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Thomas Hirschhorn - The Eye

Category: Exhibition, Artwork 23. July 2008

To flare up, to freak out, to lose it—to see red. Red stands for danger, the red stoplight, red stands for pain and suffering, the red flag, red stands for love and desire, glowing-hot red, blood red. "The Eye" sees red. Exclusively. At least according to the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, whose installation “The Eye” currently takes place at the Wiener Secession.

Thomas Hirschhorn is a fan of philosophy. He admires Foucault. In one of his early works, Foucault investigates "The Order of Things", which gives us a clear view of the world, putting some things together according to a relation, while others are incomparably set apart. The order of the things, according to the philosopher, is not self-evident, various possibilities exist. Foucault quotes from J.L. Borges’ book "The Book of Imaginary Beings", an encyclopedia which arranges the world in a decidedly unexpected manner.

An example: the species of animals are categorized as follows: embalmed animals, milk pigs, sirens, animals from fables, stray dogs, animals who belong to the emperor, which could be painted with a very fine camel-hair paintbrush, animals that look like flies from a distance, etc.

What makes this order impossible for us, says the philosopher, is not the fact that, for example, animals from fables are included among the categories for the animals. The impossibility results from the fact that animals from fables are placed beside milk pigs, which in turn are placed beside embalmed animals, then stray dogs, and so on, thereby placing things together on a level which we ourselves could not even imagine in our wildest imaginings, in which these things can exist among and even have relationships to one another.

Foucault asked the question: on what level can things exist and relate to each other in the real world? In his exhibition in Vienna, Hirschhorn, fan of philosophers and an artist answers: in the red. “The Eye” sees red and only red. “The Eye” seeing red is an arrangement by the artist in which all things red are put on one level and thereby placed in relation to each another.

Hirschhorn’s red puts us in a frame of mind which works against the confusion of an order of the world that is becoming more and more complicated. This is related to the fact that, although the artist places all the things on one level, he refuses to make their connections obvious to the viewer: “ “The Eye” sees, but it does not necessarily understand”. In this sense, Hirschhorn’s installation is just as radical as Borges’ encyclopedia. It is a setting in which things are placed on common ground and in close proximity, and which we try comprehend—but “The Eye” does not understand, it only feigns insight into relations. Hirschhorn is therefore justified in implying that his art could be considered pretentious and ambitious, and, in a certain sense, that it would be insane even to want to point out all of the connections in the installation.

Hirschhorn’s tools are the all-inclusive, the over-the-top, the over-the-edge, as well as the going one or two steps beyond that which is permitted acceptable. Instead of a neat reduction, he aims for an overwhelming excess of order—a frenzy of free association gone wild. Let’s call it “rhizomorphing”. Hirschhorn also mentions Gilles Deleuze, the French philosopher, as a major influence. In 1976, Deleuze postulated, along with Félix Guattari: “1 and 2 – the principles of connection and heterogeneity. Any point of a rhizome can and must be connected with every other one. Completely different on the other hand from a tree or root, for which only one point and order is fixed”. (wh/jn)

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