Measures of Distance

Mona Hatoum

UK, 1988
16 minutes, Colour, sound
Available formats: DVD / Digibeta tape / SD Digital file

Measures of Distance (1988), a 15-minute video work, tacitly foreshadows Hatoum’s evolution from the more subjective perspective of performance-based work to the sculptures and installations she has produced in the intervening decade. The video’s key footage uses a visual screen of Arabic script — taken from a series of letters between the artist and her mother — that is superimposed over the filmed image of her mother taking a shower. The screen both frames and obscures her mother’s body. In both the literal sense that it was made during a visit home, and in a broader sense as well, Measures of Distance is one of the few examples of Hatoum’s work to employ direct reference to the artist’s exiled condition. Hatoum, a Palestinian born in Beirut in 1952, was stranded in Europe at the outset of civil war in 1975 (the municipal airport in Beirut was closed for nine months), and decided to study art in London, where she has subsequently lived most of her adult life. In the video’s soundtrack, as well as in the graphic image of text layered over flesh, Hatoum explores how degrees of proximity and separation can be conveyed by employing both concrete examples (her mother taking a shower), and more formal abstractions (text, paper, voices, a trip to Beirut).