Mona Hatoum @ White Cube Mason’s Yard 25.02.11-02.04.11 25.03.11 – 13.15pm

A swing invokes memories of childhood and playground fun in the majority of us, but what about a room full of them? This is what greets you upon entering the ground levels gallery of this emotionally engaged exhibition of new work by Mona Hatoum. Over thirty sets of ominous metal chains hang down to discomforting presence as you negotiate the room, weaving in between the small spaces between each swing. As you pass, you realise that the seat of each swing, a deep crimson red, is carved with an aerial ‘street view’ map. All of these carvings are layouts of capital cities. In the vast basement gallery, Hatoum has constructed a beautiful architectural landscape out of large and quite frankly, ugly metallic rectangular containers. These rectangular shapes are stacked high in various towering positions and have corners that have been welded off creating a worn effect.

Working with the coldness and solidness of the material, Hatoum very cleverly has created an environment which is revealed to have been modeled on her place of birth Beirut. Via these two highly impressive installations, Hatoum has used the gallery environment to create a sense of atmosphere playing with the literal white cube gallery on the ground floor which is aggressively cut up by the black chains and the vibrant red of the benches. The lighting downstairs is dimmed creating a sense of dusk that engulfs this empty city. A third series of works shows maps of Baghdad and Kabul on tressel tables with delicate circular cuts to may or may not signify movement or a bomb blast. It is Hatoum’s expertly crafted allusions that make this exhibition so strong, whether it be the direct effects of war or the constant movement and tension between capitals and diplomatic relationships.

Nancy Spero @ The Serpentine 03.03.11-01.05.11 25.03.11 – 11.50am

This is the first dedicated exhibition of Nancy Spero’s work In England since her death in 2009. With a career spanning over fifty years, Spero established herself as a key feminist artist whose social conscience and political activism was evident by the language that she engineered within her work. Collage plays an integral part of this language. Spero used it to construct a sense of disorder and conflict via markmaking, text and paper. This Serpentine exhibition presents a wide range of Spero’s work covering early 1960′s text works that trace her use of the female form, historical symbolism and found imagery to the 2008 piece Maypole Take No Prisoners that is a maypole that spews out ribbons with prints of severed heads at the end. Azur (2002) is a powerhouse work impressively showcasing Spero’s manipulation of print techniques in a gallery that seemed purpose built to showcase the piece. Yet it is Maypole that sets the barometer for this exhibition, immediately confronting the viewer with Spero’s unflinchingly idiosyncratic technique and punchy weighty context.