Thomas Hirschhorn
Photo by Manuel Cid Lagos

Thomas Hirschhorn: “It is an emancipatory gesture”

Short Profile

Name: Thomas Hirschhorn
DOB: 16 May 1957
Place of birth: Bern, Switzerland
Occupation: Installation artist, sculptor

Thomas Hirschhorn's new show, Never Give Up the Spot, is on display at Museum Villa Stuck in Munich until 3 February 2019.

Mr. Hirschhorn, the visitors of your latest show are first confronted with a flipchart which reads, “Why do museums exist?” What would be your answer?

I think museums exist to put us in contact with the art.

Is that why the show is free of charge — so that it encourages more contact between audience and art?

Right, in the very beginning of planning, the idea of the free entry emerged because I am trying to engage a non-exclusive audience, as I call it, for this exhibition. That is to say those that maybe have interests other than art, who maybe think art is not for them, who maybe think it’s for a different social circle to the one they belong to. And to address exactly those people is important, to invite them is important, to hope they will come is important.

You don’t want them to feel excluded.

That’s the most important, yes, and the easiest way I can achieve this is by making the entry free of charge. I do want people to come every day, or even to come back twice, three times a day. I give my time and I am here and that’s why it’s free.

“Art needs to be universal. That’s how I have always encountered art.”

You also decided that people are allowed to touch every part of the work in this show, and even take home a piece if they so choose.

It is an emancipatory gesture that you afford yourself, a gesture that is necessary. There are worse things in life than to take a book with you, right? A book that you maybe will read. I assume you take the book with you because you perceive it as interesting reading material. My work is shown in a museum for three and a half months; that it is an institution, and all of this is part of its form through my influence. It means creating a model of what a museum might look like in the future. A place to meet, to produce something, to maybe also produce nonsense, a place where we can feel welcome.

Why is the welcoming aspect of art so important to you?

Art needs to be universal. That’s how I have always encountered art. I don’t necessarily feel included in the world of art, say, or in the art market, or during discussions on art. But the art itself, that has always included me. That’s why I wanted to insist that art is an inclusive dynamic, an inclusive movement. You know, there are worse things in life than taking a Styrofoam sculpture with you.

At some point, though, the piece may disappear entirely.

That’s no problem. I have to free myself from my creation, I have to send it off, I have to give it up. And that is also the beauty, that you pass on something, that you let something live, that you allow it to confront. To get in contact with others. My art living only in my studio? That makes no sense. It wants out, that was always clear to me. Art wants out, it needs to be confronted, needs contact, it needs to become active.

Do you collect art yourself?

No, I would not call myself a collector. I have a head, I have a heart, I have arms and legs, there is a lot that can be done with those, you don’t need to be a collector for that. I don’t have this temptation to keep things with me.

Your show in Munich features a giant ruin built over three floors — is it fair to say you would rather let things decay than keep them alive forever?

(Laughs) I am interested in that complexity of a ruin, and I wanted to build a ruin here that will elicit that exact question: “Why is this a ruin?” It is a form that I need to engage myself with, so that it might give me a new insight. It creates new perspectives, it creates new density, it allows different views. And so, I thought, maybe I can put a ruin in a space where we can address these questions of creativity, of the difficulty of creativity. A ruin in itself poses the question of transience, a moment in time. I am intrigued by the fact that a ruin can have its origin in lots of very diverse reasons, corruption, war, or simply the passing of time.

You are interested in time where art is concerned?

Absolutely. Art is a tool to help me engage with the times I live in today, but also a tool to get to know the world I’m living in. It is important that we are present because only if we are present can we experience something, can we live something, can we have exchange, can we produce something. That’s what I want. So, art is a tool to confront reality, but it is also a language.

You are from Switzerland but you live in Paris and have a studio in New York. Do you believe the language of your art is understood in each of these places?

Surely. My language is my art, my form, my materials, my light, my density, my energy, my connection that I am trying to show in all its complexity — that is my language. And it is something particularly beautiful when this language can infect others, I think that’s the most important word here. If someone tells me, “I feel infected by your art, I feel impacted, it’s not left me unaffected,” then I think that’s an important step.

“I hope my work contains enough complexity, for everyone to think freely, to think further.”

Are conversations about art often too complicated?

I can’t speak for others, but for me, art is not complicated — it is complex, yes, but I see a difference between complication and complexity. I believe complexity is the most important. But when I talk about my work, it’s not about making something more complicated than it really is. It’s not about making it simpler either, it’s about showing a certain complexity, with words that are my words, with texts that are my texts. I hope my work contains enough complexity, for everyone to think freely, to think further, and that I don’t have to try to make it more complicated through the way I express myself.

Peter Ustinov once said that artists rarely have a sense of humor. Would you agree?

I have been accused of lacking a sense of humor. More than once even! I don’t take myself very seriously and I believe that’s important, those who know me know that. But what’s essential for an artist is to take your work seriously.