Thomas Hirschhorn was born in 1957 in Bern, Switzerland. Originally trained as a graphic designer, Hirschhorn shapes public discourse that relates to political discontent, and offers alternative models for thinking and being. Believing that every person has an innate understanding of art, Hirschhorn resists exclusionary and elitist aesthetic criteria—for example, quality—in favor of dynamic principles of energy and coexistence. He creates sprawling installations from mundane materials (packing tape, cardboard, foil) that engage the senses. Using collage as a form of interpretation and critique, Hirschhorn presents intellectual history and philosophical theory much as he does everyday objects and images, and poses questions about aesthetic value, moral responsibility, political agency, consumerism, and media spectacle. He has produced a series of monuments to great philosophers—Spinoza, Bataille, Deleuze, Gramsci—that while physically ephemeral are intended to live on in the collective memory of those who have experienced them. In the process of creating such work, Hirschhorn has enlisted individuals living near the monument sites, paying them to assist him (though not to collaborate, per se, in the artwork). “To me,” he says, “it seems much more honest to say coexistence than collaboration.”
In this preview from the Investigation episode of ART21 Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 7, Hirschhorn describes the importance of having community support when creating his temporary monument projects. Shown at work on Gramsci Monument (2013) from the Forest Houses in the Bronx, New York, Hirschhorn recalls finding a “key to the neighborhood” in Forest Houses president, Erik Farmer. “Thomas is definitely out there,” says Farmer, “but he got me out there with him.”
Season 7 of Art in the Twenty-First Century premieres Friday, October 24, 2014 at 10:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings or contact your local PBS station), beginning with the Investigation episode.