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An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn Author(s): Benjamin H. D. Buchloh Source: October, Vol. 113 (Summer, 2005), pp.

77-100 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 07/04/2011 00:31
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An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn*


Benjamin Buchloh: Whenever I see a work of yours, a typical art historian's question comes to mind: Who was more important for you, Warhol or Beuys? Thomas Hirschhorn: Those were the two artists I discovered for myself in the late 1970s. From 1978 to about 1983 I attended the School of Applied Arts in Zurich, and in 1978-79, each had a one-man show, Beuys at the Kunstmuseum and Warhol at the Kunsthaus Zurich. They were equally important; I could say that both were in fact my teachers, though I never studied under them. Buchloh: What you learned from them was to resolve the apparent contradiction between Warhol's insistence on an aesthetic of technical reproduction and Beuys's continuous evocation of an individual and intense materiality, a kind of secularized magic? Hirschhorn: Absolutely. What I like tremendously about the work of Beuys-beyond the his social engagement, of course, which led to defeats as we know-is fact that he revolutionized the idea of sculpture by introducing materials like felt, fat, and conducting materials such as copper that had never been used before. And he did all of that together with his shamanism, which I take seriously as a form of artistic expression. Buchloh: But you don't adopt the role of the artist as shaman for yourself? Hirschhorn: Not at all. Quite the contrary. But I find it highly interesting as an artistic tactic. Both Beuys and Warhol outed themselves as artists at a relatively late age, or at least didn't do so in their earliest years. Warhol is for me by no means the apparent opposite of Beuys. Having myself come out of a school for applied arts, and initially having planned to become a graphic designer, I see Warhol's work as something impossible to surpass. He continued to be an illustrator and a designer, and although he conformed to the time in which he lived, his expression was highly critical. Buchloh: Is that what Europeans still think? Do you really see his work as critical? Hirschhorn: Fine. Youlive in America. I believe it is. And, of course, what impresses


This interview was transcribed by Philipp Angermeyer and translated by Russell Stockman.

OCTOBER 2005, pp. 77-100. ? 2005 BenjaminH. D. Buchloh. 113, Summer

In your work. but I also admire these artists precisely because they were so radical and so fully engaged in their work. and no longer had anything at all to do with the radically democratic intent with which he started out. as a producer of advertising. Warhol ended up where he began. And on the other. and the semblance of equality in the last few decades. yet it is further radicalized and still more secularized. one could say that in If Warhol. On the one hand. articulate a continuous criticism of reification. the fact that he was constantly talking. in Beuys. yet with a newly invigorated critical radicality. we have glamour and design as seduction. As for Beuys." . Buchloh:Both artists were originally engaged in a form of radical democratization. "I love Joseph Beuys and I love Andy Warhol. Hirschhorn: That is what I have tried to learn from Warhol and Beuys. These are two very contradictory approaches. American: he gave forms to things and shoved them in the public's face. by contrast-clearly more American-took its point of departure in the populist utopianism that had been delivered in America by commercial design and consumer culture. Warhol's. I would say that his promises of "art by all" were increasingly undermined precisely by his cultic stance. a transformation of a different kind. we have magic and transubstantiation in the shamanistic tradition. after a few years have passed. it affirms the need for communicative structures that appeal to as many participants as possible. Fetishism and seduction. advertising and design (which in the end became merely a new style in Warhol) are again deployed in your work. Now. Hirschhorn: Warhol'sproduction is perfectly simple. democratization.78 OCTOBER me about both of these figures-as human beings-is their extreme engagement with their art. With Beuys it is not primarily the mysticism that intrigues me. It was essentially a total deification of a single artist. He didn't see art as something sacred but as a contribution to the ongoing discussion. one responds to their work critically. Buchloh: one would describe the contrast a bit schematically. Hirschhorn: Correct. Buchloh: Then one can say that you have changed their specific positions radically. and instead of relying on magic and suggesting mystical transformation. yet after all they concretize the very structures in which most of us have experienced secularization. approaching people. carrying on conversations. I learned that from Joseph Beuys. these two opposing strategies find a quite remarkable synthesis:you perform the travestyof glamour and seduction. if perhaps wrongly so. That is why I can say. if not attempts at redemption. And on the other side. your work emphatically affirms the need for industrial production as a model for artistic production. clear. what moves me is his continuous appeal to the public. Obviously Beuys's model originated in the aftermath of trauma and some forms of religious substitution. I would say that this dialectic of cult and consumption is one of the foundations of your work as well.

And of course where one sees the limits of the work one sees that he is in a conflict. and they can only go along with it because they work in that museum and are obliged to wear these vests. reductivist. How did you reverse their positions and return to a position that is very much concerned with material production? Hirschhorn: I could now simply lean back and somewhat high-handedly produce an answer to your question. or not being an artist. for example? Or does it? Buchloh: Where does the radicality end and where does the design begin? Hirschhorn: Precisely. but because I was so caught up in the very idea of being an artist. or a critical rejection of. I had to turn away from it. Because his work is so totally designed. that project is a logical continuation of his ideas. Naturally I had a problem with the excesses of design. that I never even considered this question of institutional critique at all. And I found that conflict in the work of Buren. and not to say purist. Not because I knew nothing about them. for example: on the one hand. But I would say that because of the Minimalist design quality of their work. . theirs. since I have to say in all honesty that I totally blocked out the generation that preceded me. To bring those elements into critical focus struck you as much more pressing and urgent than the critique of museums? Hirschhorn: That is totally correct. I don't wish to do this. especially Lawrence Weiner's work engaged in the most precise contestation of traditional materializations of art. Here we must confront the question of the individual and of free choice. design qualities that eventually became evident in Conceptual art? Would those not have provoked you. But. people come into the picture. Daniel Buren's work at some point performed the most the museum. the museum was important to me. I speak only of him because he is the most radical. namely the Conceptual artists? I have frequently wondered whether their project of institutional critique was important to you. For example. In the work in which he makes museum guards wear striped vests. most important. I could criticize these approaches to institutional critique on the part of Daniel Buren. polymorph materials and impure structures? Hirschhorn: Of course.An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn 79 Buchloh: That brings me to the next question: How do you relate to the generation that preceded you. That was not a problem for me. because I know what corporate identity is. On the other. and I noticed them fairly early. I never shared the notion of a critique of institutions. And it would be highly inappropriate now if I were to look back and say that my art was a reaction to. it suddenly raises utterly strange questions: Where does the design end. That is obvious. Buchloh: I suppose you refer to the highly stylized. and I know what advertising is. design. and cannot. and determined your response to be one of chaotic. such as advertising. and commodity culture. and radical critique of existing institutions. Buchloh: So one could argue that you turned away from the critique of institutions because it seemed more important to you to focus on other elements of discourse. As I said.

and that has always been highly interesting to me. Because you want to display something and make something clear. was the most advanced sculptural orthodoxy. For example. around Pop art conventions (such as Dan Graham). instead of instituYour work. in which all of these questions were approached in a wholly new way: What makes sculpture public? What could nowadays be called specific about the site of sculpture? What are the proper materials for sculpture? What are the different discourses that can be addressed by the experience of sculpture? And perhaps most important. organized by Kasper Koenig in Miinster. he opened the question of 1. Furthermore. I am interested in how things are displayed because I actually find that display is a form of physical experience. I like going to museumsarchaeological. transcends even the most tional. It was incredible. sculptural reason. . namely site-specificity. And museums make very important contributions. Was it a painting or a relief? Was it a collage or an object? Was it an installation? Can you take it with you? Can you dismantle it? Can you throw it away? Do you have to collect it? This was an incredibly radical attack on what.80 OCTOBER Naturally I want to change the museum. One needs time and space to present and display. radical changes that occurred on the level of materials and morphologies in Pop and post-Minimalist sculpture. you repositioned sculpture at a level of crude banality and tawdry cheapness that would have scared most of the artists of the precedmuch as they might have wished to orient themselves ing generation. That was one of the first shocks that your work triggered in me when I saw your Skulptur Sortier Station pavilion in Mfinster in 1997. how monuments were designed during the DDR period. Hirschhorn's SkulpturSortierStation was first installed in the international exhibition Sculpture Projects. Furthermore. I find that definition and usage of space very important. at that point in the late 1970s. Buchloh: Let's move to the question of a criticism of sculptural. I recall one exhibition. I also go to museums for a formal reason. You opened the production of sculpture to other realms of experience that post-Minimalist sculpture had totally shut out. I would like to see museums open twenty-four hours with free admission all the time. can historical reflection be one of them? Hirschhorn: Just so that we keep everything in mind: I said earlier that Beuys opened up for me this issue of materials in his attack on the rigidity of traditional sculptural materials. or for an artistic. I remember visiting the museums in the eastern sector two or three times. namely the realm of the everyday and the memory of history. local history. those were the most beautiful exhibitions I've seen. that did not necessarily have to be preserved. you want to give space and time to that experience of the display. conventions. as sculpture. natural history museums. after the Berlin Wall came down. Suddenly you came along and undermined all of that by using materials that were seemingly interchangeable. Germany in 1997. No one knew at first what your work actually was.1 For me that was one of your most important works.

It is rather that when you transfer a plan or a sketch into the third dimension. the fact that in the Skulptur Sortier Station-along with the corporate logos of Mercedes. That is what I want to make a sculpture with: the thinking and conceiving. They claim they have no jobs. and volume are simply not behind it any longer. it naturally addresses the viewers-quite directly in fact. with mystical processes. right? Journalists demonstrate because somebody wants to impose a ban on reporting. my own work is in it. the sketch. Although they had appeared earlier in your work. By contrast. just like the protesters that we see in demonstrations. it is some kind of homemade thing that someone created. and gave a form to that material. Buchloh: And why is that translation into the third dimension desirable? Hirschhorn: It's not that it is desirable. or with shapes representing something. I never saw them as clearly: the astonishing fact that your work as sculpture turned again and again to actual history. but I don't want to create any volumes." I only want to work in the third dimension-to conceive sculpture out of the plan. and also changes its very substance. form. So it is not only somehow an enlarged logo. my idea was that I wanted to make sculpture out of a plan. When I first made sculptures such as the Skulptur Sortier Station. . I said to myself. What I have tried to do is to put together different elements. "I want to make sculpture. This is how their work addresses itself directly to the viewer. forms. for introduce a sudden glimpse of the DegenerateArt exhibition of example-you 1937 with the replica of the sculpture of Rudolf Haizmann. Buchloh: And does it address itself to the viewers' demands ? Or does it merely address the concept of sculpture? Hirschhorn: No. with the spirit. I started quite simply with these logos. into a sculpture: Would that qualify as an example? Hirschhorn: Exactly. You have a plan. the idea. out of the second dimension. where some group is protesting with signs or logos. it becomes an altogether different proposition. Rather. because these ideas of mass. so they fasten tape over their mouths. a feature that differentiates your work and sets it apart from previous generations of sculptors. and then create it in the third dimension. and it simply has nothing to do with the notion of sculpture. it is a sculpted logo.An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn 81 sculptural function with his idea of social sculpture. Voila. Buchloh: The Skulptur Sortier Station revealed two dimensions to me quite dramatically. so that they take on a substance that one can translate simply and directly. I also wanted to generate a certain resistance. and photographs. although you might now say it's not a great deal. so they nail coffins together. pictures. But at the same time. for example. Buchloh: Transforming an industrial logo. of course. That is still important to me. For example. because there is also work behind it. That additional dimension is the work. the various plans and the planning. I didn't remotely want to enter a dimension that had anything to do with either nature or with the esoteric.

which concerns the typology Your of your sculptures. It is a statement about what one finds important." about whom I really meant it." difference to stress: the work for Robert Walser is a kiosk. are relatively diverse in certain choices. whose forms are familiar.5 the American writer. Your work suddenly transported the spectator back into history.. . This third dimension has nothing to do with the form of a sculpture but with some other form. as a person. Or on "immortal" art. Raymond Carver (1938-1988)." the artists for whom you built altars. That is my artistic responsibility. as an artist. as a loner.82 OCTOBER Throughout the 1960s and 1970s it was practically unthinkable that one could encounter a historical dimension or reflection in sculpture. and one for Otto Freundlich. committed himself to an asylum in order to be able to write. Some of them. discovered by Walter Benjamin and considered as a naive counterfigure to Franz Kafka. Progressivists Group and later the group Abstraction/Creation in Paris before he was deported by the Nazi Occupation forces in Vichy France. and Bachmann is probably the least known of the three now. Yet you do not simply pay homage to figures of the past.I made a "kiosk. difficult. perished in the Maidanek concentration camp. and I want to do that. of course I can say something about it. 4. to the political history of art. unusual figures in the history of modernism. member of the Cologne 2. ways but in others are quite specific. Austrian novelist and poet. that even actively tries to suppress and eradicate it as much as possible. tragic artists. back. Of course. All three were highly complex. an attack. Hirschhorn: Absolutely. Buchloh:This brings us straight to the next question. one for Ingeborg Bachmann. in quotes-question mark. important early painter of abstraction. major figure of postwar German literature. Robert Walser (1887-1956). And then there is something else that I want: it is. on architecture. 3. That can't be mere coincidence. it isn't a matter of history. Mondrian is in a sense a marginal figure as well. "I love you. exclamation point. it was a real commitment. more precisely. of course. And on the other Otto Freundlich (1878-1943). But on the other hand this engagement is also . a conscious one.2 Robert Walser. I selected figures about whom I could really say. Otto Freundlich. you seem to want to facilitate a form of historical recollection in a present that no longer has any desire for historical memory. or on art in public space.3and Ingeborg Bachmann4 are very fragile. And I am making that statement in forms that aren't my own because I feel altars are something we know. Could you say something about those choices. like Walser and Freundlich. where she died in a fire in her home. 5. were relatively unknown figures. one for Piet Mondrian. the Swiss novelist and author of short stories. or were they simply personal selections? Hirschhorn:No. and one type in particular that you call your "altars. Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973). from the early sixties on lived in Rome.. or on art in buildings. But I should add that I That is an important didn't make an altar for Robert Walser. There are four altars: one for Raymond Carver. American author who described the life of the lower middle class struggling to survive in the intensifying competition of postwar consumer culture.

^ --" ""vi 'flIi2 r i7 ThomasHirschhorn. Gallery. .^teh irder tk. Extract from thepublication33 Expositions dans l'espace public. Ingeborg Bachmann altar. 1998-1999 (Zurich:Schweizerische 1998). 1998.i-FnsQs42) ^flk . Graphische Gesellschaft. ? ThomasHirschhorn1998. t au rAtfh> ee#? 4 . Courtesy Gladstone New York.An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn 83 Ri <<I7l?c tW nI>lt7 71t( r ? ^r <L59 I twu<.t ^ ff.:) d Fre S.

For example. I respect his work. Hirschhorn: Absolutely.. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery. With Mondrian you don't end up with a star cult either. I find reading Meine Schriften by Otto Freundlich really amazing. There is room inside and out. -A l f ES ." Do you understand? That's something I cannot say. : . He is too rigid. It doesn't work. and one is reminded of the difficulties of their situations. and of what these artists were actually engaged with. or six.. important. I agree. or too low-maintenance. But I can't say that. But I could not say. even though I wished of course that there could have been more. and had to live through. if one actually gets to know Ingeborg Bachmann. again.. You have developed a very precise typology. Buchloh: His work has. . Because. achieved such a position of authority and total acceptance. In that sense. I am only making four monuments. By contrast. Within that. les : " I : ii': * . and related question. your altars and kiosks set a certain process of recollection in motion with the figures that you foreground.. it is like a sheet of paper. four is enough. : Al + |A t - . and that's why I selected only these four figures.: . Rather. Yet your efforts at a resuscitation of their memory does not aim at a new cult of these artists. one gains a more complex understanding modernist history.. of course.les politiques (Geneva: Centre genevoisde gravure 1995). publicationLes plantifs. "I love Picasso. I suppose. Photo:Nadia Rhabi.84 OCTOBER hand. ? ThomasHirschhorn1995. you're right. It could in fact have been seven. Buchloh: That brings up an additional. I selected them because of the tragic nature of their lives. or one gets to know Robert Walser or Otto of our supposedly Freundlich. contemporaine. when I have a plan and it has four corners. but I wanted it to be like a limitation of a plan. could you demarcate bates.New York.

A kiosk was simply a small place where information could be found about this artist. And then there were two more-Emil Nolde. and a monument? There are four monuments. but they reflect something of the local area. I wanted to create a separate room that would be there for only six months. are works for these four personalities in public space. I wanted this cluster of meanings. And these are also public works. Buchloh: What then is the difference between sculpture as "event" and sculpture as spectacle? Isn't that a dangerous proximity? Hirschhorn: No. Raymond The Ingeborg Bachmann altar as been exhibited twice. I proposed a project in the foyer of an institute for brain research for a limited period of time. and I don't know how many kiosks? Hirschhorn: Eight. That was very important. And then the third type of work is the monument. rather than as an object. We only had to find a sex shop in the city's red-light district whose proprietor would allow us to install the monument in front of his shop and provide the electricity. There are eight kiosks. it generates something. it is created with the assistance of other people. Then Meret Oppenheim got a kiosk. since it is many things-not only a sculpture but also a meeting place. or writer. Another is in a museum. and Bataille. because they are more complex and larger. And I dedicated each of these kiosks to an artist. Each can be exhibited and transplanted from one site to another. four altars.An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn 85 the differences between a kiosk. and they actually grew out of an "Art in Architecture" project at the University of Zurich. The second type is the kiosk. I can explain it to you. Because my monument produces something. The first one was dedicated to Robert Walser. then Fernand Leger. Deleuze. The first three were for the philosophers Spinoza. and the fourth one will be for Gramsci. One is in a private collection. the four altars. Then came Emmanuel Bove. And it was important for me to know that the information about them was present and accessible in these kiosks for a limited period of time. The Carver altar. That was the most modest monument. The Spinoza monument in Amsterdam was the smallest. for example. the writer. Then came Otto Freundlich. no danger at all. poet. The monument is different because it requires the help of neighbors. and Liubov Popova was the eighth one. as they were set up only for six months. has been exhibited three times so far. The first type. They always have to stand someplace outside. And I actually want to make four monuments. That is the intention. a kind of kiosk of the sort in prisons or in hospitals. at least. he got one as well. about his or her work. that is what I wanted. You enter these so as not necessarily to be in one space but in another space. These works no longer exist. an altar. and then Ingeborg Bachmann got one as well. Buchloh: You actually conceive of sculpture more as an event. let alone a monument? Hirschhorn: Absolutely. it is not just to be looked . or residents. even though I have only completed three so far.

A Bataille monument in a Turkishworkers' housing project in Germany. In would have been less interesting.. I didn't want to exclude anyone. First. I hope.was that it pretended to communicate with a local audience in a way that could actually never happen. but because it presented a chance for conversation or a place to meet. drinking beer. The first to be overburdened was me. An event is also something you can't plan ahead of time because you never know what will happen. That was not the case here. It interests me that my work has to defend itself in any surroundings. Sadly. or eat or drink. For that reason my monuments aren't spectacles for me but rather events. for what reason I don't know. and I wanted to emphasize that aspect. Is the mere intention or the actuality of communication a criterion for you to evaluate the success of your work ? Hirschhorn: That is very easy to answer. especially in regard to your Bataille Monument. but you participate. And in fact that is what happened. or a Spinoza monument in Amsterdam's red-light district: those are sites that create the extreme confrontations that are important for the understanding of your work. it was important that the Bataille Monument included a bar and a snack counter. Why should they be shut out? Why would anybody say they can't handle it? I don't buy that. "participation" can be a person sitting at the bar and drinking beer. Not because it is important that people refresh themselves. it wouldn't be an experience. or the people from the housing project. I am the artist. That would mean that someone was excluded from the outset. Buchloh: it seems that you quite deliberately set up the most extreme confrontaYet tions.. one can fend off the spectacle. I feel that the condition of spectacle always results from thinking of an event in terms of two groups. and fight for its autonomy. In this sense I believe that if there is such constant challenge. I reject that strongly. In Kassel. . If I say I want to make a work for a collective to.86 OCTOBER at. Buchloh: One of the criticisms raised of your work. in any sector. And it is possible to create an event that will be so difficult and complicated and incredibly exhausting that it will alwaysmake excessive demands on the spectator. That is another dimension that is very important to me. If you had placed a Spinoza monument in the inner courtyard of Amsterdam University. Hirschhorn:Of course-absolutely. then I am obliged position. and when I work in an open space I decide where to place my work. and then perhaps the third. the next were my coworkers. for example. And naturally part of the challenge is that it is limited in duration. I find that anyone who thinks that local Muslim kids could not get involved with Bataille makes a huge mistake. one that produces something and another that looks at it. If I already know in advance what kind of experience will be generated. it wouldn't be an event. This actually happens with my monuments: people often sit there. was the is precisely this argument that frequently comes from a leftist public. and it is my desire to make a work in which I don't ever exclude anyone.

I have argued. by . It is possible that. There was not a single book in the library by or about Georges Bataille. Buchloh:Ah. for example. where he talks of "la perte. but more pragmatically political position. That-for better or worse-is the utopian dimension of your work. It is a political stance. nothing but business. where he talks about something transcendent. Worse yet. Then there is another argument I try to make very clear (and I realize that there are misunderstandings): the first aim of the Bataille monument was to generate friendship and social interaction. communication. of course. but simply in the role of a caretaker. in the end. he or she beomes a part of the monument. And ultimately I never talked to the youngsters I worked with about Georges Bataille. isn't it? I Hirschhorn: hope it is not a utopian one. What I keep saying is precisely that I want to make my work political in the sense that I do not exclude anyone. Georges Bataille's name and his work could be replaced by others." or loss-where he talks about being stretched beyond one's limits. for example.An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn 87 Buchloh:But that in itself is a rather utopian assumption. yes. What I wanted instead was to foreground a certain dimension of the work of Georges Bataille. reading. From a less utopian. that Spinoza will suddenly become an event. because I wanted it to go beyond him. strictly speaking. but books on the themes of Georges Bataille. Isn't it highly improbable. that is the type of conviction that emerged from the Beuys tradition. one could argue that you assume that their fundamentally alienated living and working conditions could be improved with relative ease. or making films about their own reality. Hirschhorn: The other possibility is that by letting this autonomy shine through. that is then a part of the Bataille monument as well. that when someone sits next to the monument. right in the middle of Amsterdam's red-light district? What do you say to such critics? Hirschhorn: Nothing is impossible with art. nonexclusive stance. through spontaneous acts of understanding. Buchloh:One might still misunderstand you. and argue that you benevolently overlook the actual conditions of total alienation and reification that govern the everyday life of the Turkish working class in Germany. but I would say that it is a radical. Nothing. to check that everything was functioning. and the second goal was to provide an opportunity to learn something about Georges Bataille. when children are playing in the TV studio. right? Warhol would have said the opposite: that nothing is possible with art. and exchange. although of course this is not political art. That is why I said that my presence on the site was not required for communication or discussion with people. one would argue that under such conditions it is impossible to generate communication and understanding with aesthetic tools alone. And. Buchloh:So when people talk about a failure to communicate is that altogether false? Hirschhorn: I try to make this issue very concrete.

antiaesthetic dimension of your work originates? Your work generates a continuous dialectic between aesthetic and antiaesthetic impulses. It is possible. At the same time I find a cynical stance impossible. for example. My work is something that I feel. for example. simply. But of course I like to argue. the world. Not even Andy Warhol was able to do that.. and I don't try to avoid it. That is a major difference. Such a strategy appears as an incredible assault. not only will make a statement theoretically but will also attempt to sustain this statement in reality. right? That is a contrast that we all have to deal with. With Duchamp. because it creates no autonomy or activity for me. for example. with Picabia I have to wonder. that I have to make. for example. We have not resolved the conflicts between mass culture and high culture.88 OCTOBER holding fast to this affirmation of art. But believe me. a slap in the face of all modernist and postmodernist sculpture. Thomas Hirschhorn. There is criticism. Buchloh:But why could you not also depart from the critical and cynical potential of art. But I was there in the field and have tried to defend art and uphold its autonomy. emphasizing disintegration as much as construction. For example. with its own subversive dimension? What about. but socially it certainly does. I quite clearly reject that. I want people to think. For me. because I don't talk with them as a social worker but as an artist. Does your belief in art comprise this critical antiaesthetic.. It is not about morals or anything. Perhaps it doesn't exist for you. that when I maintain that art is not about communication. I could even say that I love him. That is not my job. That is quite clear. Buchloh:But objectively they exist. there is no high and low No. and I believe that art makes such activity possible. to reflect. or not to rehabilitate them. I am not in . or is that merely a contradiction? Hirschhorn: that isn't a contradiction. art. But the argument isn't theoretical. Not Picasso either. I. because I have not created any kind of communication. you see. really. as someone who believes in art. I can then say. to talk with Turkish kids about art. or. you seem to affirm a resurgence of ritual and cult value in sculptural experience in the present. And those are the points for me that are extremely important. the passage of time. and I feel that art makes that possible. that is true. I don't like moralizing. okay? That is what I want: reflection about my work. that aspect in the Warhol tradition that goes back to Francis Picabia? Hirschhorn:Well. to get engaged. collective altars in which people's emotions are haplessly manipulated. I feel. That's not the issue. reality. Naturally my work raises an incredible number of questions. then I start to wonder where the intensely subversive. Not Picabia. art in general. if you suddenly align sculpture with the forms and processes of spontaneously erected. Buchloh:When you say that you truly believe in the possibilities of art. I Hirschhorn: too will have trouble doing away with it. I am not here to rehabilitate anyone.

because they can't afford it.which doesn't come from one's own mental activity but from history. It's not a matter of antiaesthetics. and they suggest something other than what I am using them for. And that is why I create my work with my own materials. of whom I address. you could even say miserable-not only discouraging. would also limit me. Buchloh:Do you consider yourself to be a Marxist? I Hirschhorn: am. I question that. And I am not in this to shore up something that has already been established. which somehow derives from external values. because I don't want to. because it shuts out the vast majority of all the rest simply. who can afford quality judgments in general. translating this theory into practice. she doesn't think about whether it looks nice. I believe that as an artist. and I criticize that. you understand. because I haven't thought about it in any academic way. in truth I could force the issue and say that I find these materials beautiful. I want to work on this notion of an exalted high art. That is very important to me.An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn 89 this to fight a lost cause. But it's an element that. That interests me. that can connect you with others. but rather to say that it is possible to work with incredibly. I have to work with materials that everybody knows. or uses the materials that interest me for what is actually needed: energy. They have no special value. but I want to be responsible for every act that has to do with my work. but it's not naivete. and oppose it. Buchloh:Since I started with a question that was odd I'd like to end this conversation with a question that is equally odd: a proposal to project your simultaneous enthusiasm for Warhol and Beuys back into history. and it's not that I haven't thought about it. it is a matter of a different purpose. And there are many actions for which I am responsible that aren't any good. Not Beuysian energy. And certainly not quality. And if I am to give them the kind of form I want. but energy in the sense of something that connects people. if I want to give something. in the question of my public. And I loathe that. And she thereby creates a form."because I haven't studied it. I admit that one could criticize that elimination. I am not in this to say from the outset that I won't make it. but it would be presumptuous of me to say "Iam a Marxist. after all (and as a Swiss. Because there are only very few people. And also. She simply wants to fix something that presents a problem to her. which-and now that you speak of high art-wants to separate us. and I do. if I wish to be active. You see? I deliberately eliminate that specific question. a plus-value. It is not about that. For example. to be responsible for each of my actions. Declaring myself to be a Marxist. if I want to make something. I try to give form to my ideas. I want to make my work political. to divide us. I know something about this) who can afford quality. quite simply. and to ask . but miserable-and truly modest results. If a woman puts tape around her suitcase because she fears that it might burst open. I have to eliminate that type of specificity.

This dimension and perspective. of all places). nor naively preoccupied with a utopian transformation of the world through design. One ought to add that when looking at Rodchenko. I knew Rodchenko's work quite well. .is that memory emerges literally from collecting the discarded remnants of the everyday. He ignored all of these divisions and media restrictions. Buchloh: What one can recognize in Schwitters's Merzbau. at first from his graphic design. Just as in the earlier opposition between Warhol and Beuys. not smooth them away." I love As them equally. of what had actually been left. can surely no longer be credited to design in our society. Buchloh: If one were to formulate the relationship between Rodchenko and Schwitters as an antithetical situation. one that creates both travesty and subversion while simultaneously inducing historical reflection. Schwitters was already clearly a solitary figure. made extraordinary posters and graphic design. I recognized for the first time that failure is not the issue. however. This sense of obsolescence provides us with a memory space that still appears to be accessible. since he compensates for the forgetting of the present moment through the opening of the utopian dimension. Does that seem somewhat accurate? Hirschhorn: Absolutely. after painting wonderful pictures and making fabulous photographs. not to say mnemonic. he was the artist who. against incredible resistance and with unimaginable. Thus-unlike Warhol-it figures itself in manifest opposition to the enforced amnesia of an advanced consumer culture that increasingly annihilates historical experience altogether.90 OCTOBER whether you also initially had to choose between your love for Alexandr Rodchenko and your love for Kurt Schwitters? Hirschhorn: was the case with Warhol and Beuys. there is no "either or. from uncovering obsolete objects and materials. I tried to describe earlier how this explicitly historical. admirable persistence. and his stance of a refusal to suffer but instead to simply carry on. But you seem to be neither concerned with what is left to us. and Schwitters collected the shambles of bourgeois subjectivity. After all. right? Hirschhorn: Yes. and they were both on my scarves. But I love him more specifically for the fact that he built the Merzbauthree times. his Cathedral of Erotic Misery. dimension in your work insists on a critical reflection of history (in sculpture. Although design still interests you a great deal. but also made clothes for workers. by creating something new and radical in which a truly free experience might be possible. I feel that there is a certain energy in contradictions. I love Schwitters for the explosive force that you still see in his work today. you inhabit a third position. Rodchenko of course articulates precisely the opposite. one could say that Rodchenko articulated what could have become subjects in a utopian socialist society. I've never been afraid of contradictions because we are here to generate them. maintaining his ideesfixe. even in late capitalist society.

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energy yes!"Because there are in fact certain pretensions of quality." At a certain point defiance is no longer possible. that clearly indicate that quality doesn't affect or interest me.. That has helped me tremendously and also helped my work. no one could do it better. les bites. this first degre.. this type and everything. strategies of accumulation materials. Buchloh: There is a counterforce to the allures of design in your work in your that one could call an excess of information. in a way. or perhaps more accurately. in certain instances. les bites. Our eyes function in such and such a way. of course. When you approach these logos and design languages. . you cite modernist design. You ask the question. but I love this. The book Lesplaintifs. I take it seriously myself. or attacking it." You confront yourself with the catastrophic outcome of what was once a utopian design culture. Or. If you cannot defy it by addressing it head-on. and simply state that these are regimes of control and strategies of domination?" Hirschhorn: That's very good. precisely. and you have already spoken about this book and its contents two or three times. which means that I made those works in 1993 and 1994. you make references to contemporary corporate design. les politiques: to take seriously this tightness. and especially with my past as a graphic designer. suddenly became fascist. It seems as though you wanted to confront viewers with the necessity of recognizing the chaotic 6. That is why I also have to say programmatically. And I tried to do that with Les plaintifs. In another into propaganda for Stalin's authoritarian moment. Buchloh: With your own past? Hirschhorn: Exactly. and admit that you cannot resist its seduction anymore than anybody else can. "Good.lespolitiqueswas published by the Centre genevois de gravure contemporaine in 1995. often side by side with the first. a Brechtian dialectic: "I don't know what it is. I can assure you that no one has formulated that as you have. It seems that Georges Bataille's concept plays a major role in your work and is evident in this endless overload of objects and information. from the moment when it had devolved state socialism. which in its own tragic history. "Quality no. or to cigarette and perfume ads. and objects. The book was published in 1995. Buchloh: In such a way that we cannot defy authority? Hirschhorn: Yes. of accumulations which lead to devaluation. That can't be improved upon. this simplistic blandness. such as your favorite Chanel advertisement. les betes. I simply have to say.6 For example.92 OCTOBER Buchloh: One feature of your exceptional book Les plaintifs. and quite simply accept it. you often pose questions in what seems to be a rhetoric of false naivete. I was trying to settle accounts. But when I confront such things as the Chanel design. at one point the book invokes Rodchenko's Constructivist/Productivist design. les politiques that has always intrigued me is its specific referral to various design coventions. "Why can't I detach myself. just as often. then other forms have to be found.

a lot of material. Hirschhorn: Exactly. to get equally involved. Hirschhorn: Absolutely. Could you say something more about the concept of "excess"? Hirschhorn: Yes. and I want it to be dense. who can afford empty white spaces? I don't want any white spaces! This luxury. I always have the feeling that I am still making too little. Not necessarily contradictory pictures." not making form but giving form-I want to do that in order to challenge the other people.. When I first encountered Bataille's concept of expenditure. I don't believe in the superiority of the single image because I know that the single image is utilized as a tool of exerting power. If one compares your stance with the original historical context and concept of Duchamp's singular readymades. Buchloh: What impressed me so much when I saw your Airport Worldfor the first time . Buchloh: It always struck me that your work's excessive accumulations of pictures.. objects. This assertiveness. And that is what Georges Bataille also describes in his book La Part maudite.An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn 93 multiplicity and urgency of your questions. I want it loaded. I realized. it is something that doesn't exist. but rather showing the same thing from completely different perspectives .. in which images and objects proliferate and invade us by the thousands at every turn we take. and I instantly felt in total agreement with that. of constant acts of giving and challenging others-that is what I wanted to do in my work. I had the feeling that I had never read such a thing before. so that they also have to give. and structures mimetically followed the actual governing principles of overproduction and the technologies of incessantly multiplying meaningless images. Bataille is definitely one of them. it is very important to me that the gallery space is not simply a white cube-after all.. and at the same time to foil their attempts at coming to terms with them. There is too little there. and the resulting ruins-and how this single image wants to have power over me. and that there are ruins all over the world. Philosophers help me in my life. It is still not dense enough. this picture alone claims to have the greatest power over me. I agree. give a lot. the viewers. Although we know perfectly well that there are ruins in Grozny. is no longer something merely expensive. I want to combat this power by producing a huge number of other images. These empty white spaces rarify objects to intimidate the viewer. Buchloh:Your accumulations of images then induce a process of decentralization . This motive is very important in my work: I want to make a lot. I would also like to say something else that is not frequently understood. absolutely. Also. This idea of the potlatch is based on challenging others by giving. and that there are ruins in Palestine. one recognizes a totally different quantitative and temporal dimension in the present day. If philosophers interest me. For that very reason it is very important to me that my work always have a lot of elements. Let's take the example of 9/11-this single image of the collapsing towers. And when I say give-in the sense of "giving form. so that they reciprocate with an offering to me.

one would recognize immediately that Serra's work requires a highly specialized. To get back to the work that you are talking about: it is for these reasons that the connections are so important for me. it means not to set up any kinds of hierarchies. to try to split up centered vantage points. "If he does that. Your work instead sabotages all these appeals to autonomy: the whole discursive system of what could be called sculpture is twisted. it means to break through onedimensional relationships. Obviously. but my position is also possible. knowledgeable way of experiencing sculpture. Therefore. Your work suddenly dispelled not only the monolithic isolation of a traditional work. and situations.94 OCTOBER in Chicago was the fact that the sheer quantity of information forced spectators to give up their desire for the false monolithic centrality of a traditionally conceived and unified work. how I am forced to confront reality. But perhaps more important. your "displays"deny any hierarchical mode of experience. Rather he and other artists work so intensely and radically on their own system that I say. but it also opened up a global way of reading and recognizing relations between phenomena that were previously disconnected and hidden. stories. But it interests me that there are other positions. one was also forced to see the existing political links between objects. one simultaneously encountered a work by Richard Serra and a work by Thomas Hirschhorn in a sculpture exhibition. That is why I love art. The wonderful thing about art is that positions like Richard Serra's are possible. as an artist: to make this my own work. I'll have to demand that of myself as well. Buchloh:You mean your work does not engage in a critical dialogue with prevailing notions of public sculpture? Does your work not somehow state that certain sculptural concepts of publicness are false? Doesn't your work give us a much more complex definition of the conditions of public space? . and how I understand the age in which I am living. structures. and opened to a whole new array of contexts and contiguities. For me. I don't work against Richard Serra. but my position wants to assert itself and clearly maintain its ideas and content. for example. that means first of all to not create any spaces where one can stand back and maintain distance. My position is not in combat with them. If. I Hirschhorn: am in fact concerned that this mass of information might have previously appeared as unrelated. my mission. They don't necessarily have to be real connections. and to make singular viewpoints impossible. one ultimately based on an aesthetic of autonomy. spun around. I do not only make political statements and assume responsibility. It presumes an extremely differentiated phenomenological approach. Second. Third." That is my job. Hirschhorn: Quite right. I work with and create forms that reflect how I experience the world. although in the AirportWorld they were real. Buchloh:By establishing these seemingly infinite relations and offering an excess of information. I also want to achieve a sculptural impact.

Then there are the enlarged objects. not arte povera. Poor art. Last there are these abstract forms that are often made with tape or aluminum foil. Buchloh: It seems there are actually three types of objects and materials that turn up in your larger displays. One cannot see a giant object. And these opposstalactite/stalagmite ing strategies really bring about a decisive effect of desublimation. At the same time you deploy these cheap materials like duct tape and all kinds of foil to sculpt these forms of almost threatening growth. Hirschhorn: I want to make truly a poor art." I don't make installations. virtually the opposite of your principle of excessive accumulation: namely to get rid of excess material. "Those are installations. Magnifying trivial objects is by now a well-established strategy invented by the greatest sculptor of the 1960s. That is why it looks the way it does. I want to say: every book is important. uncanny bulbous rhizomes or biomorphic links that roam through your displays. Although people keep saying. made of aluminum foil or whatever. I want people to be inside my work. for example with a book. and I want spectators to be a part of this world surrounding them in this moment. Then they have to deal with it. the concept of the sublime is one that I despise as being profoundly bourgeois. I'm not placing it above something else in a kind of hierarchy. And in other works.An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn 95 Hirschhorn: Absolutely! I think every artist has this intention. for example. but forces it back into the banality from which it originated. you understand? I make my kind of work because I don't want people to be able to step back from it. let's say your Rolex watches. Buchloh: But in contrast to Pop art. every book can be important. That it is the . spoons. and then turn it into your own sculptural strategy. Buchloh: So your work wants to desublimate? And excess is an important strategy in your project of sculptural desublimation? Hirschhorn: Absolutely. But for me. where you also perform a common social gesture. which magnify trivial objects of everyday life such as watches. First of all. and the path I wish to follow. and this strategy suddenly generates precisely the opposite effect: the enlargement does not monumentalize the trivial object anymore. or mushrooms. And that is a remarkable spectrum. Otherwise one couldn't carry on. without thinking of the strategies of Claes Oldenburg. you mobilize the actual everyday practices and experiences of other of those collective people. for example the sculptures that deal with the task of removal. First. Hirschhorn: I'm very touched that you see so clearly what I have in mind with the of these objects. This is the direction I have taken. But no one book is more important than any other. there are the real objects. Let us consider your Altars once more-citations forms of behavior in which people spontaneously generate such structures. it seems to expressly refer to specific sculptural practices and conventions. I am not conmagnifications cerned with any book in particular. you not only work with the objectsof the everyday. to throw something away. But you turn that around.

That is very important to me. But something else becomes evident as well: namely that you take those actual forms of desire. Thus. Accordingly. On the one hand. but what is very important to me is that even when I enlarge something it is never monumental. On the other hand. but you actually engage with the given experiential conditions that such mass-cultural objects feed upon. it is never monumental. one has to ask oneself. all the materials that I use are not only used in the realm of art.96 OCTOBER one thing I wanted to say to you. artistic practices that had once consistently opposed myth and cult (and that was certainly one of Rodchenko's most important demands). and that cult behavior continues to define our experience no matter how enlightened we like to think we are. Buchloh:Monuments to what. because it is about reproducing something. . Even though it is large. that are in themselves incredibly expressive. Every time I work with a given element. and nor does the work call the underlying concepts of public space into question. namely to isolate existing social rituals. or the hopes that express themselves in such masscultural cult forms. have long since become part of a new cult-like veneration. That is the only question that is interesting. Now. That is my only criticism of Oldenburg's art objects in public space: they naturally become monuments. I have always tried to make this bridge to something that has a reality elsewhere. as you put it. you take them seriously as possible forms of collective self-expression. I try to check whether there are possibilities of linking it with a reality that exists elsewhere. And to go back one more time to this question of poverty. Hirschhorn:Exactly.. you deal with the mass-cultural object not only iconographically. And in these cases. That is one of the reasons why I have always tried to enlarge my work myself. as have just described. and that you want to establish a dialogue with these forms of ritual. Something else regarding Oldenburg: I do not have any problem at all with this comparison. very seriously.. Writing Rodchenko's name in applique on a soccer scarf is a great example of that strategy. Instead of considering them only as abject forms of extreme alienation. or to refer to cult behavior in mass culture-let us say soccer-and to intertwine these forms of experience with phenomena derived from avant-garde culture. never simply magnified by some method. That is an insight flashing up from the short circuit established in your Soccer Scarves. the monument itself is not criticized. you seem to recognize that one cannot remove the cultic dimension from everyday industrial mass culture. that had subverted ritual. Hirschhorn: Yes. I am you naturally interested in this seemingly uncreative process. Buchloh: There is another dialectic that your work engages with from the very beginning. I simply believe that there are in fact certain everyday Pop art did. by hand.and of Filliou: Filliou introduced these strategies of subtraction. of clearing away.

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Buchloh: Or it means taking the forms given by others seriously. to create history. but in which form is given to a particular concern. What interests me is that it is always the same potential . for example these little altars that are generated outside and inside by all kinds of fans. and that touches me. what is left of the ability to love. One more question about removal. you understand. This form interests me tremendously because I believe that there is an explosive force in it. or using these display forms as the matrix for one's own creation of form. The removal of boundaries occurs between public and private space. but in many of your displays.. a kind of resistance despite our mass culture's actual lack of resistance. Although it is a weak notion. or is it deformed by mass culture? Hirschhorn: I would say it is "weak. Is it weak. and I believe in their innate form.98 OCTOBER Buchloh:. Or. and that is what matters. Buchloh: Robert Walser and Robert Filliou perhaps have a great deal more in common than their first name . he even explicitly says that it is the weak who think of themselves as strong. like dynamite. I would say in fact that it is something that resists! Buchloh: Now that is an important question. they still give evidence of something that we are losing. As a matter of fact." In the sense of Robert Walser. even though I don't believe in them exclusively. because the strong are actually weak. simply.. Or I think these are forms too. after all. but also in public spaces. that the weak are actually strong. I am personally very susceptible to these forms. but. What interests me. Hirschhorn: I take them very seriously. Hirschhorn: Of course. as in your pavilions in Muinster. And most important. Since you do not want to accept a traditional protective boundary between art space and public space. Naturally I find that this has an explosive force. or creating a memory structure in the seemingly uncreative process. They participate in some kind of resistance. Hirschhorn: Quite right. or in the work in Lyon. And in Walser you are drawn into this current where you no longer know what is weak and what is strong. a relation or an object that is perceived with love-perhaps wrongly. There is a certain resistance inherent in his work. This happens in your work not only on the level of materials. After all. is precisely not to distinguish between public space and the museum or some other private space. and also between art space and ordinary space. And he places himself in a certain "weak" position. Could you say something about that ? Hirschhorn: Of course. or is it alienated. Buchloh: Or rather. what or who resists anyway? Really not many.. These are manifestations that are not a matter of strength or weakness. which de facto implied that they would be subject to theft and vandalism. I have produced a lot of exhibitions in museums and galleries. and I like that a lot.. I mean. the erasure of that boundary inevitably entails that the work is damaged or vandalized. Both were set up with the express intent to be accessible twenty-four hours per day.

after all. And this discussion about public housing should naturally be carried out in the project. Hirschhorn:Yes. It is called the Musee Precaire Albinet. And that interests me. People who go into a museum are. fundamentally interested in art. there will be an active element. and then issues currently very much in the news in France (for example. of course. Once a week an original work by one of these eight artists will be lent to us by the Centre Georges Pompidou-an original Mondrian painting. we will exhibit the Pompidou Center's original large Electric Chair by Andy Warhol. I want to make a museum. in any case. and a small bar for adults. Of course. we can perhaps raise questions about the death penalty. That would be totally wrong. let me repeat it: the proposition is that art wants to change the world. By contrast. An original work from each of Malevich.. if anything. a a Leger. For example. a Corbusier. an active dynamic element. with young people and the residents of a housing project in the peripherienear where I live. the merely passive element. only the proportion is different. In other words. and the theme. the question of justice. my work confronts the anonymous passerby. for example. or that the world wants to change with art or through art. or perhaps have some time for art. For in the museum there are people who afterward go out onto the street.An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn 99 public. once again that art has the ability to change the world. and in particular an original work of is not only a valuable object. feels excluded. a Beuys. let us say. these artists will be exhibited for a week in a small museum in front of this low-income housing project. The proposition is. Le Corbusier's gorgeous maquette for the Cite Radieuse . but not in the way that Le Corbusier had anticipated it. We will also be exhibiting. where value keeps increasing. of course. not only patrimoine. and the question of independent communities. a conference. a Duchamp. But the exhibition is not everything. we will be focusing on what a work retains in itself. But I don't say there is a public-I'm not an advertising man.. and so on). the debate concerning the foulard. Buchloh: The mother of all HLMs. and what can be reactivated. and beyond that. Or that no one. We are not primarily interested in the patrimoine. the way I create the work. on the street. the HLM. which make as many as possible feel included. I don't say that this is a target public or that is a target public. Buchloh: Do you know the work of Michael Asher? . But I would like to create conditions with the materials. a precarious or temporary museum. Because they are living in public housing. and there will be debates. By contrast. And I chose eight artists for the project. an atelier for children. perhaps. people who are not necessarily preoccupied with art. And at the same time we will organize excursions and events with the young people. And that inclusion is also my intention for my new project here in Paris. My idea is that the work of art. it will be accompanied by an atelier d'criture. but that it also retains art. for example. And starting from that.

twelve of the young people have classes in the Pompidou Center. fourteen. this I-simply-look-at-that-and-have-to-deal-with-it. in front of this housing development. since these schoolchildren. who were twelve. and they are even being paid from our budget. December 19. And it should be with and for the people from the project primarily. to work with him. Asher invited a class from one of L. Buchloh: He produced a very interesting work two years ago that you probably don't know. of course. Hirschhorn: like Michael Asher. The reason I was talking about it was because I am trying. since most of them had never gone to a museum. And that interests me. that I like a lot. but also this I trust in art. because it has not been published at all. This straightforwardness. Hirschhorn: From April 17 to June 15. to create a connection to the museum.A. their own criteria. This not necessarily wanting to communicate totally. this clarity.100 OCTOBER Hirschhorn: Yes. go inside and work there. for example. fifteen years old. Eventually he suggested that they reinstall the works according to their own points of view. in which 120 different languages are spoken. 2003 . to make this exhibition there. They can go there. had never seen any art in this or any other way. he asked them to study one of the galleries of the museum's collection that displayed Surrealists and American Abstract Expressionists. Once he engaged with this school class. This autonomy. Buchloh: When will your Musee Precaire take place? And now. Why not? -Paris. When he was asked to develop a proposal for a work for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Your approach seems to be somewhat similar.'s largest public high schools.