Hirschhorn’s Sculptures as Parallel Narratives to Art Critics’ Perspectives

Since the late 1990s, a series of sculpture practice by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn has aroused continuous attention and discussion in art critics. Among them, the most typical ones are Benjamin HD Buchloh, Pamela M. Lee and Hal Foster from the American “October” (October) ) magazine reviewers interpreted it based on different perspectives. These comments not only expand our understanding of Hirshhorn and his artistic practice, but also their writing itself constitutes a parallel theoretical narrative.

What first aroused Buchloh’s interest was Hirshhorn’s series of “altar” sculptures, that is, “Mondrian’s Altar” (1997), which was created in different spaces in Geneva, Basel, Berlin, and Zurich. “Bachmann’s Altar” (1998), “Freundrich’s Altar” (1998), “Carver’s Altar” (2000). Different from traditional sculptures and altars, Hirschhorn’s “altar” sculpture seems to be a kind of appropriation or simulation of folk mourning ceremonies. Here, he has accumulated candles, photos, signs, plush toys and other extremely everyday and mundane memory objects, and displays them by spontaneously building street shrines, in order to pay tribute to a deceased or victim with an unstable tribute. Therefore, this series of “altars” no longer commemorates a certain collective, but belongs to individuals—whether heroes or civilians; it has no specific place and form, it can be moved, and its form is changeable; No longer eternal and solid, but temporary and unstable. Rather, it is an “altar against an altar.” For the artist, this is just his “a personal commitment from the heart”, he just wants to “make a work for the collective public”, “a work that will never exclude any audience”.

Hirschhorn reminds us that these “altars” were actually inspired by well-publicized accidental deaths such as Gianni Versace’s assassination in front of his Florida mansion, J.F. Kennedy Jr. Tragically killed in a plane crash, former Prime Minister of Sweden Olaf Palme accidentally shot and killed on the streets of Stockholm, and more. It was these events that induced him to create this series of sculptures. However, instead of these stars and politicians, the works were replaced by Mondrian, Bachmann, Freundrich and Carver, etc. Unrelated artists and writers. Not only that, the location of the “altar” is not the place where Mondrian, Bachmann, etc. died or were buried, but a certain art museum or a public space in the city. For example, “The Altar of Mondrian” is displayed at the Center for Contemporary Art in Geneva. This is not a deliberate choice by the artist, just like the accidental death incidents mentioned above and its vague connection, it is also to reflect the randomness of the “altar”. sex and temporary. As for why Mondrian was chosen, it is not because he is so important, but because he is no longer worshiped and has become a historical figure who no longer has any role. Hirschhorn’s aim, therefore, is not to reawaken the adoration of Mondrian, but to reopen, through the participation of the audience, through our memory of him, a re-opening of his understanding, sympathy, and even profanity.

In 2005, in a conversation with Hirshhorn, Buchloh said: “‘The altar is a kind of appropriation of those spontaneous collective actions, but in the process, the audience has invariably transformed its structure.” On the one hand, Hirschhorn “executed only a common social gesture”; on the other hand, “it was the exact opposite of his principle of overaccumulation”. It is at this point that “Altar” has actually gone beyond the simple simulation of social scenes, reflecting his awareness of commodity fetishism. Most of these everyday objects come from garbage dumps or waste collection stations, and they are basically produced in third world countries. In this regard, as a staunch Marxist, Buchlow has already perceived the critical significance of this practice: “From the production in the distant third world countries to the sales in the first world countries, from the production of exchange value to the sale of use value Ephemeral representation, and its imminent disposal as trash in ever-decreasing periods of time, seems to have become the general condition of the commodity that Hirshhorn’s artistic practice emulates.” And in this process, as a participant, the audience “can not only Recognizing the threatening violence pervasive in fetishism also recognizes the grotesque forces at work in this particular cult”.

Interestingly, when Buchloh asked Hirschhorn if he was a Marxist, he replied: “I am. But I would be presumptuous if I said I was a Marxist. As an artist, All I can do is to make my work political, to be responsible for my every action… and to declare myself a Marxist would be to limit myself.” Buchlow was clearly dissatisfied with this answer, but He did not doubt his own judgment. Then, he took the avant-garde artists Rodchenko (Alexander M. Rodchenko) and Kurt Schwitters (Kurt Schwitters) in the early twentieth century as examples, and once again challenged Hirschhorn, pointing out that Hirschhorn “is not as naive as the former It is not like the latter who is concerned with the memory space generated by historical relics and their sense of obsolete, but in the third position, that is, a position that not only creates mockery and subversion, but also arouses historical reflection “. Hirschhorn did not deny, but did not give a positive explanation, but said: “Rodchenko made me realize for the first time that failure is not a problem; Schwitters has always been a lonely figure, he has always stuck to his ideals, and A position that rejects all pain and continues.” This also implies that for Hirschhorn, the true left is not so much a critical position as an inner state of life, in a sense, so to speak. He does not recognize any external framing and ideological naming of him. And this point, later in Pamela Lee’s related reviews, especially in the book “Forgetting the Art World” (Forgetting the Art World), has been fully elaborated.

In 1984, Hirschhorn, who had just graduated from the Zurich Academy of Applied Arts, happily came to Paris and joined the well-known local international graphic design studio Grapus (Grapus). As a result, as soon as he entered, he discovered that this was actually a design collective with a Stalinist tinge, and it had been allied with the French Communist Party as early as its establishment. He has no objection to this. What really makes him uncomfortable is the hierarchy within the studio, especially the marketing strategy of politics as a commodity, so he only stayed for a few hours before choosing to leave. Such a position did not gradually change until after the 1990s. With the end of the Cold War and the advent of globalization, Hirschhorn had a more personal understanding of the logic of global capitalism, and even had to make the necessary “compromise”, as he said, “I want my works to adapt to this world”, because “you can’t be smarter than capital, capital always wins”.

Pamela Lee keenly captures this point and finds that Hirschhorn’s creative practice has aroused a series of our imaginations about globalization in the past two decades. Here, “we were shocked by the crazy accumulation of degraded media (such as cardboard, aluminum foil, printed matter, packaging tape, etc.), and we were equally shocked by the violent collision caused by his works.” It was this “mess” (mes s) that stimulated Pamela Lee and made her realize that the focus of this series of practices lies not in its form and ideas to be expressed, but in its unique creative logic, that is, its Not only is it synchronous and parallel to the process of globalization, but it has also been internalized in this process. Therefore, in her eyes, there is no longer an “art world” independent of the real world in the era of globalization, and the “art world” is the real world. For Hirschhorn, the significance of this series of sculptures lies in the fact that they are not only subordinate to the logic of globalization, but also the logic of globalization itself. More importantly, they also constitute an internal method and motivation to respond to globalization.

How to understand this – immanence or inner way, Pamela Lee cites an important intellectual resource – Spinoza and his theory. The reason why Spinoza was introduced is also because he appeared in Hirshhorn’s works very early and more than once. The “Spinoza Monument” created in the Red Light District of Amsterdam in 1999 was Spinoza’s first entry into Hirschhorn’s creation. This three-meter-high and five-meter-long “monument” is tailor-made for the group exhibition “Midnight Walkers and Urban Sleepers”. The “monument” was built next to a sex shop and on the other side against the canal. At the base of the sculpture is a composite video work, scattered around some of Spinoza’s writings, including excerpts from a photocopy of the Ethics. Red and green banners were waved at the exhibition site, the red one representing “desire” and the green one representing “reason” – these are also two important concepts of Spinoza’s philosophy. The monument is lit by neon tubes, and its electricity comes from a nearby sex shop. Unfortunately, due to various “interventions”, the work was withdrawn after two weeks of display.

Ten years later, Hirschhorn revisited the philosopher in a different form in the Bijlmer neighborhood in southeast Amsterdam. Here he did not rebuild a monument, but created a “stage”, a “festival”. The “monuments”, “stages” and “festivals” here are all products of globalization, and they are also symptoms of globalization. He hopes that more people will participate in dialogues, debates, questions, greetings, and chats to their heart’s content, and get rid of all prejudices of class, gender, race, and identity. However, the purpose of the artist is not to activate the audience. In his view, this kind of disguised liberation is unnecessary. He hopes that the audience will become the subject of the work, rather than a performer. Only under this premise can “equality, controversy, truth, and universality make sense.” According to Claire Bishop, Hirschhorn is not making political art (make pol it ical art), but making art politically. So, what exactly does politics mean here?

Since the late 1960s, Spinoza has been rediscovered by French left-wing thinkers represented by the Althusser School and Deleuze. Different from the “monist rationalist metaphysics” interpretation that has always been in the past, in the eyes of the French left, Spinoza’s thought is a materialistic dynamic. Deleuze found in Spinoza “the configuration of a common immanent plane on which all bodies, minds, and individuals lie.” In this plane, the movement of things and the relationship between things depend on a principle of “force”. Negri and Hardt believe that this force is “the mul ti tude”. The “Multiple” was a point of debate in the Italian “Workerism” and “Autonomy Movements” of the 1960s and 1970s. But here, it becomes an ongoing force within the global capitalist system. If “empire” is a globalization process led by capitalism, then there is no longer any global “outside” and there is no “Archimedes point” from which globalization can be viewed. Revolutions do not take place outside the empire, but within it. What Hirschhorn’s sculpture practice provides us is such a continuous political action parasitic within globalization.

Admittedly, this radical immanent revolution endowed artists with drive and momentum, but it cannot deny the existence of speculative production. Pamela Lee has long realized that in the era of globalization, with the changes in the geopolitical situation, especially the rise of oligarchy, “forgetting the art world” may turn into a “bloody” moment at any time, and the “many” Will also be involved in another more brutal war. In this regard, neither Buchlow’s critique of fetishism nor Pamela Lee’s immanent revolution will become helpless. The crisis of globalization itself means that, instead of becoming an opportunity for liberation and revolution, it is engulfing art and everything else, falling into a state of “dying” emergency. This is exactly where Foster focused his attention. In 2015, in the book “Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency” (Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency), he dedicated a chapter to discuss this in depth. In his opinion, how to reveal and amplify such a “dying” emergency is the significance of Hirschhorn’s sculpture practice.

Different from the perspectives of Benjamin Buchlow and Pamela Lee, what touched Forster was not a certain (series) of Hirschhorn’s works, but a word he frequently used—“Précaire” (Précaire). ). It is worth mentioning that in Buchlow and Pamela Lee’s text, we find almost no such word or related discussion. And Foster not only sharply pointed out the trap of fetishism criticism, but also criticized the ruthless absorption and exquisite packaging of all revolutions by neoliberalism.

In 2004, Hirschhorn implemented the Musée Précaire Albinet project in the suburb of Aubervilliers, northeast of Paris. This is a (temporary) museum, which contains “opening ceremony”, “exhibition”, “children’s workshop”, “writing workshop”, “conversation”, “art history seminar”, “group meal”, “demolition”, etc. as a museum in All necessary aspects of operation. Here, Hirschhorn hopes to give “dying” a form, and replaces the negative and demagogic “instability” with “dying” and “vulnerability”, and advocates a positive “instability”. For him, “instability” itself is the precious value of the fragility of life and the universal form of life.

In the “Altar” series, the impoverished “shrines” mentioned by Hirshhorn may be dismantled at any time, and they are as fragile as the lives of the aforementioned Versace, Kennedy Jr., Palme and others. Therefore, the “altar” here is also a kind of “dangerous thing”. In comparison, his four “philosopher monuments” are more typical, namely “Spinoza Monument”, “Deleuz Monument” (2000), “Bataille Monument” (2002 ), “Gramsci Monument” (2013). In addition to the shape of the work, the work and the place where it is located are also in a kind of fragility and anxiety. They were placed in the red-light district of Amsterdam, the North African district of Avignon, the local Turkish community in Kassel, and a mixed-use community with predominantly African-American and Latino-American roots in the Bronx, New York City. . Such a choice is obviously intentional, and its purpose is to convey and amplify some kind of anxiety, tension and crisis. This is not only reflected in the four revolutionary and destructive radical philosophers who have influenced him and still affects him today, but also in his strict requirements on where his works are made or displayed, especially the latter, which makes his practice and Nicolas Bourriaud’s “relational aesthetics” (relational aesthetics) opened the distance.

“Dying,” Foster said, is a “precariat” situation. Therefore, the “danger” here is not just used to describe the external form of the “altar” and “monument”. For Hirshhorn, globalization (empire) under the leadership of neoliberalism is the real “danger”. . But he “doesn’t want to seek solidarity with this ‘precarious thing'” but just wants to “give the dying thing a form” in order to “prove the fragility of life”. Moreover, his use of the word “dying” itself has a sense of mourning and accusation.

Foster’s book “The Future Is Not Good: Art, Criticism, Emergencies” was published in 2015. A year later, Trump was successfully elected as the forty-fifth president of the United States, and soon launched a series of radical reform measures. These measures not only accelerated the decline of globalization, but also confirmed Hirshhorn and Foster’s “moribund” warning. As a companion piece to “The Future Is Not Good”, “What’s After the Farce?” will be published in 2020. —What Comes after Farce? Art and Criticism at a Time of Debacle revisits how artists are responding to current crises of war, surveillance, extreme inequality, and media interference. In Foster’s view, whether it is the abuse of trauma, paranoia and kitsch since 9/11, or the neoliberal transformation of art institutions during this period, including “machine vision”, “operating images” and Advanced information algorithms, etc., are exacerbating the “dying” state of the world. In this regard, the resistance of art and its politics—to be precise, what artists can do is to reveal and present this “dying” state to the world as much as possible.

From fetishism to “empire” to “endangered objects”, from external criticism to internal revolution and then to crisis warning, this constitutes a political and philosophical narrative about Hirschhorn’s sculpture practice. Differences of views and differences of thought among the three “October scholars” of La Li and Foster. Buchloh sharply pointed out the “radical democratic intention” and fetishism criticism in Hirshhorn’s works, and his Marxism also provides us with an important reason to reflect on globalization and neo-liberalism; Pamela Lee’s writing experience After the financial crisis in 2008, although she has realized that globalization is irreversible, she still believes that Hirschhorn’s Spinozaism has opened a path of inner revolution; It is not optimistic. His writing was completed when globalization was in decline. It can be said that he started from an urgent sense of crisis from the very beginning. Perhaps because of this, Hearst’s sculpture became an early warning of the “dying danger” of globalization.

In the process, Pamela Lee denied Buchlow’s Marxist position, arguing that such a criticism is actually a manifestation of “incompetence”; Foster pointed out that fetish criticism and “many” No revolution can shake the foundations of globalization (empire), because the latter foundations are on the verge of “precariousness” on their own. However, the differences belong to the differences, and they are both “October” scholars. After all, they are still in a big theoretical camp. Therefore, looking at it from another angle, there seems to be no fundamental contradiction between the three. It can be said that Hirschhorn’s sculpture is not only a huge “altar” of fetishism, but also a globalization (empire) full of crises and revolutionary opportunities, and even those “dying” moments that may or have come to us at any time.

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