The Artist Reimagining Trauma with Café Condiments

Pin It
Car CrashCourtesy of Emma Hart

Artist Emma Hart reconfigures the way we remember traumatic experiences by photographing reenactments with salt, pepper and ketchup

Inspired by a high speed collision on the M20 which she witnessed at the age of 18, artist Emma Hart makes work which takes its cues from traumatic experiences – but not in the way you’d expect. The resulting photographic series, named Car Crash, appears relatively benign on first glance, but the serene, pseudo-traditional still lives it contains hide another kind of meaning entirely.

Currently showing in the wonderful gallery-cum-spare room of curator Rose Lejeune, the photographs are, in fact, a tantalising set of images with an unusual background. To create the photographs, Hart took acquaintances who had previously experienced car crashes to pubs and cafés, where she proceeded to talk to them about their ordeals. When they used the items on the table as impromptu models to re-enact the incident, Hart – without warning – would stand on her chair to take a photograph.

The results are completely spontaneous, and yet it’s a testament to Hart’s skill as a photographer that they seem so carefully designed. The most interesting point, however, is the way these objects – cigarette packets, napkins, cups – can be transformed from decorative arrangement to visceral equipment in re-enactments. While on the surface these photographs are beautifully lit, painstakingly composed still lives, they transform at a moment’s notice into records of accidents and collisions.

Hart’s distrust in photography as a truthful record is a recurring theme throughout her practice, which goes some way to explaining the perplexing duality in these images. Paying close attention to various ways in which inanimate objects can be infused with strange meanings simply through their presentation, Hart creates work which succeeds in confronting the unstable realities of photography as a medium head on. 

She believes real experience can be flattened by the camera, and so aims to cause a physical, ‘real’ response in the viewer – and that means making us feel uncomfortable. “I do not want to have an intellectual relationship with art, but a physical one”, she has stated, of this complex process. “I aim to work on an intimate, emotional level with an audience about things that anyone and everyone has access to: trauma, anxiety, and just plain grubby, leaky embarrassment.”

Hart, who currently works in Peckham, was awarded the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award at the end of last year in recognition of her developing career – an honour which was quickly followed up earlier this month when she was awarded the sixth biannual Max Mara Art Prize for Women, which will involve a major solo show at the Whitechapel Gallery later this year.

Emma Hart, Car Crash, runs at Galerie Lejeune until February 28, 2016.