Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Tate Pick

Thomas Hirschhorn • Drift Topography • 2003 • Mixed media
• 2600 x 4600 x 2800mm

A rectangular construction is centered in a stark white room. This particularly stands out as many galleries in the Tate Modern are dimly (poorly) lit, or lit by natural light from a window in another room. A full size cutout of a U.S. soldier borders the table top of the sculpture. The repeated shapes resemble the architectural motifs of the Middle East. Drift Topography is a made up diorama of Iraq. To view the piece, one must peek between the soldiers’ shoulders, almost as if you’ve come across a crowd watching a fallen victim (an enemy, a civilian, someone who’s been lynched) die and you want a peek as well. But what we see is an expertly crafted junk metropolis, the sort of which we’ve come expect and love from Hirschhorn. Or hate, depending whose side you’re on.

The other visual motif is the orange mushrooms. Orange mushrooms have been a theme in recent memory. Carsten Höller did some spinning ones, a tiny on in a motorized brief case, and then giant ones in an upside down room. And also a photographer, a woman whose name escapes me, did a picture of one. And now Hirschhorn is using this same type of orange mushroom. I’m not sure what it means in terms of Iraq. Maybe it is Alice in Wonderland, or that mold is sometimes good and sometimes bad.

Oil cans and giant cardboard books are stand-ins for the buildings of Baghdad. It’s not so clear which views Hirschhorn is trying to represent, or champion. We see lots of titles in conflict with one another and none of the books seem to distinguish themselves from the others. In war we’re supposed to pick sides and with all these books and no spin to tell which side they are on, it is all very confused. But at least we have the Coalition Troops (read: U.S.) safely cordoning off the whole mess. It’s crazy in there, maybe they’ve isolated it, and their presence gives the air of order, protecting the rest of the stark, civilized world from the grubby mess. And as viewers peeking in, we are very much in the position of the outside world. As an American viewing it, I feel “US,” even if I don’t agree with “US.” I would assume others, Britons, might feel similarly, as they are part of the “US,” but not so much. Maybe other Europeans just feel superior to the whole thing. I think an interesting way the Iraqis themselves have summed it all up is in a protest this past weekend (4-8-5) where effigies of President Bush AND Sadaam Hussein were both burned. This seems to say: “Fuck all y’all.”

My favorite bit is a little cutout of Bruce Willis. When war broke out, Err, we invaded Iraq, Bruce Willis called up the White House and offered his services. I’m not making that up. He was told thanks, but that he was too old to enlist. What a fucking idiot, this isn’t the Die Hard movie set! I’m sure he knew what they would say, but what if someone had called him out on his bullshit and let him sign up? He would have probably gotten his ass killed. Then America would have had a real martyr to the cause: a celebrity. There was also a mosque-shaped alarm clock in there–brilliant!

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