shinya watanabe on Tue, 28 Dec 2004 09:19:58 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Thomas Hirschhorn exhibition

Hi, I'm a curator in New York.

NY Times reports that Thomas Hirschhorn exhibited an artwork in 
Switzerland wchich criticizes Swiss nationalist, and the annual buduget of 
the museum cutted from $38.9 million to $1.1 million. I wrote one article 
about Hirschhorn, so if you are curious about, please check it.

"The Silence of Big Artist is Overrated!"

The Comparison of Thomas Hirschhorn and Steve Reich & Beryl Corot

Dissecting Democracy, Swiss Artist Stirs Debate By ALAN RIDING

Published: December 27, 2004

PARIS, Dec. 26 - No one paid much heed last year when the Swiss artist 
Thomas Hirschhorn stopped showing his work in Switzerland to protest a
right-wing populist's entry into the government. Now, in a new exhibition
in Paris, a biting critique of Swiss democracy, Mr. Hirschhorn has
provoked stormy scenes in the Swiss Parliament that have turned him into
his country's most talked about artist overnight.

Mr. Hirschhorn, who has made his home here since the 1980's, is renowned 
on the international art scene for his bizarre, politically inspired 
installations. But conservatives are infuriated that his new show, 
"Swiss-Swiss Democracy," uses the Swiss Cultural Center in Paris to 
ridicule democracy in Switzerland and to attack the ultranationalist 
politician Christoph Blocher, the target of Mr. Hirschhorn's protest last 
year, who is now minister for justice and police.

Reprisals quickly followed. Last week, after 10 days of furious debate, 
the Swiss Parliament slashed $1.1 million from the $38.9 million annual 
budget of Pro Helvetia, the government-financed cultural foundation that 
owns the Swiss Cultural Center. Legislators on the right also demanded the 
resignation of Michel Ritter, the center's director, who invited Mr. 
Hirschhorn to show his work here.

"I never expected such a reaction from Parliament," Mr. Hirschhorn, 48, 
said in an interview at the Swiss center, in the Marais district, where he 
plans to be present every day until the show closes on Jan. 30. "All I 
ever said was that I wouldn't show in Switzerland while Blocher was in the 
government - and I have kept my word. I never said I wouldn't show in the 
Swiss Cultural Center."

Mr. Ritter, who organized three earlier shows for Mr. Hirschhorn in 
Switzerland, said he asked the artist to create a work for the center more 
than two years ago. "It was important that we show artists like Thomas who 
ask pertinent questions about Switzerland," Mr. Ritter said. "I knew what 
he would do here, not the details, but inevitably that it would involve 
Blocher. It was part of the program I presented to Pro Helvetia."

Mr. Hirschhorn insists that his target is not Mr. Blocher, but what he 
represents. "Blocher is not a dictator," he said, "but he legitimizes 
Swiss xenophobia, isolationism, nationalism; he legitimizes the feeling in 
Switzerland that all these foreigners want to come and take their money. 
He is a dangerous populist."

Mr. Blocher, a 63-year-old chemicals tycoon whose Swiss People's Party is 
now the largest party in Switzerland, has built his popularity on his 
opposition to membership in the European Union and to immigration. This 
fall, Mr. Blocher also helped defeat a referendum proposition making it 
easier for children and grandchildren of foreigners to obtain Swiss 

Mr. Blocher pointedly stayed out of the latest fray, but his followers 
questioned Mr. Hirschhorn's "moral" right to use taxpayers' money to 
attack Switzerland from abroad. (The show cost $200,000 to mount, but Mr.

Hirschhorn is receiving no payment.) Opinions were divided, but the 
conservatives won out. The Senate first voted 24 to 13 to cut Pro 
Helvetia's budget. The lower chamber rejected the move, 97 to 85. The 
Senate then ratified the decision, 22 to 19.

Still, "Swiss-Swiss Democracy" has achieved one of its aims: to stir 

A sprawling multimedia exhibition, it is unusual even by Mr. Hirschhorn's 
standards. He has covered the walls and doors of the two-floor Swiss 
center with multicolored cardboard, decorated with photographs, graffiti, 
posters, newspaper cuttings and official documents; all the furniture has 
been wrapped in duct tape. Every day the center puts out a newspaper 
prepared by Mr. Hirschhorn, presents a lecture by a philosopher and puts 
on a one-hour play.

"I felt the whole thing should be the exhibition," Mr. Hirschhorn said of 
the installation, which took eight people three weeks to create, "the 
rooms, the bar, the corridor, the theater. I wanted to create a mental 
space, to envelop everything."

But it was the play, inspired by Schiller's epic "William Tell," that 
first set off a storm when Swiss newspapers reported that it included a 
scene in which an actor urinates on a poster of Mr. Blocher and another in 
which an actor vomits into a ballot box. "Only one reporter actually saw 
the piece in rehearsal, and he took two details out of context," Mr. 
Ritter said. "He distorted everything and then all the tabloid press 

In truth, an actor impersonating a dog briefly raises a leg as he passes a 
poster of Mr. Blocher. In another scene, a man is ordered to vote, even to 
thrust his head into the ballot box, before he is seen "vomiting" white 
foam onto a chair using a spray can. Neither moment is central to the 
play, which recounts William Tell's rebellion against Hapsburg oppressors 
while parodying what it presents as modern Swiss complacency over its 
model democracy.

Adapted and directed by the French actor GwenaEBl Morin, the play uses 
Swiss stereotypes to underline the country's isolation: actors smugly hold 
up photographs of Swiss lakes, forests and mountains. But it also 
questions democracy, at one point presenting the actors as inmates in a 
mental hospital. "I don't know why some people die of hunger and other 
people throw away food," one says. "I don't understand why you wage war to 
make peace," says another.

Mr. Hirschhorn said that because the show was seen by very few Swiss 
journalists and by only 3 of 246 legislators, most of the debate in 
Switzerland was based on hearsay. For this reason, he said, his critics 
had also made an issue of the exhibition's poster, which shows a naked 
Iraqi in Abu Ghraib prison before an armed American soldier, accompanied 
by the slogan "I love Democracy!"

"They said I was suggesting Switzerland tortured people," Mr. Hirschhorn 
said. "In fact, I was drawing a parallel with William Tell, who rebelled 
against Austrian occupiers. My point is that democracy does not start and 
end in Switzerland. Does it make sense to have a lot of democracy in a 
tiny Swiss canton and not in Africa, Asia and Latin America? Democracy 
only makes sense if it is universal. That's why I ask, is it legitimate to 
torture in the name of democracy?"

The exhibition - including the daily lecture by the German philosopher 
Marcus Steinweg - aspires to address such broader questions, not least 
through quotes from an array of world leaders scrawled across its walls. 
But it does use Swiss democracy as an example. "It's the one I know," Mr. 
Hirschhorn said, "and it is the one held up as a model to the rest of the 

One of Mr. Hirschhorn's metaphors involves tiny electric trains that 
travel through mountains covered in duct tape. "Swiss trains link the 
cantons, but they go round and round," he explained. "They link 
Switzerland to itself, but not to the world." Another construction shows 
tunnels carved through mountains. "We like to think we are geniuses with 
tunnels, just as we are geniuses with democracy," he said. "But it's not 
innate. It's a matter of need."

The final scene in the play perhaps best captures Mr. Hirschhorn's concern 
about Swiss democracy. At the end of this "William Tell," recalling the 
creation of a democratic Switzerland seven centuries ago, the six actors 
sit on a sofa and chant, "We are free, we are free, we are free." They 
then curl up under a large poster of William Tell and fall asleep.

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