I Want What You've Got, Even In My Sleep (2017) by Emma Hart. All images courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery

How Italian family life inspired this artist

Emma Hart created her new show during a six-month trip, taking in ancient Rome, family therapy - and pottery

Emma Hart’s new show at Whitechapel gallery is called Mamma Mia! In a way, it’s a silly title: a daft, Italian exclamation – which really is used conversationally by Italians and translates directly as ‘my mother’ – now more closely associated with an ABBA song and a jukebox musical.

Yet Mamma Mia! is also an entirely apt title for an exhibition, which takes in Italian culture, families, mothering and motherhood in a far deeper sense.

Hart is a British artist who took up ceramics quite recently, adding clay to her photography, performance and installation pieces. It offered her a way “to reintroduce the messiness of life,” explains our forthcoming book Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art, providing a “‘juncture’between the image, the object and our bodies.”


Emma Hart, Mamma Mia! installation at Whitechapel Gallery (2017) Photo: Thierry Bal
Emma Hart, Mamma Mia! installation at Whitechapel Gallery (2017) Photo: Thierry Bal

And it wasn’t only Emma’s body that made its way into this new show, but also her family’s. Mamma Mia! was created during a six-month residency in Italy. Hart travelled with her family. In Milan she learned about Milan Systems Approach, a highbrow 20th century version of family therapy, which looks at how the structures of familial relations affect our wellbeing.

In the ancient hill town of Todi, Hart took in the majolica, or traditional, patterned, tin-glazed pottery. In Rome she spent time with Katherine Huemoeller, a researcher from Princeton University whose recent investigations focus on family relationships and structures in ancient Rome. In Faenza she worked with the region’s famous ceramicists, creating a ‘family’ of huge ceramic heads, which are placed in the gallery in such a way as to suggest they’re in dialogue with one another.


I, I ,I, I (2017) by Emma Hart
I, I ,I, I (2017) by Emma Hart

Hart says the trip to Italy “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 had the most important time of my art life, and probably also my life.” Mamma Mia!’s strength lies in its blurring of that already blurred division.

For more on Hart’s work as well as many other contemporary ceramicists pre-order a copy of Vitamin C here; and if you would like to collect this artist's work, there are some great pieces available over on Artspace.