Materials and processes carry politely unspoken conventions. We segregate materials, approach them with different strategies, use them in different spaces. Materials are free, but somehow we trap them, get in front of them and what they could say, connect them to assumptions of gender, craft and technicality. Emma Hart’s exhibition ‘big MOUTH’ actively questions the values of photography, just as it questions the making of objects through new works that draw from the nagging bodily anxieties of daily life.
On a ceramic tray in the gallery, a radio sits among coffee spillage. Through it Hart speaks in a series of shifting monologues, relaying her immediate experiences: the journey of making work for exhibition; the places in which she recognises her life; feeding a daughter who refuses food. She sings to us absentmindedly, vocalising songs she remembers like ‘It’s been seven hours and fifteen days … since you took your love away’ or ‘Clap along … if you feel like happiness is the truth’. The point you join ‘Radio Shame’ determines how you read the work in ‘big MOUTH’ - it is next to you as you look at object, texture and image, moving you beyond the role of passive observer. Hart collages moments of pure consciousness, snatched between one place and another, on foot, at the supermarket, in places of anonymity and transit. Spaces that are rough around the edges, spaces returned to everyday, like the estate nursery where her daughter’s experiences echo her own.
The sculptural works in ‘big MOUTH’ leak a raw physicality - ceramic arms throw punches, mop up tears and curl around the body. In ‘All Over the Place’ a series of pink scrunchies extrude a mass of blonde hair, acting as a shortcut for the tidying and attempts to tame ungovernable bodily matter. Sculptures indicate the breaking down of processes. In ‘Damaged Goods’ a mass of images of the body are gathered on the wall, tumbling on to the floor as if ejected by an erratic printer. A body that sweats, is malleable and marked, is captured in prints that are inserted into glazed clay. The unpredictability of the clay, acting as an agent of disruption on the clarity of the photographic image, comments on it and re-pitches it.
As you engage with these works ‘Radio Shame’ relays the slippery shifts of life in the capital, the elements of which sit prickling under the skin. As Hart speaks of the frustrations of a basic educational provision for her daughter, you conjure the phantom of the perfect mother feeding her pristine child a salad of chickpeas and a glass of organic milk - talismans for Hart of another life, one that carries the myth of a secure entitlement that segues its way through London, unbuffeted by people fighting over joints of raw meat in Asda. As you imagine this fabrication of normality, it is thankfully diffused by Hart’s voice chanting Kylie’s classic ‘la la la la … la la la la le laa’. On the window sill of Grand Union sits a white school collar, a pristine object, evoking both hope and terror, signaling the beginning of a child’s life outside the home. ‘big MOUTH’ draws from its own muse and with this compelling move, it deftly shifts the space you occupy, indicating the precarious absurdities of our condition through narratives that are at once public and kept deeply private.