattern for a plate to make custom prints. Finally, with master potters in the ceramics capital of Faenza, Hart created a series of handmade sculptures.
The resulting installation of large ceramic heads “suggests a family in dialogue,” says Collezione Maramotti director Marina Dacci, and may also be seen as a representation of what Hart observed in the Mara Selvini Palazzoli clinic in Milan: “I understood that sometimes the family is a structure that can either support you or cage you,” the artist explains. Words to the wise. —AO
ALEXANDRA OWENS IS A SENIOR WRITER FOR SOTHEBY'S