Thomas Hirschhorn b. 1957
Thomas Hirschhorn - Thank you (1995)
‘My videos are boring, repetitive, too long […] I want to do something so simple that it becomes boring […] I do think simplicity is boring, or rather is felt as being boring. Because it doesn’t bore me. True, I never get bored, maybe because I have no expectations’, writes Thomas Hirschhorn in one of his texts. The videos he makes are mostly included as part of his sculptures, adding further visual and sound stimuli to the artist’s overloaded arrangements; some of them, however, are separable and can exist on their own. As Hirschhorn writes, all the videos obey the same principles: ‘I decide very clearly: no cuts, original soundtrack, duration determined by some outside thing, total limit camera movement, no close-ups etc.’

In front of a plain green panel on which are inscribed the words ‘Thank you’, with a piece of rock music playing in the background, Thomas Hirschhorn, stripped to the waist and holding one of his collages on packing board up to his face, slaps himself at a rapid, steady rate. At the end of the song, Hirschhorn moves his collage to the other side of his face and, as the same music starts up again, he starts slapping himself on the other cheek. When the music is over again, he gets up and walks off screen. Like all Thomas Hirschhorn’s works, the videos are made with extremely simple resources; he has no desire to ‘make an image’ (it is actually very poor quality, and the collage is illegible), but what matters is the performative sign. The music is present merely as a background, and the set is very basic; the elements making up the video circumscribe the action, focusing attention on the action as a symbolic sign, and not in narrative terms. The image of the artist slapping himself refers back to a question mark over his status. This is not an exploration of the limits of suffering, of the body’s endurance; it is not so much about catharsis as an illustration or demonstration of the artist’s role as being to resist the intelligence of liberal society, through stupidity and absurdity. ‘We shall never be able to outsmart capitalism’, says Hirschhorn. ‘I don’t want to be intelligent or clever. But I still want to work. I want to be productive. My position is not a parody.’1

While the artist claims status as an ‘artist-worker-soldier’, this does not mean he has no doubts, and he frequently questions certain parts of his work, writing self-criticism and moving forward by successive corrections. He does it with humour, the slapping possibly meaning this right of the artist to make mistakes and his will to be responsible and improve.

François Piron