Magazine article Artforum International

Weak Affinities: The Art of Thomas Hirschhorn

Magazine article Artforum International

Weak Affinities: The Art of Thomas Hirschhorn

Article excerpt



On the elevated Metro leading to Thomas Hirschhorn's studio in the working-class neighborhood of Barbes (where he has lived since leaving his native Switzerland in 1984), blurred images flash before my eyes as I tick off the stops on the outskirts of Paris. Pigalle, Anvers, Barbes - they all bring to mind the immigrant neighborhoods where populations in exile gather. Coming to France from Africa, Asia, and the Antilles, they've found a way to integrate themselves in the urban milieu, or at least to get by, if barely.

In the great chaos of his installations, Hirschhorn draws on this precariousness, betting across the board on the slapdash and conditional rather than the permanent. From the beginning the artist has been committed to common materials. Cardboard is his staple; easily found, easily cut, it's an everyday material children play with, the homeless salvage, the destitute use to scrawl their pleas for change. He crumples aluminum foil into various formless forms - balls, drops, stalactitic shapes - or he rolls it into a creeping vine, an Ariadne's thread connecting every object in his labyrinthine installations. Attached to a video monitor, the foil becomes an octapus linking the various panels and snippets of text to thematically arranged images. His networks seem to seek out some impossible coherence - an Internet that is no longer virtual but real. Then there's the brown packing tape Hirschhorn uses to border drawings and collaged images. He binds their edges clumsily, suggesting make-do frames that mock good taste and the sanctity of the work of art. There's also the recycled plywood he uses to construct the ramshackle shelters and precarious cabins he calls sorting stations. Lit like a strip-mall convenience store, these stations are the clearinghouses in which he sorts the riot of components that make up his sculptural installations.

As I arrive at the Barbes stop I bear the artist's words in mind: "May voluntary weakness defeat imposed weakness."


The steps up to the studio are cluttered with taped packages ready for shipment to Cologne and New York, sites of this forty-one-year-old artist's upcoming shows. Going up the stairway, I think of the artist's pet phrase to describe his way of working: "Everything is handmade." Or the words he frequently repeats "Nothing is enlarged, nothing is reduced" - to emphasize that he doesn't intervene in the reality he finds, the images that spill forth from magazines of all sorts, which he cuts up and assembles thematically on panels. He's fond of pointing out, too, that anyone can find something of interest here, whether it's surfing or the old masters.

The floor of the rectangular studio is littered with the materials Hirschhorn uses. On a table, there's an immense Rolex made of gold and silver aluminum foil, its linked band fashioned from the lids of shoe boxes. In the back hang oversize "jewels," necklaces, and bracelets. Propped against the window, already packed up, is a monumental Swiss army knife.

Hirschhorn shows me sketches of the exhibition spaces for his upcoming shows and begins to talk intensely about his various obsessions. It seems bizarre, but at this moment I'm struck by the fact that journalistic distance is somehow impossible to maintain. What Hirschhorn says seems like the verbal equivalent of art brut: a phenomenon to be taken simply as is, like his works. The notion is linked to a phantom - Robert Walser, the vanished Swiss poet from the beginning of the century who has shaped Hirschhorn's artistic path, a writer who, in the maw of social chaos, was half-mad, half-coherent. So I decide to let the words speak for themselves. He begins by telling me about his exhibition at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne: "Rolex, etc., Freundlich's 'Aufstieg' und Skulptur-Sortier-Station-Dokumentation," which opened at the end of April.


"In the museum, my show's installed in the enormous Hall of Heroes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.