Freudian slips: the secrets hidden inside Emma Hart's ceramic art

By Hettie Judah

Venus flytraps, socks with mouths and giant heads … as the artist's new show Mamma Mia! opens, she tells us about putting therapy into clay

At Emma Hart's studio, two assistants are helping the artist with last-minute touches to graphic patterns inside a group of outsized ceramic heads. The heads appear to be consuming them as they lean deep inside, torches strapped to their foreheads, delicate paintbrushes in hand. In a little over a week, the finished works will be moved to London's Whitechapel Gallery where they'll be strung from the ceiling like lamps: the centrepiece of Mamma Mia!, Hart's show as laureate of the biennial Max Mara art prize for women.

Formed, fired and glazed in Italy, during Hart's six-month residency for the prize, the heads show the influence of time spent both in professional ceramics studios, and as an observer in a centre for family therapy. “Both are driven by patterns,” Hart explains. “The psychiatrist is trying to unravel human behavioural patterns, and the studio to generate a visual pattern.”

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