– Spring/Summer 2004

Reading Hirschhorn: A Problem of (His) Knowledge, or Weakness as a Virtue

Jan Estep

Becoming an artist was a political choice. This does not mean that I make 'political art', or even 'political graphic art'. My choice was to refuse to make political art. I make art politically.

I do not think that art has a constituted centre; it's an open space. Art makes
things move and keeps thoughts moving; it decentralises.

Energy, yes! Quality, no!

[The street altars] are generic, but apply weakness implacably as a strategy.

Naiveté doesn't interest me, utopianism does; nostalgia doesn't interest me,
stupidity does.

I am not here to show that I am able to control things well. This is what I
call working politically.

Why am I an artist? Because I take a critical position toward how the world
looks and what the human situation is like today. My non-agreement gives me
energy to work.

- Thomas Hirschhorn1

I find that I want to come to Hirschhorn's displays with an expectation that he has something specific to communicate, a particular point of view to share that I can take back to the world, hopefully better prepared to live. I want Hirschhorn to teach me something, to show me a new way of looking at things, or to give me a way to think about the world that intuitively makes sense of my experience. But he has no interest in something so straightforward. Instead he makes me encounter ignorance, a peculiar state of ignorance in the face of an onslaught of information. I walk away with a sense of my need for answers, for him to explain some possible solution or clear vantage point, which he deliberately refuses me. He refuses such

  1. Quotations are by the artist as cited in the following articles, in order of appearance: Alison M. Gingeras, 'Thomas Hirschhorn: Striving to be Stupid', Art Press, 239, October 1998, pp.20-21; Okwui Enwezor, 'Interview', in Thomas Hirschhorn (exh. cat.), Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago and The Renaissance Society, 2000, p.33; Ibid., p.32; Thomas Hirschhorn, 'Altar to Raymond Carver in Fribourg', 27 June 1998, artist text posted at www.thegalleriesatmoore.org/publications/hirsch/hirschhorn.shtml; O. Enwezor, op. cit., p.29; Pascaline Cuvelier, 'Weak Affinities: The Art of Thomas Hirschhorn', Artforum, May 1998, p.134; Daniel Birnbaum, 'A Thousand Words: Thomas Hirschhorn Talks About his Critical Laboratory', Artforum, March 2000, p.109

  2. Thomas Hirschhorn, cited in Mark Rappolt, 'Studio: Thomas Hirschhorn', Tate Magazine, Issue 7, September/October 2003

  3. Thomas Hirschhorn, cited in Douglas Fogle, No Heroics Please, Philadelphia: The Galleries at Moore, 2000

  4. Thomas Hirschhorn, cited in Thomas Girst, 'Prix Marcel Duchamp 2000: Seven Questions for Thomas Hirschhorn', Tout-fait, The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, vol.2, issue 4, January 2002, www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/ issue_4/interviews/hirschhorn/hirschhorn.html

  5. Thomas Hirschhorn, cited in D. Birnbaum, op. cit., p.109

  6. Ibid.

  7. Guy Debord, 'Proposition 17', The Society of the Spectacle, Donald Nicholson-Smith (trans.), Cambridge: Zone Books/MIT Press, 2002, p.16

  8. Thomas Hirschhorn, as cited in O. Enwezor, op. cit., pp.30-31

  9. Jorges Luis Borges, 'Pierre Menard', Labyrinths, New York: New Directions Publications, 1962 and 1964, p.43

  10. Jan Estep, 'Thomas Hirschhorn, The Art Institute of Chicago', New Art Examiner, vol.27, no.6, May 2000, pp.48-49

  11. I am not alone in this response. See Philippe Vergne, 'Thomas Hirschhorn, You Are So Annoying', Parkett, no.57, 1999, pp.138-40

  12. Thomas Hirschhorn, cited in D. Birnbaum, op. cit., p.109

  13. Thomas Hirschhorn, cited in O. Enwezor, op. cit., p.28

  14. Ibid., p.34

  15. Thomas Hirschhorn, cited in A. Gingeras, op. cit., p.25. See also James Rondeau, 'Jumbo Spoons and Big Cake at The Art Institute of Chicago', in Thomas Hirschhorn, op. cit., p.10

  16. Thomas Hirschhorn, cited in Hamza Walker, 'Disguise the Limit: Thomas Hirschhorn's World Airport', in Thomas Hirschhorn, op. cit., p.21

  17. Jane Flax, Reading Lacan Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985, p.19

  18. Ibid., p.21

  19. Ibid., p.43

  20. Ibid., pp.29 and 27 respectively

  21. Ibid., p.46

  22. Thomas Hirshhorn, cited in O. Enwezor, op. cit., p.34

  23. Ibid., p.28

  24. Thomas Hirschhorn, cited in Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, 'Cargo and Cult: The Displays of Thomas Hirschhorn', Artforum, November 2001, p.108