Thomas Hirschhorn M.E.S.S.S.Y.
Dvir Gallery, Brussels 8 April – 1 July
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.