by Gianni Romano
Painting, video, photography… does using these tools together respond, perhaps, to a fashion that means everyone should be a “multimedia” operator? Operators, perhaps, but are they artists?
Yet there must be a reason why Debora Hirsch moves from the pictorial description of beautiful, bewitching women, conveying an ambiguous message, to the editing of images in movement.
On the one hand we can find reasons in recent art history. From the 1960s on, with a significant increase at the end of the ‘70s, women artists have almost exclusively made use of new media with the aim of achieving visibility on the art scene previously denied them. From the extras of the ‘70s (Judy Chicago, Martha Rosler, Lynda Benglis, Hannah Wilke, Eleanore Antin, Yvonne Rainer, Mary Kelly, Gina Pane…) making politicized art deeply rooted in the need to protest against a social (and not only aesthetic) situation, to the actresses of the ‘80s (Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Marina Abramovic, Annette Messager and… there are too many names, we’re bound to forget quite a few) who managed to achieve star billing in the art world, achieving an important, influential position in cultural and market terms, often thanks to a skillful use of media (especially photography and video). New media permitted these artists to implement precise strategies with which to move on from protest of a social condition to aesthetic demands and proposals (postmodern ones) that challenge the seductive wiles of media imagery, its capacity to conceal the dynamics of power and to justify everything in terms of the requirements of the globalized market.
Hirsch is fully aware of the communicative possibilities of art, and she has a perfect understanding of its capacity for synthesis (it’s no coincidence that she began with painting).
In a series of paintings entitled “File”, in the same format as a magazine cover (“Life”, of course, the famous magazine that until 1972 was the grand showcase of the western world), we can recognize many figures who have come to the world’s attention. One will suffice: former president Richard Nixon, forced by the courts to turn over the compromising White House tapes. Watergate is a media story par excellence. The media manipulator (who on 3 November 1969 went on television to pronounce the phrase "I ask you, the great silent majority of fellow Americans, for your support", the support needed to continue the war in Vietnam) loses his power thanks to proof of corruption provided by other media. But often memory lasts as long as our recollection of a magazine cover, it is a typically temporary condition, even in a computer of the latest generation.
This is probably the aspect Debora Hirsch wants to emphasize. The fleeting quality of beauty? Memory as a temporary state? Yes, why not? But that’s not enough. In the space of Antonio Colombo the artist presents works made with different media. Painting, but also two digital videos she has made herself. Both the videos and the paintings concentrate on the theme of time that passes and transforms the things around it, especially the human body, the subject of most of the work of Debora Hirsch. With respect to her first paintings, Hirsch has developed her technique, becoming less Pop and closer to Hyper-realism. Paradoxically, the closer you get to realism the further you go from reality: but this is a dynamic we’ve gotten used to in the art world. Here the beauty of the painting coincides with an attention to detail that approaches scientific representation of the bodies described, too refined to be interpreted in terms of realism. What the observer notices, on the other hand, is that time passes on the surfaces of the bodies, the detail reveals the changes in progress, the unreliability of a global vision.
In the video Lachesis the same effect of the painted detail is achieved through movement. Here we see a face on which, in the course of a few minutes, years of time pass with all the consequences for appearance. In the second video in the show, In Thin Neat Toe, we watch incredulously as a virtual character recites the poem "L'infinito" by Giacomo Leopardi with the aid of English phonics. "Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle..." becomes unrecognizable, just like a face that changes over time. “It was always dear to me, this solitary hill, / and this hedgerow here, that closes out my view, / from so much of the ultimate horizon. (…) so that in this immensity / my thoughts are drowned, and shipwreck seems sweet / to me in this sea.” The profound inner experience is described by Leopardi as a path between finite and infinite, between that which is limited and that which can be experienced and goes beyond the possibilities of our senses, being reached only through imagination, i.e. art.
In a public project presented for a square in the city of Turin, Debora Hirsch proposed a work entitled The flower and the stone, a very beautiful flower next to a “solid and incorruptible” stone (as the artist describes it): solid and incorruptible, as the flower can never be. Both are oversized, both are unreal, an overly perfect image to materialize in the center of a piazza surrounded by traffic, the noises and moods of the workaday city. The flower and the stone is a digital injection at the center of an urban space that is the result of many town planning, social and political accumulations… the transcendent quality of the flower as opposed to the immanent quality of the stone, but both share the unreal quality of the digital, they are too perfect to be real, just like her beautiful women.
Whatever medium Debora Hirsch uses (painting, video, sculpture) what we immediately notice is the artificiality of a process, an evident sign left by the artist to underline the ambiguity of the communication, the virus of uncertainty, the necessary reflection on the appearances of imagery, a constantly temporary state. With Debora Hirsch, in fact, temporary corresponds to contemporary. It is art that makes the passage from temporary to contemporary possible and meaningful. Temporary identity in the work of Hirsch is a momentary state of consciousness destined to group with other signs, other states, thanks to art and the evident will to consciously participate in the construction of sense in a society that seems to want to live without it.