Rowan's Group: Artist Research, Ashley Kreidler
Thomas Hirschhorn’s work has been deemed everything from wasteful and unstable to absolute genius. He uses his contemporary artwork to critique societal devices and he frequently uses the urgency and disparity of protest banners and hand-written grievances to convey his ideas to his audience. Hirschhorn’s work also gives the viewer a strong sense of urgency as he uses everyday objects, such as cardboard, masking tape, and construction paper to create intense and chaotic scenes, sending confusing and overwhelming messages to the viewer.
Born in Bern, Switzerland in 1957, Thomas Hirschhorn is known worldwide for his installations, collages and out-of-gallery works. Although he started in the art world as a graphic designer in the mid-1980’s, Hirschhorn has always used art as a way to convey political and societal critiques. After he abandoned graphic design to immerse himself within sculptural displays and other installation work, he began to explore the use of everyday objects to create strongly critical and unrefined artworks that became his own signature style. Three of Hirschhorn’s works, The Launderette, Hotel Democracy and The Blue series exemplify Hirschhorn’s style and many of his political ideals. Within these pieces he explores the ideas of societal and ethnic cleansing, democratic hypocrisy, militarization and patriarchy.
In his installation titled “Launderette”, Hirschhorn created a mock-up laundromat entirely from cardboard, tape and paint. Instead of viewers watching clothes tumble through the washing machine, however, they are subjected to watching horrific real-life executions, documented torture and rotting human corpses. He transformed the common landscape of a laundromat into a scene of ethnic and societal cleansing in which the viewer is morbidly transfixed into watching. Mixed in with the gruesome scenes of murder and decay, however, are snippets of celebrity gossip and even an article about fly-fishing. There are hundreds of newspaper clips on the walls surrounding the 16 washing machines. According to Adrian Steale of The Guardian magazine Thomas Hirschhorn’s “work often looks like confusion, but it is not always possible to tell whether that confusion is his or ours. He piles on the layers, the words, the images, the cross-references. If he wants to reclaim the world, to rescue it, he also recognizes the impossibility of the task, art's impotence.” By creating a tumultuous and disordered environment that also commented on the state of our world in “The Launderette”, Hirschhorn implied the hopelessness and disillusionment that many of the world’s citizens’ face. Although the materials used in the installation were simple and easily accessible, the juxtaposition of the well-known and mundane setting with the sinister images and newspaper snippets sent a strong message about his discontent with our world as well as the way people choose to deal with it.
Apart from full installation work, Hirschhorn also creates two-dimensional collages. His work at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis reflects upon the September 11th attacks in the United States. Each collage is composed of magazine clippings, ink, tape, and sheer plastic wrapping. All of these pieces reflect upon war, violence, and the sexual imagery of women. Hirschhorn juxtaposes women’s nudity, designer labels, and the violence of war in a way that creates a confusing connection while simultaneously forcing the viewer to make parallels between each of these concepts. In “Engagement”, Hirschhorn uses an image of a Muslim woman being hung, women in the army, and shows the sexual exploitation of women in advertisements. These images expose the systems of patriarchy, militarization and exploitation that capitalism endorses. Similar to his installation pieces, these too are composed of a multitude of different images and materials. Each looks as if it was violently attacked with blue ink, which is a strong contrast to the heavy reds and other warm colors found throughout the collages. In this way, the blues are emphasized within the collage to transform the magazine images. He uses the ink to create a tear-like quality to the majority of the women’s faces, as well as scribble messages and titles throughout each piece. These techniques together employ a chaos that is a staple to his work while also making a strong critique of the devices that are common among capitalist societies.
Thomas Hirschhorn’s unrefined and crude style along with his strong social and political critics has made him an important contemporary artist. Much of his work dwells upon how and why the evils among us are let to live on and how these devices affect each person in the world. In a time of societal and political unrest, Hirschhorn’s work is bound to continue to explore new realms of public ideals.