“John Heartfield-Memorial” (2009)

My proposal for the “4th Plinth” is the “John Heartfield-Memorial”. This is a temporary street altar dedicated to the artist John Heartfield (born 1891 Berlin – died 1968 Berlin) and to his work. It is a ‘Memorial’ as those made for unknown or famous people who, on a specific location, suddenly deceased.

Why John Heartfield?

I love the work and the life of John Heartfield. I can only do an altar as a homage to someone that I myself, love. It’s a commitment and an artistic statement.

The Dadaist John Heartfield is a pioneer of Photomontage and Collage. A ‘Memorial’ is the occasion to remember but also to actualise his life or his work.

John Heartfield – fleeing the nazi regime – lived and worked in England from 1938 to 1949 and exhibited several times in London.

In 1916 as protest against the German nationalistic slogan: “Gott strafe England”! (“May God Punish England!”) Helmut Herzfeld changed his name to JOHN HEARTFIELD.

Why a Memorial?

A ‘Memorial’ is a non-official shrine made with teddy bears, flowers, paper writings, candles and other basic and commonly known materials. The use of these materials is the profane expression of adoration. The ‘Memorial’ implies attention and memory and addresses the ‘non-exclusive audience’.

Anybody, by adding something, can contribute to this homage to John Heartfield and to his beautiful and important work and can thus express a commitment to his ideas of justice and resistance.

The “John Heartfield-Memorial” is my contribution to the questions of sculpture today in the public space, through its temporality, its non-hierarchy, its materials, its power of implication of the other and its possible evocations for the art-lover but also for the passer-by. With a ‘Memorial’ I want give a form for everyday encounters and everyday events.

Why on this location?

Trafalgar Square despite its world-wide attractiveness is also a universal location – because it’s a Public Space. Of course the initiative of “4th Plinth” connecting it to contemporary sculpture makes the location specific, but as Public Space it remains – by definition – autonomous. With the “John Heartfield-Memorial” I want to insist on this autonomy and universality.

This is why the plinth is left and kept “empty”. There is nothing on top of the base, nothing is definitely attached. The ‘Memorial’ elements are spread out around it and occupy the surrounding space, thus defining the plinth as a ‘Memorial’ – as such.

The work reaches precariousness for its own reasons beyond the original architectonic destination of the plinth: the “John Heartfield-Memorial” is on this spot by chance.

Anchored to its local historical field on this particular spot – the “4th Plinth” – the “John Heartfield-Memorial” claims to reach its universal destination – the power of evocation of another place, another city another country or another world. The “John Heartfield-Memorial” wants to contribute to create a new notion of Art in public space.

Thomas Hirschhorn, Aubervilliers, February 2009


Until now I have made 4 altars:

– “Mondrian-Altar” 1997, Centre Genevois de Gravure Contemporaine, Genève.

– “Ingeborg Bachmann-Altar” 1998, Freie Sicht zum Mittelmeer, Kunsthaus Zürich.

Space Place, Kunsthalle Tyrol, Hall 1999; U2 Alexanderplatz NGBK, Berlin 2006.

– “Otto Freundlich-Altar” 1998, Kaskaden Kondensator, Non-Lieux, Bâle.

Berlin-Berlin Biennale, Berlin 1998.

– “Raymond Carver-Altar” 1999, Fri-Art, Fribourg.

The Galleries at Moore, Philadelphia 2000; Vivre sa vie, Glasgow 2000; South

Pacific Library, Miami 2002.