I first met Mona Hatoum in 2001 during a studio visit in Stockholm while she was here on a studio residency at Iaspis, funded by the Swedish Arts Grants Committee. She enjoyed the city so much that she returned on other fellowships. It was during her second residency here that we began to discuss the possibility of a more comprehensive presentation of her artwork at Magasin III. We’d been interested in her for many years and already had a number of her works in our collection.
The idea for Undercurrent began with an open conversation, as it often does when we at Magasin III invite an artist to create a new work with us. We started talking about the current state of Mona’s art practice and what she was interested in doing at that time. She said she would like to investigate a thematic that would lead to something in the form of a rug. When she returned to Stockholm to work on the exhibition, she brought samples of various woven materials. Mona often creates artworks by manipulating various techniques from the textile arts; this time, she wanted to try weaving with electrical cables.
We began looking at different weave patterns and materials. I showed her a weaving made from electrical cable that one of my good friends, a designer, had created and that I think inspired her. We did an incredible amount of research into materials and technical solutions, so we were quite a ways into the process when we finally began talking about the form itself—a rug measuring two square meters (approximately 21.5 square feet) with marvelously long fringe, each strand of which was to end in a light bulb. Choosing the type of cable and selecting the cable itself required a lot of research. Mona finally decided on an older type of cable that was covered in black-and-white patterned fabric. Later, Mona created versions of Undercurrent with this same type of cable but in red fabric.
The light bulbs in the work are connected to a computer that regulates the intensity of the light. We worked closely with our electrician, Stefan Wikström, to find a good solution for how the cables could be woven together into a whole while still allowing for regulation of the bulbs’ intensity. This proved quite challenging. In the end, the rug was woven with the use of a simple loom—a bench outfitted with wooden dowels around which the cables were wound.
Mona composed the variations in the intensity of light as if it were a piece of music—but silent. The viewer experiences rhythms and tones in the lights of Undercurrent in the same way one experiences rhythms and tones in audible music. Mona and I discussed the concept of silent music during our work together, and since then, the musicality in many of her works has become more apparent to me.
Because the loom to create the rug remained with us after this production, we made an agreement with Mona to create an edition of this work. Accordingly, four of these rugs were made; the first is in our collection, one went to London, one to New York, and one remained in the artist’s possession.
Summary of Richard Julin’s conversation with Ellen Klintenberg Gedda on March 18, 2016.
Swedish text edited by Ellen Klintenberg Gedda and translated by Suzanne Martin Cheadle.