Thomas Hir­sch­horn: Kee­ping the Flame Thomas Clerc ma­gni­fi­cent­ly hel­ped fan the flame, to shape it, by this choice of form. But the ex­hi­bi­tion is al­so de­ter­mi­ned by all those who contri­bute with their pre­sence, by prin­ting so­me­thing, by sculp­ting a piece o

Art Press - - ENERGY -

Thomas Hir­sch­horn’s Flamme éter­nelle (Eter­nal Flame) bur­ned in the rooms of the Pa­lais de To­kyo bet­ween April 24 and June 23, 2014. The ex­hi­bi­tion was one vast pro­duc­tion ma­chine, cu­ra­ted by Ju­lien Fron­sacq. It com­pri­sed two “hearths,” 15,000 tires, and eight spaces contai­ning rea­ding mat­ter and ob­jects for crea­ting. Ad­mis­sion was free, and the ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tu­red a num­ber of spon­ta­neous­ly or­ga­ni­zed— “non-pro­gram­med”—in­ter­ven­tions by the likes of Phi­lippe Ar­tières, Bap­tiste La­nas­pèze, Charles Pen­ne­quin, Jacques Ran­cière, Fa­brice Rey­mond, Cla­ra Schul­mann, Laurent de Sut­ter, Ab­del­lah Taïa and ma­ny others. Along with wri­ter Ma­nuel Jo­seph and phi­lo­so­pher Mar­cus Stein­weg, Hir­sch­horn him­self was present in the gal­le­ries throu­ghout the ex­hi­bi­tion.

The mee­ting with Thomas Hir­sch­horn be­gins with loo­king for a quiet place to talk, away from the noise of the vi­deos and the spea­kers. Odd­ly enough, the best place turns out to be along an open pas­sage ra­ther than a se­clu­ded cor­ner. Near­by, a vi­si­tor is sit­ting on a so­fa, com­for­table enough al­most to join in our conver­sa­tion. First up, the ex­hi­bi­tion title: “Eter­nal Flame” evokes me­mo­rials, trium­phal arches, the flame of li­ber­ty on the wa­ter­front in New York. These are flames with a spi­ri­tual di­men­sion. “They are all flames. It’s a clear, open title,” he says. “If there is a flame in the title, there are two in the ex­hi­bi­tion, in or­der to show this mul­ti­pli­ci­ty, to draw a form.”

One of the spea­kers, wri­ter Thomas Clerc, of­fe­red to teach vi­si­tors a poem about bas­tards by Joa­chim Du Bel­lay, is­sue no. 37 (June 6) of the dai­ly jour­nal pu­bli­shed during the ex­hi­bi­tion re­lates this ex­pe­rience. Your ex­hi­bi­tion could be de­fi­ned as an in­ter­ior sculp­ture, a shif­ting, in­tel­lec­tual sculp­ture.

Flamme éter­nelle dif­fers from your pre­vious pro­jects by its prin­ciple of “non-pro­gram­ming.” There is an in­ter­es­ting pa­ra­dox in trying to es­cape, as you do here, from the consump­tion of culture and from cul­tu­ral ani­ma­tion, to which we are of­ten sub­jec­ted, by of­fe­ring an ove­ra­bun­dance of pro­po­sals.” “Over-taxing the sys­tem can lead to fa­tigue, and fa­tigue means you can stop lying,” you wrote in 1994.(1) That re­mark could ap­ply to Flamme éter­nelle. That quo­ta­tion sums up a prin­ciple I have al­ways af­fir­med in my work. The “non-pro­gram­ming” that I set up here for the first time, as­king people to make their con­tri­bu­tions wi­thout prior an­noun­ce­ment, wi­thout pa­nels or other si­gnage, at no set time and wi­thout me­dia­tion, is far from “ef­fi­cient.” But it’s the on­ly form that keeps the work from get­ting stuck in a rut. All the contri­bu­tors fol­lo­wed this unu­sual and dif­fi­cult rule. This means you can talk to vi­si­tors one by one, sim­ply by af­fir­ming a “now” and a “here.” The ques­tion of kno­wing whe­ther it works al­rea­dy serves as a fig leaf for the cul­tu­ral in­dus­try in its pro­duc­tion of “hits.” But a “fai­lure” can al­so be art. In Flamme éter­nelle there are mo­ments of joy, grace, pre­ca­rious, lu­mi­nous mo­ments, events that—and this is the most im­por­tant thing—pro­duce a trans­for­ma­tion.

In what you are doing there seems to be an at­tempt to slow time down. Isn’t that the mea­ning of those ban­ners with quotes from phi­lo­so­phers and wri­ters that are in­ter­rup­ted: for example, “I don’t want a fu­ture, I want a….” (the end of the sen­tence is a “present” and it is by Ro­bert Wal­ser). We are sub­jec­ted to so much in­for­ma­tion in the ex­hi­bi­tion space that we are obli­ged, if we want to do any­thing, to en­ter in­to a state of real concen­tra­tion, to ap­pro­priate time when in life we usual­ly let it run by.

This comes from my com­mit­ment to pre­sence. In my “Pre­sence and Pro­duc­tion” pro­jects, it is pre­sence that sup­plies pro­duc­tion, star­ting with that of the ar­tist, throu­ghout the du­ra­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion. I wan­ted to create a space in which non-sa­tis­fac­tion is pos­sible, where there is no room for good conscience and bad conscience is ban­ned. I want people to give of their time, their bo­dy. It has to be free so that people can come se­ve­ral times and see it eve­ry day, like me. It’s not a per­for­mance. The idea is that of a gift, ag­gres­sive, of­fen­sive and af­fir­ma­tive, a form that forces the other to be present and to pro­duce so­me­thing. I want to create a dy­na­mics of com­pre­hen­sion, be­cause when you un­ders­tand, things be­come ne­ces­sa­ry, you create the condi­tions for being here and now. You don’t need to concen­trate, un­less it is to be here, now. You have to say awake.

The ex­hi­bi­tion has a la­by­rin­thine di­men­sion. There is no plan, you have to look for the in­ter­ven­tions an­noun­ced on the way in.

It’s not a la­by­rinth but an or­ga­nic space, struc­tu­red by two cen­ters, a bar, a work­shop,

a vi­deo space, a li­bra­ry, a news­pa­per space, an In­ter­net space. I didn’t want to build walls, I used tires to keep a de­gree of po­ro­si­ty. In my work, eve­ry­thing is in­ten­tio­nal: the oc­cu­pa­tion of space, the sa­tu­ra­tion, the light. My rule of con­duct is Less is less, more is more! I don’t want to work ei­ther against or for the exis­ting ar­chi­tec­ture, but with it.


Where do the “Convin­cing Rea­dings” ( Lec­tures convain­cantes) that struc­ture the ex­hi­bi­tion come from?

The “Convin­cing Rea­ding” is thea­ter. All day long so­meone reads aloud from a li­bra­ry book in or­der to feed the flame. In 2010, during the “Pre­ca­rious Thea­ter” I put on in Rennes, an ac­tress and lo­cal in­ha­bi­tant said to me, “Thomas, what we’re doing here is not theatre, we are doing convin­cing rea­ding.” I found the ex­pres­sion ma­gni­ficent, and so I bor­ro­wed it—with her agree­ment. In the ex­hi­bi­tion col­lage, which is crea­ted by the duct tape hol­ding the chairs down on the floor, is al­so pro­du­ced au­ral­ly, by the su­per­po­si­tion of in­ter­ven­tions that take place at the same time (voices, film ex­cerpts, the rub­bing of Sty­ro­foam). One could ima­gine a tee­ming col­lec­tive un­cons­cious. That’s a nice idea. I like the si­mul­ta­nei­ty of ac­ti­vi­ties, the pa­ral­lel pro­duc­tion of mea­ning and non­sense.

This choice of tires evokes ur­ban upri­sings— Cairo, Wall Street, the Mai­dan. There is so­me­thing contra­dic­to­ry in ha­ving this spi­rit co­ha­bit with that of the ins­ti­tu­tion. Which are the in­ter­ven­tions that sur­pri­sed you the most?

I find the ins­ti­tu­tion’s self-neu­tra­li­zing ques­tio­ning sur­pri­sing. I have al­ways fought, not that, but the ins­ti­tu­tion. I’m not com­plai­ning be­cause I am figh­ting for my own work—in this ins­tance, to re­cons­truct it eve­ry day. If there was no ins­ti­tu­tion, I would ne­ver have ex­pe­rien­ced art. I am sur­pri­sed about the way vi­si­tors hel­ped to put mea­ning and non­sense in­to this space. The heart of the pro­ject, the hard-core, is the ten or so people who come here eve­ry day and, for va­rious rea­sons, spend lots of time here, be­cause they are using time in a dif­ferent way.

The tires have a strong smell of rub­ber. There are al­so the ones in the foyers, and the heat they give off. The ex­hi­bi­tion is one gi­gan­tic work­shop, but we can ask ques­tions about he ar­tis­tic or poe­tic pro­duc­tions of vi­si­tors.

“Qua­li­ty = no, ener­gy = yes” is my line of con­duct. It is no lon­ger pos­sible to speak of “qua­li­ty” in art. Per­so­nal­ly, I don’t know what it is. When there’s an emer­gen­cy, this cri­te­rion is not at all ne­ces­sa­ry. Ho­we­ver, the ener­gy and non­sense pro­du­ced by Flamme

éter­nelle make me hap­py. My work creates a space that can al­so ac­com­mo­date non­sense. In non­sense, of course, there is al­so “sense”


Wri­ting is ve­ry present in Flamme éter­nelle: ban­ners, graf­fi­ti, a dai­ly news­pa­per, In­ter­net. “Wri­ting is al­so an en­ga­ge­ment,” you say. I was tal­king about my wri­ting, but it’s true for other people’s, too. Wri­ting is an en­ga­ge­ment be­cause it is fixed, it is an af­fir­ma­tion of form. My friends are wri­ters, phi­lo­so­phers, poets, be­cause I like what they do and be­cause I am with them in their bat­tles for a com­ma, a word, a phrase. I try to com­mit my­self with the same pas­sion as them. You write a great deal. For example, in 2007 you wrote a text tit­led Flamme éter­nelle. What is the role of wri­ting in your work? That text was about Jacques Ran­cière’s book

Le Maître igno­rant. It was the first time I tal­ked about the “eter­nal flame.” I write be­cause I want to use my words and fight for the terms I invent. Wri­ting helps cla­ri­fy things, to invent my own terms and no­tions, to for­mu­late an en­ga­ge­ment. It’s a help, but my work doesn’t de­pend on it. For an ar­tist, wri­ting is ano­ther way of figh­ting against all those bland, cli­chéd, in­exact and im­pre­cise quo­ta­tions that you find in texts on con­tem­po­ra­ry art.

You con­nect wri­ting with Pa­ris.

When I was in­vi­ted to put on an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Pa­lais de To­kyo, I wan­ted to show what Pa­ris, what my friends have brought me in the thir­ty years that I’ve been li­ving here. I don’t want to re­duce Pa­ris to wri­ting and I know that even here it is in­crea­sin­gly dif­fi­cult to get your­self pu­bli­shed. But last week, for example, Le Monde pu­bli­shed an ar­ticle by Alain Ba­diou about the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions. It is here that the Alexandre and Da­niel Cos­tan­zo’s re­view Faille was pu­bli­shed, that Christophe Fiat led me in the foots­teps of Georges Ba­taille, that Ma­nuel Jo­seph re­com­men­ded that I read Es­pèce hu­maine by Ro­bert An­telme. I can un­ders­tand that ar­tists in Los An­geles find it sti­mu­la­ting to be in the ci­ty of mo­vies. But I am here and these friend­ships are im­por­tant for me and for my work, wi­thout the ro­man­ti­cism of the Ca­fé de Flore.

Have iden­ti­fiable themes emer­ged from all the dif­ferent in­ter­ven­tions? It’s too ear­ly to ana­lyze. As an ar­tist you can’t be both present and dis­tant at the same time. I need time to think and re­flec­tion and critique can come af­ter­wards. I was hap­py that my six friends: Christophe Fiat, Ma­nuel Jo­seph, Pa­tri­cia Falguières, Alexandre and Da­niel Cos­tan­zo, Mar­cus Stein­weg, in­vi­ted their friends to Eter­nal Flame and that they in turn in­vi­ted others. More than ever, the confron­ta­tion bet­ween poe­try, phi­lo­so­phy and wri­ting creates a dy­na­mic that can cut through our cur­rent po­li­ti­cal so­cial and cul­tu­ral mess. A new field has ope­ned. Trans­la­tion, C. Pen­war­den (1) The quo­ta­tions from Thomas Hir­sch­horn come from Pa­lais Ma­ga­zine no. 19, 2014.

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