STATEMENT : « Altars »

An altar is a personal, artistic commitment. I want to fix my heroes. The altars want to give memory of someone who is dead and who was loved by somebody else. It is important to testify ones’ love, ones’ attachment. The heroes can’t change, but the altars’ location can change. The altars could have been made in other cities, countries. The altars could be done in different locations: on a street, on a side way, in a corner. These very local sites of memory become very universal sites of memory, by virtue of their location. That is what interests me. I choose locations that are not in the center or in strategic point of a city, just any place. In the same way as people can die anywhere. Most people don’t die in the middle of a square or on a beautiful boulevard; their deaths rarely happen in a strategic location, even famous people don’t die in « the center ». There is no hierarchy of location between anonymous and famous people. There are unexpected locations. The location is important not in relationship to the layout of the city, but in relation to the people who died. This gives me the plan for locating the altars. These altars are questioning the status of a monument today by their form, by their location, and by their duration. Thus, the choice of location is determining for my statement on work in public space and my critique of monuments. The form of these four altars comes from spontaneous altars, that one sees here or there, made by those who wish to give a precarious homage to someone deceased on the spot, by accident, suicide, murder or heart attack (Gianni Versace, J.F. Kennedy Jr., Olaf Palme). The forms of these homages are alike, whether made for celebrities or made for the unknown: candles, flowers, often wrapped in transparent paper, teddy bears and stuffed animals, written messages on scraps of paper with hearts and other love symbols. With this wild mixture of forms, the messages of love and attachment to the deceased person are expressed without any aesthetic concern; it is this personal commitment that interests me. It comes from the heart. It is pure energy. One is not preoccupied with the form-quality of the elements, but only with the message that is to be conveyed. The reason why I have chosen artists that I Iove for their work and for their lives is: no cynicism, only commitment. The forms of these altars, that are profane and not religious, convey a visual form based on weakness. The forms and locations of the altars show the precarious aspect of the work. It is because of necessity and urgency that they are there. The cruelty and the non-spectacular of these monuments makes them untouchable by people walking by, proprietors, street-cleaners, dog-walkers, policemen. Everyone could be concerned. Everyone is concerned. These altars will disappear sooner or later. The average duration of the altars is of two weeks. The disappearance of the altar is as important as its presence. The memory of what is important doesn’t need a monument.

I have made four altars for four artists and writers : Piet Mondrian, Otto Freundlich, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Raymond Carver. The Piet Mondrian altar was shown in Geneva in 1997; the Otto Freundlich altar was shown in 1998 in Basel and Berlin; the Ingeborg Bachmann altar was shown in 1998 in Zürich and in Halle Tyrol in 1999 and in 2006 in Berlin, in the subway (U2-Alexanderplatz, curator: NGBK); and the Raymond Carver altar was shown in 1998 in Fribourg, in Philadelphia (curator: The Galleries at Moore) and Glasgow (“ Vivre sa vie” groupshow) in 2000, and in 2002 near the South Public Library in Miami.

T.H. February 2003/2006