Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Kira van Lil

Second Advisor

Claire Farago

Third Advisor

Richard Saxton


Thomas Hirschhorn's 2002 "Bataille Monument" came under some attack for improperly treating an ethnic neighborhood of Turkish-German people as an exotic other. Hirschhorn is said to have made the art world viewers from Documenta 11 feel like they were invading another's space. I will argue here that the evaluation of works like this, including Hirschhorn's recent "Gramsci Monument" (2013), needs to be informed by the artistic tradition of which the work is a part, and also by the cultural and social milieu in which the work takes place. Although the artistic tradition is so vast that any attempt to summarize or characterize it risks parody, it cannot be overlooked. Félix Guattari and Jacques Rancière are two who have theorized the contemporary cultural and social milieu in ways that bring out significant aspects of Hirschhorn's work. Rancière's concept of postdemocracy is particularly relevant for characterizing not only what Hirschhorn's art is doing, and trying to do, but also for conceptualizing a field of art in which Hirschhorn is but one contributor, with limitations which need to be investigated to more fully understand how they might be overcome.

Félix Guattari argues that contemporary culture is marked by a revalorisation of aesthetic experience, part of which is an emphasis on new subjectivity marked by nascent creativity. Postdemocracy, Rancière says, is marked by the collusion of governmental and economic forces to fully demarcate the people, so that there is no longer any place where they can make an appearance of their own. What is missing from the postdemocratic order is any sense of equality, so the demos as traditionally understood does not exist.

This presents a dilemma for art that has aspirations to be politically relevant and effective. If the demos does not exist within postdemocratic order, then the demands of the people stand little chance of being accepted. Any changes to the constitution of the people, when not socially engineered, tend to be readily subsumed, and catered to, by opportunistic market forces. The strategy employed by the countermonument works of art examined here is to place the locus of art within the audience, to make the audience of the work of art the place where the demos can and does exist. The artistic language of the countermonument, which has its roots in Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International and the fusion of art and life, has been established in large measure by the Harburg Monument Against Fascism (1986-1993), of Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz. Through an emphasis on extended temporal process, a focus on the audience, and the use of a kind of transaction as the unit of art, it begins the development of a new kind of literacy. Here, and in Hirschhorn's "Gramsci Monument," the experience of equality becomes the foundation for a sustained collaboration in which this new stuttering literacy can be developed.

This art is not political in the sense of being in a dialectic with the established order. Instead the new literacy effectively alters some of the methods by which an order gets established, by which it is maintained, and by which it may be called into question. I believe this new voice is just beginning to be heard.