Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thomas Hirschorn: Information Overload at the Power Plant

My experience with Thomas Hirschorn’s work is that it’s often about overkill. And It calls attention to the fake-ness of things, as if to suggest that what we assume is solid isn’t in fact all that stable. It’s just held together with tape, or made from cardboard.

Thomas Hirschorn, Das Auge, at the Vienna Secession, 2008. Images:

Thomas Hirschorn, Das Auge, at the Power Plant, Toronto 2011. Images:

He has said, “I’m interested in the ‘too much,’ doing too much, giving too much, putting too much of an effort into something. Wastefulness as a tool or weapon.”

I would describe his installation, Das Auge at Toronto’s Power Plant, as altogether too much. It seems as if Hirschorn is trying to incite the feeling one gets of being bombarded by too many advertisements, protests, commodities, soundbites, messages etc.

My favorite part of the installation, which occupies the entire large gallery space at the Power Plant, was the viewing platform, from which viewers can overlook the whole bloody mess, which takes as its main theme the seal hunt and the protesters who so vehemently rally against it.

He’s going for a kind of emptiness. He wants the viewer to feel the void within all the cacophony. And, to a certain extent we do. But it must be hard, as an artist, to balance that without actually making artwork that is empty and tiresome.

Hirschhorn was quoted in Frieze magazine as saying “Art doesn’t give satisfaction. Art poses problems. Art gives questions. Art inflicts sadness.”

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, The Phantom Truck, 2007. Image:

Whether Hirschorn makes the balance work is a moot point, though when you consider the entire exhibition, whose most interesting gesture was by curator Gregory Burke in pairing Hirschorn’s installation with a video and sculpture by Chicago-based Spanish artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, at the other side of the gallery.

In the front room was Always After (The Glass House), a video of broken glass accumulated after the windows of the Mies van der Rohe-designed Illinois Institute of Technology’s Crown Hall were smashed. The glass is being swept up by someone with a broom. In the back room, in almost total darkness was Phantom Truck (2007), an enormous, full-scale model of a truck, imagined by the artist as one that was carrying the elusive ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as described by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Visitors are invited to circle the entire truck touching it, even using it as a guide in the darkness. The work engages the imagination in a way that is unusual for contemporary art, aided by the sense of touch and the potency of the video of shattered glass.

Together with Das Auge, it neatly presented two perspectives on today: Information overload and lack of information.