Emma Hart: walking on the bright side of the moon


Stefano Pirovano  -  November 23, 2016

At the moment there are only a few British artists that can count on a schedule of upcoming exhibitions as powerful as the one Emma Hart is experiencing. After she won the Max Mara Art Prize for Women last year and, thanks to it, spent six months doing fruitful artistic research between Milano, Todi and Faenza, last week she opened at PEER London the “act one” of a two artists project in three parts – the exhibition, titled ‘Love life’, is supported by the Art Council England and will have two more “acts” at the Grundy Art Gallery and De La Warr Pavillion. In march 2017 Hart will take part to Whitechapel Gallery‘s “My hero” programme – she will be asked to invite and dialogue with a personality she considers pivotal for her artistic career. Three months later, that is to say July 2017, her solo exhibition will open at the museum, while in October 2017 she is going to have her first solo show at the Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia. By that time, you may argue she would not be an emerging artist any more, but a mature one, with a convincing curriculum vitae in support of her future steps.

We met Hart a few weeks ago in the cradle of Italian ceramics, the town of Faenza, where as previously said she spent three months in residency along with her partner, artist Dai Jenkins, and their three year-old child. She is an energetic person with a talent for making you feel conformable and welcomed. One of the first things we remember she told us was how sweet life in Faenza is for a young family, and how happy she was about finally living next door to her studio and favourite craftswoman. “It’s so easy here, and people are so kind. Now I don’t want to back home!” she told us while granting one of her brightest smiles. Of course, we thought, she is sad for she has to leave this charming Italian town, where some of the best Italian ceramic workshops are located, from Bottega Vignoli to Ceramica Gatti, not to mention two main art institutions dedicated to this medium such as the Museo Internazionale della Ceramicha and Museo Carlo Zauli. But she is also aware that the fruits of these days will have to be harvested in her home town, London. That is why she smiles. She is not only a talented artist, but she must have also an high degree of emotional intelligence – said a voice in the background of our mind; and she is definitely not one of the many ‘Interrupted girls’ (the movie) currently polarising the emerging art scene.

Effectively, while artists such as Bunny Rogers, Amalia Ullman, Darja Bajagic or Anna Uddenberg, just to name a few, are persistently playing minor chords by enquiring into what we may call the dark side of the room, or their own dark places, Hart is the kind of artist who is able to talk about life and humans’ struggle on major scales, bright colours and effective positive feelings. And that is the perspective from which her recent interest in ceramics should be observed. When she says that she likes to put her hands in the material to deal with its unpredictable reactions, she probably means that the material stands for life, perhaps similarly to what another recently emerged English artist, Michael Dean, would say. Dean too has a family, and is able to turn materials into metaphorical devices. While in comparison to Andy Warhol, who set his artworks free from any visible trace addressing himself or his body in order to detach the artist from the material world, Hart’s works and installations are somehow sublimating, and celebrating, the artist’s (extra)ordinary every day.

The key words of the three wall-based ceramic ‘speech bubbles’ presented by Hart at Peer – the show is a collaboration between her and Jonathan Baldock – are basic elements of common language such as ‘knife, legs, I, you’. They sound like fragments of an ordinary, simple dialogue that the artist’s positive and creative mind turns through ceramic – hence a typical domestic material – into a poetic momentum. Many other elements in the room are referring to the domestic landscape: sausages, pots, a washing machine, tv screens, feet. Home is a stage where these actors, hence the artworks themselves, have learnt their parts – in fact the exhibition is based on a traditional seaside puppets show known as ‘Punch and Judy’. In the room the pieces play, representing the same human comedy you start acting as soon as you cross the threshold of your private life, especially when you are not alone.

Moreover, after a long-lasting period of object-based art production, it seems that contemporary artists are getting more and more interested in traditional techniques and handcrafted pieces. From Simon Fattal‘s convincing ceramic sculptures currently on exhibition at Kaufmann Repetto in Milan, to Rosmarie Trockel’s mind blowing group of wall pieces presented at Pinacoteca Agnelli in Torino during the last edition of Artissima, or to the sculptures by Caroline Achaintre recently presented by Arcade fine arts at the FIAC in Paris, not to mention the exhibition of pieces by Peter Shire hosted by New Galerie in Paris at the beginning of this year. We wouldn’t call it a return ceramics, for this medium has never been forgotten, and for artists who can do it without falling into the trap of virtuosity are still a tiny minority. But doing ceramics seems a trend that should not be undervalued in the post post-internet and zombie formalism art debate. And Emma Hart is certainly on the way to become one of its more respected interpreters.