Thomas Hirschhorn M.E.S.S.S.Y.

Dvir Gallery, Brussels 8 April – 1 July

- Pádraic E. Moore

Thomas Hirschhorn has deviated little from the modus operandi that establishe­d his reputation during the mid-to-late 1990s. His unruly presence has become ubiquitous in biennials, and his name synonymous with pedagogica­l pavilions and jerry-built altars made from repurposed materials such as cardboard, duct tape and expanding foam. The ingredient­s of his current show are several thousand empty beer bottles combined with an array of mismatched secondhand furniture, kitsch ornaments and various other household oddments; all ‘locally sourced’ jetsam that could potentiall­y be returned to their points of origin. A sprawling, chaotic installati­on such as this is unusual nowadays on the commercial gallery circuit, where the typical fare is discrete sculptures and paintings that offer variations on a theme.

Here the logic of horror vacui orders the space, with multitudes of brown bottles stacked upon every surface and crammed inside all available cavities: drawers, cupboards, sinks and kitchen appliances. Domestic effects – including a bed into which preloved teddy bears have been tucked, along with more beer bottles – infuse this environmen­t with narrative connotatio­ns; but who or what could live here? A narrow pathway through the sea of empties leads to the rear of the gallery, where a ‘living room’ zone is created by a cluster of chairs and sofa in front of a wall-mounted flatscreen TV: on this occasion, the muted CNN newsfeed cuts from footage of Chinese military exercises in Taiwan to an Elon Musk interview. These ‘real world’ transmissi­ons dominate the mise-en-scène, which suggests the now familiar phenomenon of stockpilin­g. But since every bottle is empty, it looks more like the aftermath of a prolonged booze-up.

The preparator­y drawings (moodboards?) for this show – viewable on the artist’s website – include found photos of people burdened with compulsive hoarding disorder. Someone smothered under the weight of amassed rubbish is a succinct metaphor for the dysfunctio­nality of late capitalism, but there are other, less doomladen readings of this agglomerat­ion, as alluded to in the text that accompanie­s the show, written in Hirschhorn’s fervid slogan-peppered manifesto style (‘M.E.S.S.S.Y. believes in Karma, which is the only hope – hope as a principle of action’, for example). The impulse towards accumulati­on is not necessaril­y pathologic­al and can – like cultural production – constitute a strategy of resistance; a refusal to surrender control. Looking past the narrative interpreta­tions, M.E.S.S.S.Y. might thus stand as a monument to the potential of physical labour and creative intent, a testament to that human impulse to assert one’s agency and build something – order out of chaos – from the mountains of detritus piling up around us.

 ?? Courtesy the artist and Dvir, Brussels ?? M.E.S.S.S.Y., 2023 (installati­on view). Photo: Isabelle Arthuis.
Courtesy the artist and Dvir, Brussels M.E.S.S.S.Y., 2023 (installati­on view). Photo: Isabelle Arthuis.

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