Emma Hart is interested in photography, although you might not think so when you step into Gallery 3 at Camden Arts Centre. Met by an onslaught of obnoxious sound and freestanding sculptured plinths, Hart's artwork is far from the neatly-framed world that photography usually represents. Her interest lies in the idea that photography can represent the "real". She draws on her own experiences of art and life and questions whether the "real" ever comes in the tidy, neat package some art forms pack it into. Hart instead draws on William S. Burroughs' (and of course, many others' before him) idea that life, and therefore our reality, is a multiple sensory experience occurring simultaneously. And Hart's exhibition does a pretty good job at reflecting this.
The room is filled up with plywood plinths, chopped-up voice recordings, and videos playing through doors or windows within the plinths; grotesque ceramic tongues masquerade as door handles or elements of furniture. Hart is specifically interested in merging art and life and exploding the binary oppositions that are continually perpetuated. For a time, Hart worked in a call centre, and this has often been a source of inspiration for her artwork. The sterile environment of the call centre mirrors the framing of reality photography is deemed to do. The scripted conversation given to a call centre worker, and the intrusion from the public to the private, are all things that for Hart blur these boundaries.
Hart's use of the tongue is particularly poignant in that respect. The tongue is not only vital for speech but also represents both the internal and external of the body. The tongues are particularly gruesome, and add a sexual element to the piece. Constructed with a hand-made aesthetic, the tongues stand out against the slick 2D-video world elsewhere in the show.
Hart also draws on other elements of the office environment: the water cooler (whose handles are tongues) and the dinner trays to trigger haunting memories any office worker will no doubt have hidden somewhere in the back of their mind. The sound pieces are equally gruesome: a mix of coughs, splutters, random sentences (that remind me of something I might have heard on a cold call) and mobile phones, all skilfully put together to echo the confusion and mixture that life throws at us in one fell swoop.
The show works well and the piece is a slightly vulgar and amusing take on the confusion of our reality. Hart skilfully draws on the lowest of business environments, like the call centre, to discuss her experience of reality. And, thanks to this visitor's own experiences of the sterile office environment, the piece speaks volumes!
The exhibition is also accompanied by an excellent essay by Kathy Noble, a curator and writer based in London. The essay contextualises the piece within art theory and adds enough background to really enhance the piece's enjoyment.