I do have a vocabulary for colour, though, and it was this aspect of the huge (four metres high by 18 metres long) banner that proved the most unexpected: canary yellow, magenta, carmine: these are the colours of the body inside out. When bodies are obliterated by modern warfare, this is what they look like. Quivering, jellied lumps of matter. Hirschhorn has collected these macabre images from the vast numbers that circulate freely online and has created a banner in the model of protest material: the end product is made of sheet-like fabric and the words “The Incommensurable The Incommensurable” run across the top of the work in a handwritten script.
I was able to look at for about a minute, after which time I retreated behind the opaque screen to observe the observers. Two young men entered, evidently excited by the prospect of a gore-fest, gesturing animatedly to one another. While it is easy to judge their seemingly callous and immature response, the thing about culture is that it only works if you have somewhere to “put” it; somewhere to file it in your brain. For those – the many not the few – not immersed in arts discourses, what else is this show but war-porn?
In the wider context of the biennial, this work is rightly shocking in its depiction of what war does to the human body. The invisible scars of those who have witnessed such atrocities firsthand are equally incommensurable.
Whatever you think of the appropriacy or otherwise of this show, this is what humans do to each other in the 21st century of civilisation.
The Incommensurable Banner, Studio View, 2007 © Thomas Hirschhorn