Whitechapel Gallery (Gallery 2)
London, UK
12 July – 3 September 2017 

The Whitechapel Gallery presents a major exhibition by London-based artist Emma Hart (b. 1974) for the sixth edition of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, a biannual award established in 2005 to champion women artists in the UK. The Prize is a collaboration between the Collezione Maramotti, Max Mara and the Whitechapel Gallery.

Hart’s new large-scale installation titled Mamma Mia! is the result of a six month bespoke residency which started in June 2016 and was divided between three Italian cities: Milan, Todi and Faenza. Hart presents a family of large ceramic heads, suggesting a dialogue with one other. Each sculpture is jug-like in shape: the spout mimics a nose and the opening a mouth. Produced by the artist in Faenza alongside ceramic artisans, each sculpture is glazed incorporating motifs, such as the speech bubble. The interior space of the heads is filled with vivid patterns, designed and hand-painted by Hart after researching the designs and practice of the Italian tradition of maiolica.

Emma Hart’s new work is the culmination of an investigation into pattern: visual patterns, and patterns of psychological behaviour, how to design then rupture these and the ruminations in between. The space between viewer and object is key, as ever in Hart’s work, and is charged with the artist’s particularly personal take on her experiences in Italy: the heat, light and colour, language and family dynamics in an unfamiliar setting.

Throughout the residency, which was tailored to her practice and interests, Hart had access to lessons about the Milan Systems Approach, a systemic and constructivist method of family therapy at the Scuola Mara Selvini Palazzoli which involves physical re-enactments and the study of repeated actions. In Rome, Hart visited funerary monuments with Katherine Huemoeller, a researcher from Princeton University whose recent investigations has led Huemoeller to focus on gaining an understanding of family relationships and structures in ancient Rome. In Todi, Umbria, Hart discovered maiolica, traditional Italian tin-glazed pottery which provoked her to create the patterns in her work before ending her residency in Faenza where she began consolidating her research and experimenting with new ceramic techniques.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated publication, with guest contributions from writer Craig Burnett, Eisler Curator and Head of Curatorial Studies Daniel F. Herrmann, writer Marinella Paderni and guest curator Bina von Stauffenberg.

The exhibition continues to Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, from 14 October 2017. The work will also be presented as part of an exhibition of Hart’s new work at Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh in spring 2018.

Emma Hart makes work that captures the confusion, stress and nausea of everyday experience. Always in pursuit of real life, real feelings, Hart uses ceramics to create claustrophobic installations that engage the viewer physically and emotionally, or in the form of smaller works which come for the viewer. There are frequent verbal and visual spillages, and Hart’s use of clay is often corporeal, forming approximate body parts that act as substitutes for human action and employment.

On 9 March 2017, as part of the Prize, Hart was joined by writer Stefan Golaszewski in conversation with Judith Carlton (Director at CGP London): together they discussed being human, strangers and making work. By inviting Golaszewski into a discussion across art forms, they explored some of the shared characteristics of their work – from realism to the dark humour of the everyday.

Emma Hart was selected as the winner of the sixth Max Mara Art Prize for Women by a panel chaired by Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, joined by Fiona Bradley, Director of the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh; Sarah Elson, Collector
and Founder of Launch Pad, a commissioning series supporting emerging artists; Helen Sumpter, Editor at Art Quarterly; and Artist and Royal Academician Alison Wilding.

Emma Hart said: “I have had the most important time of my art life, and probably also my life. Being in Italy has opened me up to many new possible ways of working (and living), and allowed me to push my ideas through an Italian filter. I have started to make my most significant artwork to date, whilst also making fantastic friends. It has been magnifico.”