In a time when a simple “share” or “tag” in social networking websites connotes political awareness, the viewer might not be able to get rid of one old question: “What is the role of social engagement in contemporary art?” In his Gramsci Monument, Thomas Hirschhorn has tried to address such themes by making a platform for everybody to participate.
Gramsci Monument was constructed this summer in Bronx, New York. Built with the help of local residents, Gramsci Monument looks conspicuously shaky and contingent. The site contains several public platforms for people to spend time in and it is also covered with banners and spray paints of Gramsci’s quotations.
By opening up his monument to people of all walks of life, the artist has successfully subverted the most important feature of traditional monuments. Here, people don’t step back in awe, but enter the space, engage with it and with each other, and most importantly, they “occupy” the sanctioned space of an aesthetic object. By doing so, Hirschhorn tries too hard to raise the possibility of “counter-hegemony”.
Hirschhorn’s attempt at contributing to the idea of social sculpture established by Joseph Beuys in 1960s, seems exciting but hardly geared to leave a lasting effect on the viewer’s mind and it remains unable to provide the viewer with a deeper understanding of Gramsci’s ideas and their relevance to the contemporary world.