A month-long Remai workshop welcomes Saskatoon humans’ expertise
Art | by Gregory Beatty
Thomas Hirschhorn: Critical Workshop
Opens Jan. 27
The Remai Modern has been open since mid-October and its debut exhibition Field Guide, co-curated by Gregory Burke and Sandra Guimarães, is set to close on Feb. 25. As befits its gala status, it’s going out with a bang in the form of a month-long critical workshop by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn.
Born in Berne in 1957, Hirschhorn worked as a graphic designer in Paris in the 1980s, including a stint with the leftist group Grapus, before switching to visual art where he specializes in what’s been described as “hypersaturated” installations.
“Thomas has done projects in Canada before, but this will be his first Presence And Production project,” says Remai Modern associate curator Troy Gronsdahl. “That’s what he calls these works where he’s present for the duration and actively producing it with people. So it’s a special opportunity, not only for our region, but Canada as well.”
How special? Well, New York and Paris special, as those are the only other cities Hirschhorn’s done Presence and Production projects in.
Preparations started in 2015, says Gronsdahl. “He made three visits, and we reached out to a wide range of organizations with mandates in such areas as education, health and wellness, and culture to share information about the project and also give the artist an opportunity to learn about Saskatoon.” 
If you’re looking for a curatorial tie-in to Field Guide, Hirschhorn was essentially doing field work for his project which has teaching and learning as a central theme.
The dynamic between teaching and learning is often hierarchical and authoritative in our market-driven society. That’s not how Hirschhorn approaches it, says Gronsdahl.
“One thing he did while he was here was reach out to as many people as possible who might be interested in sharing something with a group of people.
“It’s not as formal as a classroom. You don’t need qualifications as a teacher, for example, to share something. His idea is that everyone has some kind of competency they can share, and he’s really interested in that exchange between people and using his critical workshop as a site where this can take place.”
Another thing Hirschhorn is interested in, says Gronsdahl, is the idea of a non-exclusive audience.
“It’s a term he’s coined to direct his work toward people who might not necessarily come to the museum. He wants to make an extra effort to invite them as well.”
That fits nicely with the Remai Modern’s mandate, says Gronsdahl. “We want to be a place where all people feel welcome. We want to try to use this project to invite people in and hopefully they will come and experience it. That way, it will be a starting point for us to build a relationship with as many people as we can.”
Hirschhorn arrived in Saskatoon on Jan. 14, and in the run-up to the Jan. 27 opening is busy outfitting the ground floor Connect Gallery he’ll be working in, and reconnecting with groups he met during his research phase.
The space he’s creating at the Remai, says Gronsdahl, will be a cross between an artist studio and garage workshop.
“He describes it as a space that creates an envy for working. There will be some furniture, so there will be places for hanging out. There will be computers for people to check the Internet, and tools and materials for making things.”
Other themes Hirschhorn typically explores in his work include consumerism, global politics, injustice, power dynamics and more. Some of that will be evident in the design of the space.
“Most of the things we’ve sourced are secondhand goods, and he transforms things so that furniture, for example, will be covered with packing tape,” says Gronsdahl. “He often thinks about the hierarchy of materials. He’s not using precious materials, instead he uses commonly available materials such packing tape and cardboard.”
While the space might look unusual, it’s ultimately a welcoming one. Hirschhorn will be there during gallery hours, and people are invited to visit for free and meet him.
“We don’t want to make it administrative, so he’s going to organize the workshops and sharing that occurs with people directly,” says Gronsdahl. “But if people have a specific thing they want to share, such as demonstrating how to cook a particular dish or something else, we can do some pre-planning and make sure the materials are available.”
If things go according to plan, plenty of things will be created during Hirschhorn’s month-long workshop. But unlike a typical art-making process, nothing physical will survive to represent the project in the Remai Modern collection.
“It is kind of ephemeral, but we will be documenting workshops so we will have a record of the activity that will be part of the archive,” says Gronsdahl. “But the actual objects that are created are disposed of after according to the artist’s directions.”
- Participating organizations include the Saskatoon Open Door Society, Saskatchewan Intercultural Association, the Remai’s school partners including E.D. Feehan, St. Mary’s Health & Wellness Centre, SCYAP, Saskatoon Friendship Inn, and Station 20 West, where Quint and CHEP are located, and the Elizabeth Fry Society.