Thomas Hirschhorn’s Apocalyptic Office Space at South London Gallery
The exhibition consists of a single installation in the institution’s main gallery—a staged destruction of sorts. Yet compared to past exhibitions, such as the technologically infused chaos of his work at the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011 and in his show at Gladstone Gallery, New York, in 2012, which explored the disaster that befell the Italian cruise ship Concordia, this one feels more fragile. The installation represents the ruins of an office space—the ceiling falling through, exploded rooms, a chaos of cardboard, foil, Styrofoam, and glossy brown masking tape. Broken bits of ugly old furniture, including shelves, misshapen desks, toilets, and white plastic garden chairs, are strewn across the gallery. Much of this bric-a-brac is taped to the walls and seems to fall from above. The result is an everyday, recognizable room blown to smithereens.
This is Hirschhorn’s version of a post-apocalyptic, post-capitalist world. But the space feels almost utopian: a beautifully staged ruin made from the rubble of a consumerist society. At the end of this disaster zone is a single piece of spray-painted fabric with text, resembling a protest banner. It states, “Destruction is difficult; indeed it is as difficult as creation. Antonio Gramsci (Prison Notebook 6).” This quote from the Marxist theorist is a perfect statement on Hirschhorn’s art in particular, but also has much wider implications regarding the creation of art and politics and, more broadly, aesthetics and meaning. The artist statement that accompanies the show emphasizes the importance of the “in-between-ness” between creation and destruction as a comment on the difficulty of locating oneself in a changing world.
The rough, childlike quality of Hirschhorn’s presentation—a playground theater with painted, matte-black rubble blocks—and the universality of the materials used is part of what makes the work so successful. It is made from objects we all regularly engage with, understand, and touch. In the past, Hirschhorn has called for art that is uncomfortable; he’s forced us to see things—from brutal and deeply violent images of war and death from the mainstream media to the fragility of humanity. At the heart of everything he does is an exploration of the freedom of disorder. As he told me in 2013, “The moments of chaos and disaster are the moments where I think there’s a possibility. There could be this breakthrough for you to see another perspective, to see it differently.”