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Thomas Hirschhorn interview

The South London Gallery is a wreck thanks to the Swiss artist, whose installation reimagines the space as a rubble-strewn ruin. He tells us about the pleasures of making and breaking, and his love of brown tape

 (Portrait: Alexander Bikbov)
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Portrait: Alexander Bikbov
 (Thomas Hirschhorn: 'In-Between' at South London Gallery. © the artist. Photo: Mark Blower)
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Thomas Hirschhorn: 'In-Between' at South London Gallery. © the artist. Photo: Mark Blower
 (Thomas Hirschhorn: 'In-Between' at South London Gallery. © the artist. Photo: Mark Blower)
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Thomas Hirschhorn: 'In-Between' at South London Gallery. © the artist. Photo: Mark Blower
 (Thomas Hirschhorn: 'In-Between' at South London Gallery. © the artist. Photo: Mark Blower)
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Thomas Hirschhorn: 'In-Between' at South London Gallery. © the artist. Photo: Mark Blower

ON RUINS
‘It’s about economical ruins, the ruins of war and corruption, and about the ruins of natural disaster. Today we are surrounded by a lot of ruins and I think a ruin always has something to say. When I was invited to do an exhibition here in this beautiful space, with this beautiful daylight, I thought: This is a good place to work out this idea of a ruin. There are ruins I am very interested in. For example, in Syria there are the ruins through war but also the ruins of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. But of course this ruin is not an illustration of a specific ruin.’

ON MATERIALS
‘It’s made with the materials I love for their humbleness and their simplicity, but also materials I’m working with everyday. These are combined with some furniture, heaters and toilets, because this is a ruin of an inhabited space. I needed these everyday objects in order to make the spectator feel they could integrate themselves into the ruin.’’

ON BROWN TAPE
‘I have no problem saying I love brown tape, but I would like it to be clear what I mean by “I love it”. I love that somebody uses it because they want things to be held together. Besides it being a universal material, everybody needs it at some point to tape something quickly together when it’s broken; a car or a suitcase, but also what is important to me is that there is a material that expresses how it’s applied, its capacity of somehow keeping the idea of: “Oh, he really wanted to fix that.” A ruin offers a new view of things. Hidden connections and materials that we couldn’t see before are on show, so the brown tape is like a material that was hidden and now we see it.’

ON DESTRUCTION
‘I’ve used a quote by [Marxist philosopher] Antonio Gramsci: “Destruction is difficult. It is as difficult as creation.” I think this is a beautiful statement. Why? Because it’s an in-between statement. When I first read it I thought, Huh, what does he mean? For me, it means that the destruction of hierarchy and egalitarian structures is difficult. It’s difficult to destroy injustice, or cultural, economical and social habits. It’s difficult to destroy aristocracy; when there is a revolution it is difficult for the political system to be destroyed.’

ON SCULPTURE
‘This is sculpture, not a decoration for theatre or cinema. This is not Disneyland. The interactivity I hope comes from the thinking. There’s a thoroughfare, because when you observe all kinds of ruins, I’m struck how quickly the ground is cleared.’

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