Category Archives: Hyperessay – IM

HyperEssay: Pull by MONA HATOUM

Of Palestinian origin, Hatoum experienced a shifting polycultural identity as an adult and this shows in her works. Her works revolve around a common theme of displacement, alienation and longing. ‘Pull’ requires the engagement of viewers to be activated. Hatoum uses materials that resonate or are personal to her, which explains why in Pull she uses her own collected hair over the course of 6 years. In this work, Hatoum lies in a separate room, and viewers can only see her upper frame through a screen. A long braided ponytail is attached to Hatoum’s head and exposed to the viewers, encouraging them to pull and receive a reaction from Hatoum. This essay will discuss how technology is an important key interaction in this work; how it affects Hatoum, the audience and both of them collectively.

To Hatoum, technology, or in this case the screen separating her physical body from the viewers, interestingly has a dual nature. First, the screen can be argued that it protects Hatoum, shielding her from other potential physical harm from viewers. The screen protects her from the real world, and instead only shows a projection or ‘virtual self’ to the outside world. On the other side, she is safe in a private room. She is also projected to be wearing nothing and slightly exposing her bare shoulders and neck. In this case, the screen acts as a censor, covering the rest of her bare(?) body. Viewers would not know whether she is truly naked or not. All viewers can do is pull her braided ponytail. The screen acts as a barrier and withholds information, preventing any form of intimate or humanly connection between Hatoum and viewers. However, ironically technology is also exposing her, projecting her vulnerability though the screen. The screen, positioned in such a way that projects Hatoum to be ‘hanging'(Fig1) The dangling braid, hanging just below the screen seems to be Hatoum’s. The way the screen projects her as a vulnerable person, maybe even dead, actually encourages viewers to pull to receive a reaction from her. Technology in this case is a tool that both helps and harms Hatoum at the same time.

Fig 1

As mentioned above, the screen actually encourages viewers to pull Hatoum’s hair. This might also be because technology in this case only works one sided. Viewers can see Hatoum, but not vice versa. There is a sense of anonymousity on the viewer’s part. This might even encourage viewers to pull more aggressively, since they know Hatoum cannot see them. The screen also projects the illusion that Hatoum is not a real person, but merely a projection of a person. The viewers have no way of coming into contact with Hatoum physically, the only way of getting a reaction from her is by pulling the braid.  Subconsciously, viewers think they are simply pulling a ‘hanging braid’ rather than ‘a person’s braid’. A lot of questions emerge from this work— an interesting concept of the human condition ad technology coming together. Is she a real person, or merely a projection of someone on screen? Would viewers still pull her hair if there was no screen to separate them and Hatoum? Viewers would probably pull even harder with the existence of the screen than if Hatoum were to be in person. The existence of technology in this case affects how viewers would interact and react to the work.

In this case, technology serves as a conveyor of Hatoum’s reactions. Hatoum represents data, technology the conveyor, audience the receiver. In this case, viewers determine the outcome of the work. The work cannot be activated without audience interaction. Tugging at her hair will result in a more drastic reaction from her, and not tugging at all will not trigger anything. The outcome of this work is therefore quite limited; Hatoum either reacts or not. We can, however, also see the viewer as a collaborator. If we take into account the viewers’ reactions, whether they will gasp or keep a straight face, stop tugging or mercilessly continue tugging; this further pushes the work into a collaborative-like nature. Such a collaboration is not one that is planned, but expected and anticipated. Hatoum expects viewers to pull her braid, and nothing more. What the viewers do or how they react after is what gives the work further depth and perspective.

The medium and material in which Hatoum chose to use is very interesting by itself. She states that there are erotic associations with hair, and in her culture, is considered a gendered taboo. Incorporating such a intimate and natural material within her work, and then incorporating cold, modern technology. Both are very different in nature but come together beautifully to create a layered piece. The possibilities are endless. Each party, Hatoum, viewers and technology, cannot work individually and require each other in order for the work to be activated. Interactivity from everyone is key in this work.

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