Thomas Hirschhorn - It's Burning Everywhere
With his first ever UK show Thomas Hirschhorn has provided Dundee Contemporary Arts with its most eye-catching exhibition to date. Neil Cooper meets the iconoclastic Swiss artist
‘It's burning everywhere,
It's burning far away –
it's burning in my neighbourhood,
It's burning in the 'conflict zone',
my house is burning, I am burning myself,
there is no escape from it,
because I am the 'conflict zone'.’ – Thomas Hirschhorn
As opening statements go, Thomas Hirschhorn makes the world of his first ever solo UK show in a public space, ‘It’s Burning Everywhere,’ sound like an inglorious mess illustrating the apocalyptic monologue that opened Godspeed You Black Emperor’s debut album which so epitomised the twentieth century’s end. This major coup for Dundee Contemporary Arts looks set to be the largest in the gallery’s decade-long history, featuring as it does the trademark bomb-site detritus of the Swiss-born iconoclast’s oeuvre – mannequins, strip lights, tin foil, cardboard, parcel tape and found images. Hirschhorn may not have been born in flames, but he sounds spectacularly scorched from their blast.
“The fire burns everywhere,” he says. “I want to give form to the point that the fire is in me. I am burning, not only from what touches me from the ‘outside,’ but I am also burning from the ‘inside’. Everyday I open myself more to the world, and I want to have the courage to burn more and more. This is the ‘conflict zone’ in myself, which grows. There is no escape.”
Such a driven and wilfully individualistic outlook recalls the obsessive insistence of Magazine’s ennui-laden song, ‘I Want To Burn Again.’ Also on show are Hirschhorn’s ‘Substitution 2 (The Unforgettable)’ and his ‘Ur-Collage’ series, which may be explicit in their juxtapositions of the airbrushed gloss of found fashion images set against warts-and-all frontline scenes of war-zone atrocity, but they’re similarly contrary.
“They are artworks made with love,” Hirschhorn insists, “not with anger, hate or resentment. Rage is not negative. I rage against myself, not against something. I can only do my work when I agree. So I am not in rage with the world, I agree with it. But agreeing does not mean to approve everything in the world, with its chaos, its violence and its contradictions, with its fragility, its incommensurability, and with everything which stays non-resolved.
Born in Bern in 1957, Hirschhorn spent the 1980s working as a radical graphic artist in Paris. He joined Grapus, a group of Communist graphic designers concerned with politics and culture, who used the language of design to stage street-poster guerrilla interventions. Hirschhorn left Grapus to concentrate on installation and site-specific work in a manner that reinvented the environmental inclusiveness of Joseph Beuys.
A major project this year was ‘The Bjilmer Spinoza festival’, a three-month Amsterdam residency that was essential a giant community Happening. While such social engagement tallies with a rediscovery across all art forms of 1960s-inspired counter-cultural ideas, Hirschhorn’s outlook is defiantly personal.
“I am not interested in what is currently happening, or what is currently ‘on view’”, he says. “When you think there is re-engagement with some kind of art today, that's fine. To me, total engagement is necessary for doing all kind of art. Only with full-engagement do I have a chance to reach the other with my work. But as an artist I have a mission,” he says. “My mission is to create a new term of art.”
Thomas Hirschhorn - It’s Burning Everywhere – Dundee Contemporary Arts, 19 September - 29 November. A series of accompanying lectures begins with Thomas Hirschhorn speaking on 17 September at 11am. Booking is advised as places are limited.