Week 2 . Thomas Hirschhorn. My Guggenheim Dilemma

Gulf Labor

52 Weeks

Banners, 2009
Photocopies and tape, 66.7 x 53.7 cm 
Made at the occasion of the exhibition: Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum Rotunda, Guggenheim Museum New York, 2010
Courtesy: the artist
This week’s contribution to Gulf Labor’s 52 Week Campaign is by Thomas Hirschhorn:

Dear Nancy, Dear Richard,
As you know, I am one of those who signed the petition for the boycott of the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, to put pressure on the museum to do everything it can in order to remedy the labor exploitation on Saadiyat Island, to treat the workers as they deserve to be treated, and to protect their rights as workers. I am happy and willing to do everything I can do in order to achieve this; that’s why I signed the petition for a boycott.

Nevertheless, there is a dilemma. The dilemma – my dilemma – is not about exhibiting, here and now, my work “Cavemanman” in the Guggenheim Bilbao, while at the same time boycotting the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi. That is not my dilemma, and the dilemma is not about some other contradiction observers might point out either.

The dilemma, my dilemma, the real dilemma, is the contradiction between the politics of “good intentions”, “the good conscience”, “the engagement of the artist” – that I should in fact call “pseudo-politics” or “making politics”, for it implies narcissism and selfishness, but which I signed the letter for – and my belief and conviction that Art, as Art, has to keep completely out of any daily political cause in order to maintain its power, its artistic power, its real political power.

By signing the petition for this boycott, I am facing this dilemma, my dilemma. It’s a problem without a solution; it’s a dead-end. On the one side, I really want to do what I can, what I think is in my power, to fight for equality, universality, and justice. But I also know that it is easy to add my signature to this fancy artists’ boycott. Too easy, because I know that when signing a boycott, I have to pay the price for the boycott – myself first – so that the outcome can be a real success.

Art – because it’s art – resists a simplified idealism and a simplified realism, because it refuses aesthetic and political idealism and aesthetic and political realism. And Art -because it’s Art -is never neutral, but Art cannot be neutralized by doing politics. I want to admit that this is the “dead-end” I am in. I have to face it. I have to confront this dilemma and furthermore – as an artist – I even have to assert it as my dilemma.

My hope is that something that makes sense remains.
– My signature for the boycott will make sense if it does change the conditions of the workers for Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
– My signature for the boycott will make sense if the dilemma, the trap, and the temptation of politics allows me to confront the hard core of reality, which is the limit of such a boycott.
– And my signature for the boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will make sense if I have to pay a price for it.
Thank you,
Thomas Hirschhorn, April, 2011

Gulf Labor is a coalition of artists and activists who have been working since 2011 to highlight the coercive recruitment, and deplorable living and working conditions of migrant laborers in Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island (Island of Happiness). Our campaign focuses on the workers who are building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum (in collaboration with the British Museum).

“52 Weeks” is a one year campaign starting in October 2013. Artists, writers, and activists from different cities and countries are invited to contribute a work, a text, or action each week that relates to or highlights the unjust living and working conditions of migrant laborers building cultural institutions in Abu Dhabi.

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