The Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn rose to prominence in the 1990s for his sculptural installations that combined philosophical theories and mundane, recycled materials to raise questions about consumerism, social responsibility, political discontent, and reality. His huge, immersive, site-specific environments often entail interacting with the local community in both production and enactment.Read More
Thomas Hirschhorn's engagement with philosophy is perhaps most evident in his 'Monument' series, which saw the artist create monuments dedicated to key European thinkers. These are: the Spinoza Monument, Amsterdam (1999); the Deleuze Monument, Avignon (2000); the Bataille Monument, Kassel (2002); and the Gramsci Monument, New York (2013). With each work, Hirschhorn enlisted local residents to help him. He further developed over time a practice of presentation and production that emphasised the significance of the artist's presence onsite during the monument's construction and maintenance. Political efficacy and the dissemination of information are core components of these community projects.
For the Gramsci Monument, which commemorated the Italian Marxist and politician Antonio Gramsci, Thomas Hirschhorn hired volunteers from the local community of Forest Houses to erect an immersive structure that included a library, exhibition space, and radio station. Through daily and weekly programmes, he envisioned the work as a way of encouraging its residents to learn about Gramsci's ideas. The Monument also served as an alternative to the traditional idea of a monument as a semi-permanent structure, as it was open for only six weeks.
Rubble and urban detritus are a common sight in Thomas Hirschhorn's installations that address common conditions of the contemporary period. In Too Too-Much Much at Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens (2010), Deurle, Belgium, the artist filled the entire exhibition space with cans to provide an uncompromising portrayal of relentless consumption and the resulting waste.
Destruction was at the core of In-Between at the South London Gallery (2015), which developed from Gramsci's quote 'Destruction is difficult. It is as difficult as creation.' Using cardboard, packing tape, chairs, and toilets, among other items, Hirschhorn constructed an environment that simultaneously addressed the processes of destruction and creation.
Thomas Hirschhorn also works with collage as a tool for critique and a mode of abstraction that may engage with real-life issues. In the 'Pixel-Collage' series (2015–2017), he juxtaposed advertisements from magazines with images of violence—parts of which were obliterated through pixilation. The sections that were censored, however, were not the scenes of brutality but those of manicured advertisements—a reminder that the media, whether commercial or news, presents meditated images rather than unequivocal representations of reality.
Selected solo exhibitions by Thomas Hirschhorn include Eternal Ruins, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris (2020); Resculpt, Ming Contemporary Art Museum, Shanghai (2018); Catastrophe and the Power of Art, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2018); Pixel-Collage, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris (2016); and 3 'Easycollage' and 6 'Collage-Truth', Museo d'Arte Provincia di Nuoro, Italy (2015).
Thomas Hirschhorn also represented Switzerland at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011) and was included in All The World's Futures at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), directed by the late Okwui Enwezor. An anthology of his writings, Critical Laboratory: The Writings of Thomas Hirschhorn, was published by MIT Press (October Books) in 2013.
Thomas Hirschhorn lives and works in Paris.
Biography by Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020