Made of glass, this life-size crib threatens any child in its care with shattering collapse and inevitable injury. In spite of its title, neither the crib nor the child would be likely to remain silent for long. The translucent glass tubes evoke medical paraphernalia and the human circulatory system; Hatoum has an ongoing interest in the vulnerability of the body. She has said, "I see furniture as being very much about the body. It is usually about giving it support and comfort," but Silence is part of a series of furniture pieces the artist made which are more hostile than comforting. Here, as in much of her work, Hatoum seeks to strike a balance "between beauty and danger."
Gallery label from 2013.
Mona Hatoum first became known for performance and video works that involved a quality of ordeal or actual danger, and that sometimes more or less plainly examined the quality of lives permeated by war, as in the Middle East. (Hatoum was born and grew up in Lebanon, her parents Palestinian exiles.) When she began making sculpture, often adapting the Minimalism that she had absorbed as a London art student, Hatoum retained her feeling for the physical vulnerability of the human body. And so it is with Silence, a crib that would threaten the child it protected: any slight shock and the baby would lie in broken glass.
Ethereally translucent and delicate, an empty cage, Silence is a whole that implies its own destruction into fragments, and an ear–shattering crash—the antithesis of the work's title. There is also a resonance of the hospital (subject of other art by Hatoum), in that the glass comes in the form of tubing, evoking medical paraphernalia, and also the body's circulatory system; but once again, the idea that this rigid, frighteningly brittle structure—ungainly on its tall and narrow legs, and made of the most fragile material—should be associated with the tender human shell creates a sense of dread. Whatever the associations of Silence, they seem to share this threatening unease.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 347.