Real-estate marketer Bob Rennie is best known as Vancouver’s condo king, but with the opening of his new Chinatown art gallery, he is also carving out a reputation as a prince of contemporary art. On October 24, hundreds of people showed up at the historic Wing Sang Building for what Rennie promoted as a “celebration of Mona Hatoum”. The renowned Palestinian conceptual artist’s installations are being presented on the second floor until January.
Hatoum, a London resident, was a finalist for the Turner Prize in 1995 for work shown at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Last year, she was named the Rolf Schock Laureate in Visual Arts by the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts.
The first piece that greeted visitors on opening night was her famous Hot Spot, a three-metre-high, cagelike, stainless-steel globe featuring red-neon continental boundaries. In an interview with the Georgia Straight at the show, Hatoum said that while this planet appears to be elegant and delicate, an audible electrical current conveys a sense of danger and tension. “I feel that hot spots are not anymore limited to disputed border areas,” she said. “For me, it feels like the whole world can be continuously caught up in conflict and war.”
Nearby were four tall, cold-looking, black vertical structures resembling stacked beds without mattresses. Hatoum said that the installation, called Quarters, makes a person think of army barracks or prison cells.
“These are bunk beds, but they look more like shelves or racks, as if people are being organized or controlled in some way by governments or institutions,” she commented. “And this sense of order, when it’s pushed to such an extreme, it becomes dehumanizing.”
In the second room, the theme of incarceration is also on display in Cube, a rust-coloured steel cage. In the same room, Homebound includes a large collection of household objects linked with electricity behind a barbed-wire fence. Hatoum said it hinted at being imprisoned by domesticity or even living under house arrest. “Or, I mean, you could see it as somebody who is being denied the homeland—or the return home,” she added.
Another installation, called Silence, features an empty glass crib made of test tubes, which was created in 1994. “It gives you this feeling of a hospital and some kind of circulation system, but nothing is circulating,” she said.
Rennie told the Straight that he will never sell Silence. “The crib is probably one of the most important pieces in the show,” he said. “Look at that crib. That’s how fragile life is. You don’t need to go any further.”
The final display in the collection is called Misbah, after the Arabic word for lantern. The object casts images of armed military men moving across the surrounding walls. “So it has something very playful about it, but at the same time there is something sinister about the soldiers circulating,” Hatoum pointed out.
Rennie said that he has been collecting Hatoum’s work since 1992, and the two discussed where to place the pieces in the new gallery. The Rennie Collection at Wing Sang will be open on Thursdays by appointment for tours, with interns from Emily Carr University of Art and Design available to describe the pieces. For information, see www.renniecollection.org .