Thomas Hirschhorn & Santiago Sierra presents Radical Democracy
Curated by Asakusa and Dr. Masaru Araki, Okayama University. With reference by Sanya Labour Welfare Hall Action Committee; Supported by Swiss Embassy in Tokyo.
ASAKUSA is delighted to announce the exhibition Radical Democracy with artists Thomas Hirschhorn and Santiago Sierra, whose art practices engage with selected social groups, often facing ethical questions. The exhibited works articulate divisive fissures of political and economic disparities existing beyond sanctioned consensus, and provoke the agonistic practice of valuing and sustaining the dissent—democratic dialectics advocated by art critic Claire Bishop. The differing context of their challenges suggests art's expansive potential as well as its limitations, and forms a critical position to comment on Tokyo's political landscape imbued by media campaigns and internalisation of power structures. The exhibition includes distribution materials by Sanya Labor Welfare Hall Action Committee, a local support group for the largest day-labourers' district in Tokyo.
Using materials such as tinfoil, Xerox copies, adhesive tape, and cardboard, Thomas Hirschhorn (b.1957) gives form to cultural critique and composes questions about consumerism, media spectacle, aesthetic value and moral responsibility. Since 1999, Hirschhorn has dedicated four monuments to his most admired philosophers―Spinoza, Bataille, Deleuze, and Gramsci. Paid residents of Forest Houses, in the South Bronx, New York built his last endeavor, Gramsci Monument (2013). In this work, the artist pays homage to Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) by following his cultural strategy of a "war of position," which describes a process of building strength in social foundations by creating alternative institutions and intellectual resources of a civil society. The temporary monument, now demolished, appeared as an outdoor assemblage of plywood shelters comprised of a community library, bar, lecture platform, rooms for children's workshops, and an onsite radio station running daily programs to promote leaning, discursive and other expressive practices to generate an autonomous culture. The structure constituted a critique against urban consumerism, which deprives the fundamental freedom to think and voice as individuals. Radical Democracy includes the artist's lecture slides, interview, and texts, as well as a selection of publications by and about the four philosophers.
Marked by sensations of unease and discomfort, Santiago Sierra's (b.1966) work captures body politics exhumed by the conditions of market capitalism. Tattooing a continuous line across the backs of four prostitutes for the price of a heroin shot, having paid workers sit inside cardboard boxes or confining a man behind a brick wall for 15 days within a museum; his judiciary-based instructions make power structures visible, as marginalized individuals are often displayed as spectacles in material dimensions of their contracts. In 133 Persons Who Dyed Their Hair Blonde (2001), Sierra called illegal street vendors—mostly immigrants from China, Bangladesh, Senegal and South Italy―to congregate at the warehouse and have their hair dyed blonde within the site of the Venice Biennale. The action highlighted the vendors' parasitical presence at the very intersection of art and tourism, and inscribed a situation inescapable for visitors to confront. The hour-long video shown in the exhibition documents an assembly of the stateless immigrants and refugees who gathered to receive 50 EUR in hand. The scene foregrounds the socio-economic hegemony and examines the conditions of racial bias at the heart of a cultural olympiad.