PRINT March 2007


Firefighters extinguishing a car fire set by protesters, Argenteuil, France, November 2005. Photo: AP/Michel Spingler.

THERE IS NO REASON for an artist to write about a philosopher, just as there is no reason for a philosopher to write about an artist. As an artist, I do not need philosophy, because I do not use philosophy to make my work—I need philosophy as a man, as a human being.

When, not too long ago, the young inhabitants of the banlieues of Paris and of other large cities in France set cars on fire in front of their homes at night, they set off alarms, burning signals of distress. The young inhabitants of the banlieues in France relit the fires of equality—the fires of equality that had been extinguished or that had died out on their own, without anyone noticing. These fires are set at home—that means there’s a big problem at home! On the outskirts of Paris, a movement of urgent anger reignited the flame of equality and gave it universal visibility. Liberty, equality, fraternity. Liberty—or death! Equality—or death! Fraternity—or death!

I understood that for Jacques Rancière, the flame of equality had never been extinguished, and I understood that for him equality is an eternal flame. A young friend and philosopher, Alexandre Costanzo, who considers Jacques Rancière a passionate lover of equality, recently offered me the book The Ignorant Schoolmaster (Le Maître ignorant, 1987).

This book implicates me directly in the blazing time in which I live, here and today. This book is so contemporary that—while reading it—I thought the author had invented Joseph Jacotot, the revolutionary teacher enamored of equality, who actually existed.

I read The Ignorant Schoolmaster as a manifesto. Jacques Rancière brings everything into play again. I understood that he had never abandoned the game under the dictates of opinion, and that he had never left the gambling table of politics—where everything is played out—either. On the contrary, he is redistributing the cards. Jacques Rancière insists on what seems to have been forgotten, and he rehabilitates what seems to have been lost: Re. Re-politics, re-engagement, re-sharing, re-emancipation, re-reason, re-equality, re- the other. It’s clear that Jacques Rancière is relighting the flame that was extinguished for many—that is why he serves as such a signal reference today. But the essential thing is: The game is not over!

The Ignorant Schoolmaster, with its proclamation of the equal intelligence of human beings, is a book that proves to me that the flame of equality is always burning somewhere and that someone will remain vigilant and lucid, attentive and determined, around this hearth. There—around this fire—there is room for confronting ideas, thoughts, and concepts. This hearth gives me room to say: I believe in art and I believe in philosophy! And I believe in the friendship between art and philosophy. This friendship is the sharing of something that is in fact not shareable. It is this friendship that gives me hope, strength, and courage.

Jacques Rancière encourages me as a man, as a human being—he encourages me to make of each artwork a manifesto, he encourages me to do each exhibition as a manifesto. A visual manifesto that wants to reply—through form—to the essential question: What do I want as an artist? What is the position of my artwork? Does my work address all people without excluding anyone? Can I avoid creating initiates with my work? Am I working for a nonexclusive audience? Do I manage not to neutralize anyone through my work? Am I, with my work, creating the conditions for a direct dialogue one to one? Can my work implicate the other? Can I encounter the other through my work? Do I manage not to intimidate anyone through my work? Can I create an event with my work?

Reading The Ignorant Schoolmaster gives me the hope to find new forms within myself that resist aesthetic conventions, so often unequal. I want to give forms that resist the facts, the opinions, and the trap of information. I want to give form—my form. I want to make work that is more real than reality, and I want to give a form that is more real than reality itself.

Jacques Rancière gives me the strength to keep my eternal flame burning for art.

Thomas Hirschhorn is an artist based in Paris.

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.