From the very beginning of his lecture, Gáspár Miklos Tamás established that what was to follow would be a stream of consciousness of his thoughts surrounding the abstract question: Can Capitalism Be Pictured? As a key player in the East European dissident movements and currently a professor of philosophy in Budapest, Tamás came across with great humility in his approach.

Having myself attended a discussion dedicated to the memory of a prominent figure in Hungarian politics Václav Havel earlier that same day, one of the key issues that emerged from Havel’s involvement in politics was the issue of time. As a liberal member of the Hungarian parliament during the early 90s, Tamás stepped down from his position in politics in 1994. The time constraints that come with politics were blamed for removing the free time for reading and research, and thus the progression of critical and philosophical thinking. Through quitting politics, does Tamás perhaps feel that he has more time for this mode of thought? It seems clear to me, through his carefully crafted and thoughtful lecture, that Tamás is someone who presents himself and us with a philosophical challenge. A challenge that won’t, or in some circumstances can’t, be answered but instead interrogated with question upon question from all angles.

Tamás attempts to bring to light a crucial problem in art: its attempt to represent capitalism. He argues that ‘bearing witness’ to capitalism has replaced its concept and thus that which operates as abstraction in the real world enters the conceptual. Capitalism becomes a philosophical problem: a concept. Here come the inevitable (and unanswerable?) questions that I promised: ‘Can conceptual entities be reached? ‘and ‘what does picturing them do to them?’ So, can the concept of Capitalism ever be made visible? Tamás uses the (art historically familiar) example of the icon and its issues within transubstantiation: in Christianity, for example, the sign of the cross as replacing the divine and thus its movement toward abstraction.

Tamás says that abstract capitalism is a process, one which operates at the centre of all societies, in that all regimes have elements of capitalism at their core. The difficulty, he argues, is finding its centre and anything structurally that could be used as a tool of repression. This makes it harder to analyse than other regimes such as communism, creating a tension and conflict at its heart.

This lecture is not at all what I expected. I was ready to take clear and concise notes about the relation between art and capitalism. What I got instead was a true insight into the working process of a project from one of the best and most qualified professors in the field and with it an incisive challenge to my own way of thinking. So the question is can capitalism be pictured? Ideally yes, in parallel to itself and to other methods of the conceptual. A difficult and abstract discussion in itself, I can only conclude with the question: can an entire mind-set, a significant element of life, can capitalism be pictured as a piece of conceptual art?


A response by Jane Scarth


“This is something essential to art: reception is never its goal. What counts for me is that my work provides material to reflect upon. Reflection is an activity.” – Thomas Hirschhorn

Having reflected on my notes from this lecture repeatedly, I am still not quite sure how to make sense of it all. This seems bizarre, because Thomas Hirschhorn’s purpose seemed to be to rationalise his art practise, and specifically his huge, immersive installation for the 2011 Venice Biennale, CRYSTAL OF RESISTANCE, (Fig. 1) which I had seen this summer.

What I understood was that in using a belief system to justify what art is and should be (“because in art it’s a matter of believing”), and so Hirschhorn presented us with the three questions he needed to answer to reach the conclusion of the work. These were set in a framework of ‘The Four Parts of the Form and Force Field: LOVE, PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS, AESTHETICS’, at least two of which, he tells us, must always be present in his work, and all four are found here. Within and from these constant elements, Hirschhorn finds an appropriate motif, which is then integrated to create the whole. Each element leading to more inherent questions and each has an answer specific to the artist (taking the form of motifs, materials, themes, etc.).

To over-simplify the logic, in CRYSTAL OF RESISTANCE they take these forms:


LOVE = the motif of crystal.

PHILOSOPHY = a desire for universality.

POLITICS = urgency and panic.

AESTHETIC = the crystal meth lab/B-movie set.


The result is an artwork that is explosive, an onslaught of ideas and references, fluctuating between being at times enlighteningly coherent and at others impenetrable. But such is the creative mind. It was explained that to enter the installation you go inside the head of the artist, and on leaving you will be taking home ‘a bit of my head in your head’.

The thing I found most inspirational about hearing Hirschhorn was his unrelenting questioning of himself and his position as an artist. He creates intricate mind-maps, which are works of art in themselves, (Fig. 2) to place himself in relation to his work and so he can always refer back and reassess where he is coming from. I think that this is similar to the experience of the visitor to the show in the sense of getting lost in an extreme train of thought and having to hold onto certain reference points to relocate yourself.

Therefore to my understanding, it is entirely appropriate that one of the four banners spray painted with Edouard Glissant quotes was “You have the right not to be understood”. At times in the installation I think I understood, and at times in the talk I certainly did. However now, with the two collected experiences, and retrospect, I am not really sure that I do. Yet I don’t think that it’s a bad or even an ignorant thing, but part of the nature of the work in its process of finding logical, universal conclusions to questions that are at times without answers.