Variations on Discord and Divisions

Entry from Acts of Transfer:

Duration: 29 min 13 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

Live action with hood, knife, bucket, scrubbing brush, red paint, table, chairs, plates, raw beef kidneys, newspapers. First performed at ABC No Rio, New York, on December 2, 1984, with additional performances at A.K.A. Saskatoon, Western Front, Articule, Forest City Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Windsor, 1984-1985.

Variations on Discord and Divisions begins in silence. Wearing coveralls and a black balaclava, a barefoot Mona Hatoum crawls slowly across the floor of the Grand Luxe Hall between seated rows of spectators. The stage is covered in newspaper and plastic, and makes a crinkling sound as she moves over it. When she finally arrives at her destined position below a hanging bucket, she stands.

Whether spreading the liquid red contents of a bucket over the stage, or attempting to sit at a table only to repeatedly fall to the floor, Hatoum proposes a sadistic vision of human effort. Each variation confounds the supposed task at hand, yielding only further chaos, mess, and difficulty. Her careful but indelicate flops and swooshes use her full form and coveralls as an anonymous agent. With actions that mount in intensity (climaxing with the appearance of a knife and the serving of raw kidneys), the performance generates a sinister and dangerous space of conflict. Her performative gestures are later joined by a sharp sucking and crackling sound, a morse code-like tapping that grows in volume until the lights finally go out. Channels flip on a projection screen. Sounds of newscasters can be heard, alongside images of protests. A headline reads: “35000 people have been the victims of death squads since 1980. 1500 people have been butchered in cold blood in Nazi-like fashion…Twin refugee camps, one vast devastated morgue…Vicious immorale…Oppressed people…Famine, worse than ever.”

Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1952. During a visit to London in 1975, conflict broke out in Lebanon, preventing her from returning home.[3] The profound experience of her exile and dislocation continues to resonate in her work, in which she frequently points to “hostile realities, war, destruction” and “the forces of oppression and resistance to these forces–cultural, historical, economic and social.”[1] Hatoum began her career in performance art in the 1980s, visiting Western Front in 1983, 1984, and 1988. During this period, her primary medium was the body, which she used as a site to explore themes of voyeurism, violence, and oppression. Since the early 1990s, Hatoum has moved towards large-scale installations.

1 – Diamond, Sara and Mona Hatoum. “Performance: An Interview with Mona Hatoum.” FUSE, April 1, 1987, 46-52.
2 – Hatoum, Mona. “Who Is Mona Hatoum?” TATE. 2016. Accessed April 2018.

Original Archive Entry:

Work is a performance. Mona Hatoum refusant de faire deux fois la même œuvre a pour habitude de créer une performance unique spécifiquement pour un lieu. Pourtant, en 1984, elle décide avec Variations on Discord and Division, de proposer une action pouvant s’adapter à différents espaces. Elle offre ainsi plusieurs possibilités d’actions et de « variations ».

A travers cette performance et les différentes formes qu’elle peut prendre, l’artiste traite des notions d’exil, de guerre et d’oppression.

Elle compose cette œuvre de plusieurs petites scènes abstraites qui sont pour l’artiste des manières d’expérimenter des situations spécifiques. L’espace de l’action est délimité par des journaux disposés en rangées recouvrant le sol et les murs ; les journaux, symbolisant la rédaction et la diffusion de l’information, souvent censurée par les gouvernements et les média.

L’artiste, anonyme, habillée de noir et le visage recouvert d’un collant noir opaque, se présente au public en tant que corps. Et ce corps rampe sur le sol, au milieu des spectateurs pour parvenir jusqu’à la scène de la performance. Par le biais des petites scènes, l’artiste se met dans des situations tout à la fois absurdes, lorsqu’elle s’efforce de nettoyer le sol, en vain, car l’eau est teintée de rouge ; ridicules, quand elle essaie de s’asseoir sur une chaise et tombe à côté ; et violentes lorsqu’elle tente de dégager certaines parties de son visage en transperçant le collant qu’elle porte avec un couteau ou encore lorsqu’elle prend sous ses vêtements des rognons crus, les coupe et les offre au public. Elle termine la performance en déchirant des bandes de journaux comme un acte de libération.