Emma Hart’s ‘Dirty Looks’ at Camden Arts Centre

Emma Hart: Dirty Looks


With just a few days of Emma Hart’s exhibition Dirty Looks at Camden Arts Centre to go – grab the chance to see her work if you can. British artist Emma Hart presents Dirty Looks, a series of new sculptural works combining ceramics, photography and video. Reflecting on her experience of working in a call centre in her early twenties, Dirty Looks serves up a cacophony of noise, imagery and ceramic objects. Chipboard cupboards with lopsided drawers, agitated service industry supplies and a homemade water cooler litter the space. Discomfort manifests itself in crudely made ceramic tongues, pulling open doors, escaping from furniture.


This exhibition held my attention all summer – something about its insistence on a lived experience being brought into the unreal and often rarified gallery world that was surprisingly compelling.

Emma Hart’s insists on finding a way to push through the veneer of digital production (and of the art world generally) into life itself. Through offering a fractured experience – of sculpture, image, sound and autobiography – room for a fuller experience is created. She takes on the unreal, interpreted world of art and demands that it can be part of a lived, authentic experience. Sometimes it’s almost as if Hart is prepared to wrestle the art world to the ground to make this happen.

I also can’t help admiring Emma Hart for being brave enough to try new approaches – for recognising that the excitement you get when attempting something afresh will make the art energetic in a way that refined, tried and tested techniques struggle with. Last winter when we exhibited Emma Hart’s M20 Death Drive at Art Exchange, I had a feeling that her work being shown in close proximity to Alfred Wallis’s (on show in the room next door),  would reveal something, but wasn’t sure what. Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood’s fascination with Alfred Wallis was for the immediacy of his work – no other artist can match him in commanding a sense of being at sea and his un-tutored, unselfconscious  art was hugely refreshing, especially in 1920s Britain. With Emma Hart’s recent move into making sculptures – particularly in Dirty Looks when using clay for the first time – she too have created a language that is visceral and immediate.

Then of course, there’s also the fact that shouldn’t be underestimated – Emma Hart’s work is funny. Tongues levering up tiles, efficiently hold down paper on clip boards, or opening cupboards and doors. It is hilarious as they splutter out copies from a ceramic Xerox machine or calmly take their place on the dining room table holding napkins in order. But they also unnerve; over muscular, over confident slugs let loose from containment. They are so viscerally demanding as they show no embarrassment at being part of the everyday – there’s certainly no denying the ‘real’.

I can’t help loving Emma for trying to change the art world’s rules of engagement. This exhibition is fractured, disturbing, funny, has moments of beauty and is at times overwhelming. Like life itself.

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