Thomas Hirschhorn: Das Auge (The Eye)
Interview: Gregory Burke speaks to Thomas Hirschhorn
GB: At the outset of your statement on Das Auge (The Eye) you declare that “Das Auge [The Eye] has nothing to do with Georges Bataille,” an acknowledgement through renunciation. You also state that you aim in the work “to give form to the resistance against facts,” which could be related to Bataille. Why did you cite Bataille in your statement on Das Auge?
TH: I did cite Bataille because I wanted to make it clear that my love for him and for his work is intact, but that the work Das Auge (The Eye) in itself has nothing to do with his Histoire de l’oeil or Les Larmes d’Éros – with the pictures of the “Supplice Chinois” – or with any of his other works. To quote the name of Bataille is a “shadow” homage, because his work was and is essential to me. With the work Das Auge (The Eye) I want to give a form which resists facts, which resist opinion and which goes beyond actuality, which reaches beyond information – that is why I invented the motif “eye” and its capacity to see everything red.
GB: The work engages a sense of the phantom, not least in the empty chairs that have portraits of heads attached. Who are these people and who or what are they representing?
TH: The “people” on the chairs represent “the innocents,” they are the substitutes; they represent the nonconcerned, the civilians, the spectators, the people who, by chance or bad luck, are present. They are made in the same cut-out technique as the “flatdaddies,” those cut-out portraits done by family members of western soldiers in the recent wars in order to carry their daddies with them during daily tasks. These “flat-daddies” also represent hijacked hostages or any other hostage situation where armed forces have to intervene without killing “the innocents.” In order to train for such delicate situations, the armed forces practice in shooting camps, where they represent hostages, in order to avoid shooting them, with their own means in handmade, self-made constructions. I love this kind of creativity and I love this kind of aesthetic. Today – perhaps – all these faces could represent a “friend” of yours in a social network but you don’t know.
GB: The eye referred to in the work seems neither attracted to nor repulsed by what it sees and indeed it seems detached, or disembodied. What relationship are you seeking to articulate between this “eye” and the body in general terms and also the body of the viewer during their encounter with the installation?
TH: The eye is sovereign. The eye is form itself. The eye stands for the absolute, the eye is free. The eye does not lie – as an image, a picture never lies. The eye does not need information but the eye sees the truth. To me the eye is a form for truth. The eye goes beyond the opinion and the comments, the eye reaches beyond history. The eye is the ally of all things which want to exist as such, universality, equality, justice, the idea of a “one world” – the world we are living in.
I am not thinking of the body of the viewer, but I am thinking of the form of a possible exhibition today, as something dense, frontal, something charged. An exhibition with no space to lay back, no space to take distance from and no space for an overview. I want the viewer to be in my work, completely inside, I want him to engage or to confront it, beyond his sensibility, his preference and beyond his desire.
GB: In previous works you have worked with local collaborators and situations as a means to explore the concept of universal truth. Das Auge (The Eye) was first presented in Vienna. Is this locality important to the work? I note for example that the Austrian flag is red as are the Swiss flag, the country of your birth, and the Canadian flag.
TH: Das Auge (The Eye) is presented here, in Canada because you invited me to do an exhibition in your space, but also because, just as you were proposing it, I saw the Canadian flag floating outside The Power Plant somewhere – so it was obvious for me to think of this specific work, it was for me a moment of grace.
That’s why Das Auge (The Eye) is now in Toronto.
Das Auge (The Eye) is not a “Presence and Production” work, so it does not need a specific implication of inhabitants or local people. The locality is never important to me; I am not doing context art. Das Auge (The Eye) was presented in Austria because the Secession invited me. It’s by a happy and graceful chance – and perhaps less or perhaps more than that – that Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Poland, Singapore, or Tunisia and so many other countries have a large part of red colour in their national flag. Is this red predominance the sign that nations were born in blood and violence, in a conflict? The eye doesn’t need to know – the eye just sees and that’s what counts. The red colour in the flags of all these nations links them together. The eye does not know which politics links them – the eye just sees that red binds them together – this is the political! I am not interested in the economical, political, social, cultural, or aesthetical connections between all the “red states,” but I am interested by the fact that the colour red is the link between all of them; red is the form which links them.
GB: In our discussions regarding the presentation of the work you emphasized the Canadian references. The seal slaughter reference will elicit divided response, given that it is particular to a long-standing cultural practice of the indigenous Inuit communities of the Canadian North. My reading is that the reference in the work is not so much to the practice itself, but rather to its representation in the media, which itself is not necessarily motivated by truth. Are you taking a position on the practice of seal slaughter?
TH: As there is more and more to analyze today, media, journalism, opinions, and comments want to impose their ideology of information. I do not need to be informed – I need to be confronted with the truth. The seal slaughter, the whale-killing, the anti-rodeo movement, the anti-fur-protests are the motif or the frieze for my exhibition. Only a motif which runs through the entire work as a kind of decorative frieze. The seal slaughter is the door, the window or just a hole to enter the hardcore of the reality of today, which I am really interested in. I am interested in the human being and its condition. This is why I have a position and this is why I want people to take a position: the slaughter of human beings, the killing of people and the destruction of human bodies, taking life away from every woman and from every man. This killing, justified by religious, political, economical, social, and even cultural ideologies is what revolts me. This is what really deserves to be stood for, to save each human body, to preserve each life, the life of a murderer, the life of a terrorist, the life of the enemy, the life of a friend, each singular human life. It’s not about fighting for innocent seals, innocent whales, innocent bulls, innocent dogs, or innocent cats; it’s about preserving the lives of the non-innocent human beings. The life of each, singular, non-innocent human being in this world, this unique world, has to be saved – this is my position!
After the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2009, the sole surviving member of the terrorist group admitted his guilt in court: “I don’t think I am innocent.” I, myself, also can say: “I don’t think I am innocent.” Nobody is innocent – that’s why the life of any human being, any non-innocent human being, has to be protected!
Gregory Burke is the Director of The Power Plant