Today Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn is unveiling the monument to marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci he constructed at the Forest Houses housing project in the Bronx with the help of Dia Art Foundations and hired workers living in the project. The piece is part of Hirschhorn’s series of monuments to his favorite philosophers built in low income housing, following installations in the Netherlands, France, and Germany. Unlike a typical monument, this one is made of plywood, plexiglass, and packing tape, which “epitomizes the broadly humanistic worldview of Gramsci, who spent most of his adult life in prison under Mussolini and envisioned a working-class revolution that would begin as much in culture as in political power.”
In addition to Hirschhorn’s “personal artistic reasons,” the project is meant to to catalyze social engagement through the power of art. Throughout the summer, the monument will function as a kind of village festival, or inner-city intellectual Woodstock, with lectures, concerts, recitals and art programs on the stages and pavilions that Mr. Hirschhorn and a paid crew of workers chosen from the Forest Houses have built over the last several weeks.
The project has already had a profound effect on the workers and other members of the Forest Houses community.
“I tell them, ‘This is not to serve your community, per se, but it is to serve art, and my reasons for wanting to do these things are purely personal artistic reasons,’” Mr. Hirschhorn said. “My goal or my dream is not so much about changing the situation of the people who help me, but about showing the power of art to make people think about issues they otherwise wouldn’t have thought about.”
“You work on something like this, and after a while it’s not like a job,” said Dannion Jordan, 42, who is helping build the monument. “You start thinking it’s your thing, too. I mean, I’m no artist, but I’m making a work of art here.”
“For him this is a work of art,” [Erik Farmer, the president of the residents’ association at Forest Houses project] added. “For me, it’s a man-made community center. And if it changes something here, even slightly, well, you know, that’s going in the right direction.”
[Director of the Dia Art Foundation Philippe] Vergne added, “People ask what will remain after the monument comes down in three months, and I think what will remain will be a certain way to think of the world — if only an urban legend of a Swiss artist who came from Paris to tell New Yorkers about a dead Italian philosopher, and people came to hear, and maybe they learned something that matters.”
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