Conversation with Thomas Hirschhorn, in Vittoria Martini, Federica Martini, Just Another Exhibition. Representing Nations in Contemporary Exhibition Practice, Postmediabooks, Milan 2011.
A Conversation with Thomas Hirschhorn:
In your reply to our invitation to discuss biennials and international exhibition practices, you wrote, “I doubt I have anything to say because I am not interested in the subject and especially in ‘Biennials and International Art Practices’. I – THE ARTIST – am only interested in my work, I – THE ARTIST – occupy myself exclusively with doing my work, and I – THE ARTIST- am interested in exhibiting my work”. How do you see your participation in the Venice Biennale, in the Swiss pavilion, located in an exhibition space that is not neutral, but rather linked to international cultural policies and diplomatic relations?
Your questions have given me the chance to clarify certain things, things that have been clear to me for a while and constitute the basis of my work. I have never produced an artwork especially for a context. I am not interested in contexts, since I believe in the autonomy of Art. Art is autonomous and such autonomy is what gives it beauty and makes it absolute. I believe in Art. I believe that Art – because it is Art – can create the conditions for engagement that transcends everything, going beyond the issues of countries, nations, or states. The cultural policies of this or that nation do not interest me, nor do the diplomatic relations among states. For me – as an artist – it is normal, and also necessary, to be interested first and foremost in my own work, to be interested in producing my own artwork, and to be interested simply in Art; art, which is beauty and absolute. In any case, what interests me is Art and its power of transformation – because it is Art. Yes, I believe that art can transform a human being, any human being.
This is my challenge in Venice, like elsewhere: to produce work that has the power to transform. Participating in an event like the Venice Biennale is a wonderful chance to show your work; show it to the general public for a long time, six months. It is an opportunity to produce a new coherent piece and to try to answer – through that artwork – questions like, where do I place myself? What do I want? Moreover, how do I take a stand? How do I give a form to such a position – the essential problem in art – and how can this form create a truth that transcends cultural, aesthetical, and political practices? How can it create a universal truth? Other words can replace universality: justice, equality, others, and a one and only world. I cannot create universal truth through critical discourse; I must give it a form. I want to give it a form – one that must be precise and exaggerated at the same time – in order to establish a contact with a “non-exclusive audience”. The “non-exclusive audience” are the viewers for my work in Venice, like elsewhere. All this is offered to me with the possibility of exhibiting my work at the Venice Biennale, which increasingly entails having a space to conquer through my notion of Art, and a space to conceive in order to establish a Critical Body.
Do you believe that the Venice Biennale can be a productive location for artists and for building critical discourse about a system based on national representations?
As I have already tried to answer above, I do not see why or how critical discourse on the system of national representations should interest me. Having discussions, in general, does not interest me. What I want to do with my work is to define a limit – a new limit for Art. This is my artistic ambition. This is my mission! I wouldn’t be tempted with sterile, and especially narcissistic “critical discourse”, under any circumstances. This is why I do not want to feed any narcissistic illusions nor dreams, just like I do not want to fall into distant and pragmatic cynicism. What I want to do is to establish a Critical Body and not engage in “critical discourse”. What I want is to believe in art and prove it. Believe that Art – because it is Art – can create conditions of involvement, dialogue, and one-to-one confrontation. I refuse to hold a complacent discussion when faced with a complex and chaotic world in conflict. This does not interest me, nor has it ever interested me. This famous critical discourse is fed to the artist just like a bone – often already chewed – is given to a dog. I will not bite it, although the participants of the universe of facts, opinions, and comments dislike my conduct. I am not interested, nor have I ever been interested in these particular problems. The only thing that I am overwhelmed with is the universal, which seems acceptable not only for an artist, but for any human being. It is an extraordinary challenge to figure out how to produce work that looks beyond the historical facts, how to produce work that clashes with the history in which I live, and how to produce work, today, that will become an ahistorical piece. I do not know of any artist who can seriously imagine basing his or her work on this type of problem in particular. Art is universal – simply because it is Art.
Having produced Swiss-Swiss Democracy in 2004, how do you view your participation as an artist who will represent Switzerland in the 2011 Venice Biennale in the national pavilion?
There is no artistic or “political” contradiction in the work I produce. There aren’t even any contradictions in the way I fight to keep my position and my art form. There is, on the contrary, coherence and a will that I want to affirm, increase and enlarge every day, for the sake of my work. I am forced to say this in such a direct way because I am under the impression that I am being understood increasingly less. I ought to say, on this occasion, that what I did with Swiss-Swiss Democracy is of evident clarity and transparency. I kept up my boycott not to exhibit in Switzerland during the period in which an extreme right wing Federal Councillor was in office. I totally kept it going. I maintained it because I had stated precisely that I would not exhibit in Switzerland – in fact, Swiss-Swiss Democracy was produced in Paris, France. If you boycott something, you need to find ways to maintain it – and that is what I did. You need to keep your word – and I did. I never claimed that I would give up being Swiss or that I would never work with the Swiss – I said I would no longer exhibit in Switzerland. In any case, as an artist, exhibiting is the thing I pay more dearly for. Declaring a boycott must primarily cost you something. Otherwise, it is not a boycott. None of my galleries exhibited my work for four years; therefore, none of my work sold – except for one piece at Art Basel, in Switzerland. I ask you to take my word for it, nothing more, nothing less. I’d like to be taken at my word. I was successful because my boycott was a successful one – just like all boycotts that are maintained. After four years, the extreme right-wing Swiss federal Councillor was never re-elected. He was never re-elected, much to everyone’s surprise, and I can say that it is thanks to my boycott! This boycott was successful. Since then, I have been able to exhibit in Switzerland once more, and this makes me happy! Regarding my famous contradictions, they are part of human nature: I am in favour of peace among people. I really would like everyone to lend each other a hand, though when I say this I imagine the artist as a warrior. We all must be passionate warriors! When I say this, I mean that I am in favour of the weak and of helping the weak, of working with and for the weak – although weakness, as such, is one of the things I hate the most! I admire those artists that do “nothing”. And although I love my work, I have never done enough. Yet I actually am a true workaholic.
Crystal of Resistance
Commissioner: Urs Staub. Venue: Pavilion at Giardini
Chewing the Scenery
Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz, Maria Iorio/Raphaël Cuomo, Uriel Orlow, Eran Schaerf, Tim Zulauf/KMUProduktionen and others.
Commissioner: Andreas Münch. Curator: Andrea Thal. Venue: Teatro Fondamenta Nuove (until October 2nd, 2011)