9th March 2007 — 30th April 2007
want to invite people not to turn their eyes away from the
non-positive. The world is only entire when it possesses all
War, violence, blood, guts, amputated limbs, flat daddies, newspaper slogans, packing tape, fragments of images, love hearts, plywood. Thomas Hirshhorn's exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery confronts the viewer with a visceral, abhorrent reality of war and destruction and the contemporary condition itself.
Two separate assemblages overtake the two rooms of the gallery so that the viewer has to uncomfortably edge around them. They act as two islands, each inhabited by a series of mannequins and cardboard cut-outs; life-sized substitutes for real people; this is a place where the image has the same value as the real. Together they thrust the corruptions and barbaric contradictions of the war and spew a productive anger, passion, urgency and energy out in every direction. Layers of meaning thrust themselves down the throat, forcing a visual gag-reflex of repulsion.
There's a comparison to be made here with Mark Wallinger's State Britain, currently on show at the Tate Britain, a precise reconstruction of Brian Haw's demonstration outside of the Houses of Parliament, but where Wallinger's position remains ambiguous- his work is at best a simulacrum of a protest - Hirshhorn's is a loud and imperative cacophony. Hirshhorn makes art like an artist wounded by the violence of the world he inhabits. Wallinger's Haw becomes a martyr, a loner making a worthy but ultimately frustrated and futile gesture among the art tourists of the Tate galleries.
Hirschhorn's didactic language at times boarders on the obvious; shock tactics we've seen before; graphic images of mutilation. An uncompromising critique of a situation from an emotionally remove can be dismissed as a resolutely one-sided representation of a complex series of arguments and contexts. However, his visual language is not a naive one; it's in your face certainly, and moves in a non-linear, multi-faceted series of arguments and questions but despite the chaotic look manages to maintain an coherent form and style from which to read this brutal and difficult message.
Quotation from Thomas Hirshhorn interviewed by Hannah Duguid, The Independent, February 2007.
Stephen Friedman Gallery
25-28 Old Burlington Street
London W1S 3AN