Writings by Thomas Hirschhorn, collected for the first time, trace the development of the artist's ideas and artistic strategies.
For the artist Thomas Hirschhorn, writing is a crucial tool at every stage of his artistic practice. From the first sketch of an idea to appeals to potential collaborators, from detailed documentation of projects to post-disassembly analysis, Hirschhorn's writings mark the trajectories of his work. This volume collects Hirschhorn's widely scattered texts, presenting many in English for the first time.
In these writings, Hirschhorn discusses the full range of his art, from works on paper to the massive Presence and Production projects in public spaces. “Statements and Letters” address broad themes of aesthetic philosophy, politics, and art historical commitments. “Projects” consider specific artworks or exhibitions. “Interviews” capture the artist in dialogue with Benjamin Buchloh, Jacques Rancière, and others. Throughout, certain continuities emerge: Hirschhorn's commitment to quotidian materials; the centrality of political and economic thinking in his work; and his commitment to art in the public sphere. Taken together, the texts serve to trace the artist's ideas and artistic strategies over the past two decades. Critical Laboratory also reproduces, in color, 33 Ausstellungen im öffentlichen Raum 1998–1989 , an out-of-print catalog of Hirschhorn's earliest works in public space.
About the Author
Thomas Hirschhorn (b. 1957) is a Swiss artist known for large sculptures and ambitious projects, often constructed of everyday, makeshift materials.
Lisa Lee is Assistant Professor of Art History at Emory University. She is coeditor (with Hal Foster) of Critical Laboratory: The Writings of Thomas Hirschhorn (MIT Press, 2013).
Hal Foster is Townsend Martin '17 Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University and the author of Prosthetic Gods (MIT Press) and other books.
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The Writings of Thomas Hirschhorn
By Thomas Hirschhorn, Lisa Lee, Hal Foster
The MIT PressCopyright © 2013 Thomas Hirschhorn
All rights reserved.
This laboratory is utopian and realistic at the same time.
The paraphernalia of a makeshift laboratory fill a room awash in dim red light. Clandestine analytical work is underway, involving the intense scrutiny of texts and images. Like specimens or pieces of evidence, books, magazines, documents, and photographs are pressed under glass, reflected in mirrors, or subjected to the one-eyed gaze of desk lamps. Throughout the room, thick strands of red plastic extend downward from the ceiling. When terminating on the surface of a book or photograph, these plastic cords act as physical manifestations of theoretical and conceptual connections; when coursing into the open mouths of bottles and canisters, they evoke some elemental force (perhaps that of thought itself) to be collected and conserved. Thematics of authenticity and simulacra, encoding and decoding, deconstruction and analytical reconstruction play out across the room's many elements, which together constitute the artwork Critical Laboratory (1999). Its creator, Thomas Hirschhorn, describes this compact yet expansive work as a "space aside" in which research is undertaken. The subject of that research? Criticality itself.
In this collection of Hirschhorn's statements, letters, project proposals, and interviews—the first to date—the realm of the word constitutes for this artist a critical "space aside," apart from the work but intimately bound up with it. Writing is a crucial tool at various stages in the life and afterlife of Hirschhorn's works. As the initial articulation of the governing ideas and constituent forms for a given project, a proposal or statement commits to paper the will that drives a work that has yet to come into being. To borrow Hirschhorn's own metaphor, it is the stone thrown ahead, whose trajectory is to be followed in the realization of the work. In the case of the "Presence and Production" projects in public space, Hirschhorn's writings, in the form of private correspondence or open letters, are the means by which he appeals to potential collaborators and host communities. This same correspondence, along with the other documents and photographs generated over the course of the temporary projects, contributes to the apparatus of memory through which the works endure after disassembly. The writings thus bear conceptual import, just as they serve logistical functions. Indeed, the logistical (as regards issues of placement, materials, installation, security, etc.) overlaps with the conceptual; and neither, for Hirschhorn, is ever far from the political.
The written page is a site in which Hirschhorn exercises his criticality and self-criticality. Writing enables him to gain distance from his work: he judges his own motives, assesses his works' successes or failures, and derives lessons for future action. He may also turn a critical lens upon the institutions of art and the conventions governing the global art market. In this way, Hirschhorn pushes back against the forces with which he is necessarily involved and in relation to which he must negotiate his place. Most expansively, his writing attests to Hirschhorn's persistent desire to conceive his work and his artistic stance in response to—and specifically as a form of resistance against—contemporary social, political, and economic contexts.
Although Hirschhorn insists that writing is "an exercise outside [his] work," his texts nevertheless exert tremendous influence on the reception of the work. Hirschhorn's determination to "invent [his] own terms," an intent to wrest interpretive power from critics and art historians, has been successful to the extent that his terms and formulations demand to be reckoned with, even by skeptics. The interest generated by Hirschhorn's writings is due less to some general aura surrounding the authorial voice, than to the specific nature and force of his articulations. Hirschhorn is notably unafraid to make a grand claim, to adopt an unfashionable term or stance, or to put forward a provocative, perhaps even preposterous, proposition. In an age of cautious relativism and of the codification of an academic language of art, Hirschhorn's bluntness and refusal of distancing mechanisms have the capacity to jar the reader from merely polite engagement. His tendency to express himself in short, grammatically unembellished constructions, his coining of pithy sayings, his use of anaphora, and his penchant for reiteration produce urgent and emphatic rhythms.
Critical Laboratory: The Writings of Thomas Hirschhorn brings together a large and representative selection of Hirschhorn's scattered texts, returning many to circulation and presenting many in English for the first time. Hirschhorn has long distributed his texts in the form of pamphlets or press releases accompanying his exhibitions. Individual texts have been published in catalogs and journals, where they have been more permanently archived, perhaps, but nevertheless dispersed. The writings gathered in this collection span two decades, from 1992, around the time of Hirschhorn's earliest exhibitions, to 2012. The full range of his output is discussed: single-channel videos, works on paper, large- and small-scale public projects, and museum and gallery exhibitions. In tone, the texts vary from the introspective to the plainly descriptive, from the solicitous to the assertive, and from the polemical to the strident. The textures of the writings differ depending on the language and date of composition, the type and purpose of the document, the private or public mode of address. As editors, we have aimed to unify the texts without rendering them uniform.
The first section, "Statements and Letters," is devoted to those writings that address broad themes and problematics. Included are programmatic statements about typologies and works in specific media as well as declarations of aesthetic philosophy, political positions, and art historical commitments. The second section, "Projects," gathers occasional texts relating to specific artworks or exhibitions, chronologically arranged. In some cases a single project is represented by more than one document, each of which brings to light a different dimension of the artwork's relationship with institutions and publics. The third section, "Interviews," introduces other strong voices that challenge the artist to elaborate upon his positions. The interviews have been selected because they home in on particular concepts, develop themes in greater depth (such as Hirschhorn's attitude toward the museum and his engagement with art historical precedents of the avant-garde), or tackle controversies that have surrounded his work.
The reader of Critical Laboratory is in a position to trace the development of Hirschhorn's ideas and artistic strategies—their coming into being, their transformation and refinement, their falling away. For example, in "Regarding the End of the Deleuze Monument," Hirschhorn reflects upon the premature disassembly of the Monument due to fallout from inadequate measures for protecting the work. Having decided that his weekly visits to the site of the Deleuze Monument were too infrequent, Hirschhorn concludes that in the future he would have to be present for the duration of such projects. The germ of the "Presence and Production" guideline, which has generated some of the artist's best-known projects in public space, can thus be located. Shifts in concerns can be noted as well. One observes in the early projects, for instance, Hirschhorn's preoccupation with accentuating the horizontal and vertical through lateral spreads and perpendicular stacking or leaning—a formal concern that recedes, or is perhaps subsumed, in the later works.
Ultimately, the continuities are most remarkable. From the earliest writings forward can be traced Hirschhorn's commitment to quotidian materials, to deskilling, to the centrality of political and economic thinking within (and as means of generating) form. Certain distinctive artistic strategies surface repeatedly. Hirschhorn often creates new forms through what might be termed the "materialization of metaphor." A "stain on the conscience" is rendered as an amorphous, physical mass; the assertion "art is a tool" is literalized in a room full of construction implements; and psycho-emotional "hardening" is manifested by bulbous accretions of paper and packing tape. What I propose to call the "spatialization of abstractions" constitutes a related strategy, in which democracy, utopia, and the depletion of history are conveyed in the space and structure of a hotel, a lounge, and a chalet, respectively. Particular themes recur in the documents gathered here and in the works described: the ideals and the institutions of democracy, philosophy's ongoing relevance to art and life, the ravages of human violence and injustice, the proliferation of urban non-places, and vernacular modes of making, just to name some prominent examples. To draw out these themes is to map the constellation of concerns that animates Hirschhorn's practice as a whole, aesthetically and ethically.
Principal among these concerns is the place of art in the public sphere, which can be traced not only through the writings collected here, but also in 33 Ausstellungen im öffentlichen Raum 1998–1989, a catalog of Hirschhorn's earliest works in public space. We reproduce in full this extremely rare, out-of-print publication. Its material lexicon of raw-edged corrugated cardboard, casual photographs, transparent tape, and ballpoint pen will be familiar to those who know Hirschhorn's collage work; so will the visual lexicon of Hirschhorn's ungainly script, his errant and aggressive scribbles. In the works pictured, Hirschhorn claims any passerby as his audience and any locale as his gallery, from the stairwell of an habitation à loyer modéré to a nondescript urban sidewalk. Yet, the publicness of his work cannot be limited to its presence in any particular instance of public space. Hirschhorn's desire to address a "nonexclusive audience" determines the materials, means, and forms through which his work takes shape. His head-on engagement with fraught political and economic matters of imperialism, warfare, globalization, urbanization, economic marginalization, and deterritorialization asserts the place of art in a public sphere that is understood as a site of critique, argumentation, and dissent.
So too one might understand Hirschhorn's prolific writing and his readiness to be interviewed as manifestations of that same impulse to effect "moments of publicness." In his writings Hirschhorn stakes his political and artistic positions, explains his motives, and lays bare the mechanisms of his thought even when they are contradictory or insufficient. He writes in ways that explicitly invite judgment, ask to be held accountable, and call to be challenged. Writing might constitute for Hirschhorn a "space aside," but unlike the artwork after which this collection is named, writing is not conceived as a clandestine site. The reader is invited to enter the space of this "critical laboratory," at once utopian and realistic.
Excerpted from Critical Laboratory by Thomas Hirschhorn, Lisa Lee, Hal Foster. Copyright © 2013 Thomas Hirschhorn. Excerpted by permission of The MIT Press.
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Table of Contents
Preface Lisa Lee xi
Statements and Letters 1
Less Is Less, More Is More (1995) 1
Fifty-Fifty (1993) 5
Moins (1993) 7
Les Plaintifs, Les Betes, Les Politiques (1993) 9
Lay-Out (1993) 11
My Videos (1993) 13
The New Videos (1994) 15
The Musée de l'art brut in Lausanne (1993) 18
Letter to Coraly (On Joseph Beuys and "Capital") (1994) 20
Am I Casting Pearls Before Swine? And Why? (1994) 23
What I Want (1994) 27
Letter to Thierry (On Formalism) (1994) 29
Letter to Konstantin (On "Political Correctness") (1995) 32
Me and the Military (1998) 34
Letter to Pascale (On Berlin) (1994) 36
"Direct Sculptures" (2000) 39
"Kiosks" (2000) 41
"Monuments" (2003) 45
"Altars" (2003/2006) 47
Letter to Véronique (On Writing, Judging, Reading, Publishing) (2000) 50
Letter to Laurence and Hans-Ulrich (On Remaining Alert) (2000) 53
I Will No Longer Exhibit in Switzerland (2003) 56
Letter to Julia et al. (There Is No Ideal Place for Art) (2005) 58
Works on Paper (2006) 61
Artist Lectures (2007) 63
I Will Exhibit in My Homeland Again (2007) 65
Why "Where Do I Stand?" and Why "What Do I Want?" (2008) 67
Doing Art Politically: What Does This Mean? (2008) 72
"Spectrum of Evaluation" (2009) 79
"Force Majeure" (2009) 82
For the First Time (About Andy Warhol) (2010) 83
Double Happiness (On Intellectual Property) (2010) 85
Letter to Nancy and Richard (My Guggenheim Dilemma) (2011) 87
Letter to Elizabeth (Inventing My Own Terms) (2010) 89
Why Is It Important-Today-to Show and Look at Images of Destroyed Human Bodies? (2012) 99
Letter to the French Minister of Culture and Communication (2012) 105
33 Ausstellungen Im Öffentlichen Raum 1998-1989 107
Reproduction and Translation of 33 Ausstellungen im Öffentlichen Raum 1998-1989 107
About My Exhibition at Hôpital Ephémère (Why I Chose This Exhibition as My "First Exhibition") (1992) 159
Regarding My Exhibition at Rueil-Malmaison (1992) 163
99 Sacs plastiques (Dépót) (1994) 165
Regarding My Exhibition of Wall-Display, Rosa Tombola, Saisie, Lay-Out (1988-1994) at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (1994) 169
Berliner Wasserfall mit Robert Walser Tränen (1995) 172
Letter to Matthias (Regarding Virus-Ausstellung) (1996) 176
The Bilbao Failure (1996) 180
Lascaux III (1997) 183
Skulptur-Sortier-Station (1997) 187
Letter to Alison (Regarding Skulptur-Sortier-Station) (2000) 193
Spinoza Monument (1999) 195
Critical Laboratory, Project for "Mirror's Edge" (1999) 199
World Airport (1999) 201
Jumbo Spoons (1999) 207
The Matter of Location (Regarding the Deleuze Monument) (2000) 209
Letter to Hervé Laurent and Nathalie Wetzel (Regarding the Deleuze Monument) (2000) 213
Regarding the End of the Deleuze Monument (2000) 217
Letter to Bice (Regarding Wirtschaftslandschaft Davos) (2001) 221
Letter to the Residents of the Friedrich Wöhler Housing Complex (Regarding the Bataille Monument) (2002) 225
Letter to Lothar Kannenberg (Regarding the Bataille Monument) (2002) 229
Letter to Iris (Reflections on the Bataille Monument) (2002) 231
Doppelgarage (2002) 241
Chalet Lost History (2003) 243
Letter to Clare (Regarding Chalet Lost History) (2005) 247
Regarding Hotel Democracy and U-Lounge (2003) 251
Swiss-Swiss Democracy (2004) 255
The Musée Précaire Albinet (2004) 259
Utopia, Utopia = One World, One War, One Army, One Dress (2005) 263
"Anschool" (2005) 269
Superficial Engagement (2005) 271
Letter to Sabine (Regarding Superficial Engagement) (2006) 275
Letter to Frederic (Regarding "Concretion") (2006) 279
The Procession (2006) 283
Concept Car (2007) 287
Power Tools (2007) 291
Ur-Collage (2008) 295
The Bijlmer Spinoza-Festival (2009) 299
"Precarious Theater" (2009) 303
Théátre Précaire for "Ce qui vient" (2009) 307
Regarding Théátre Précaire and Théátre Précaire 2 (2010) 312
Untere Kontrolle (2011) 315
Crystal of Resistance (2011) 319
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh: An Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn (2003, Published 2005) 327
Mission: "Tenir Le Siège": Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn by Jade Lindgaard and Jean-Max Colard (2004) 355
Becoming One's Own Museum: Conversation Between Thomas Hirschhorn and François Piron (2006, Edited and Published 2009) 359
Conversation: Presupposition of the Equality of Intelligences and Love of the Infinitude of Thought: An Electronic Conversation Between Thomas Hirschhorn and Jacques Rancière (2009-2010) 371
François Piron: Interview with Thomas Hirschhorn (2010) 381
What People are Saying About This
Every sentence Thomas Hirschhorn produces explodes the category of artists' writings. 'Energy = Yes! Quality = No!' is one of his principles. Reading this book takes us straight to the core of what it is that distinguishes our role as thinking beings. An overwhelming simplicity and clarity marks the way in which Hirschhorn elaborates his thoughts and reflections by specifically discussing his actions within the context of the world around him. The fact that form and its creation figure prominently in such unconventional ruminations is typically impish, unexpected and jolting.
One comes to Thomas Hirschhorn's work with the sense that he is averse to those artistic strategies that often cloak an artist's work, and its intentions, in a veil of studied ambiguity. Against this tendency of dutiful obfuscation and systematization, his work is characterized by a directness of address, by a commitment to thought, and by the necessity to render a clear account of his passionate interest in the world. Critical Laboratory is a remarkable document of analytical precision that demonstrates thought in action. Hirschhorn's passionate voice and unvarnished insight ring true and clear. This book is destined to be a landmark; a primer for how an artist must act and create in the world, it will be a reference work for all future artists who see it as their duty to create dangerously in difficult times.Okwui Enwezor, Director, Haus der Kunst, Munich
Every sentence Thomas Hirschhorn produces explodes the category of artists' writings. 'Energy = Yes! Quality = No!' is one of his principles. Reading this book takes us straight to the core of what it is that distinguishes our role as thinking beings. An overwhelming simplicity and clarity marks the way in which Hirschhorn elaborates his thoughts and reflections by specifically discussing his actions within the context of the world around him. The fact that form and its creation figure prominently in such unconventional ruminations is typically impish, unexpected and jolting. Bice Curiger , editor and co-founder of Parkett ; curator of the 2011 Venice Biennale
One comes to Thomas Hirschhorn's work with the sense that he is averse to those artistic strategies that often cloak an artist's work, and its intentions, in a veil of studied ambiguity. Against this tendency of dutiful obfuscation and systematization, his work is characterized by a directness of address, by a commitment to thought, and by the necessity to render a clear account of his passionate interest in the world. Critical Laboratory is a remarkable document of analytical precision that demonstrates thought in action. Hirschhorn's passionate voice and unvarnished insight ring true and clear. This book is destined to be a landmark; a primer for how an artist must act and create in the world, it will be a reference work for all future artists who see it as their duty to create dangerously in difficult times. Okwui Enwezor , Director, Haus der Kunst, Munich
One comes to Thomas Hirschhorn's work with the sense that he is averse to those artistic strategies that often cloak an artist's work, and its intentions, in a veil of studied ambiguity. Against this tendency of dutiful obfuscation and systematization, his work is characterized by a directness of address, by a commitment to thought, and by the necessity to render a clear account of his passionate interest in the world. Critical Laboratory is a remarkable document of analytical precision that demonstrates thought in action. Hirschhorn's passionate voice and unvarnished insight ring true and clear. This book is destined to be a landmark; a primer for how an artist must act and create in the world, it will be a reference work for all future artists who see it as their duty to create dangerously in difficult times.