When the inventor Randall Peltzer buys a small furry animal in Chinatown, the shopkeeper gives him a few important rules to take home: never expose it to daylight, never get it wet, and never feed it after midnight. What Gizmo, the mogwai from the film “Gremlins,“ is good for is of no importance: his essence lies to a certain extent in the absence of any meaningful function, or rather, as it turns out, in his hidden, initially inactive abilities. As with his mechanical namesake, the “gizmo” as harmless high-tech gadget, the gremlin’s precise operating instructions are in extreme tension with his use. There is not much he can do, and he is easily broken.
A modern gizmo, that “thing,” “thinger,” “whatchamacallit” or “gadget” distinguished by not being made tangible even by its definition, follows the same strategy as the mogwai, the “dark spirit” in the movie. There is a socially integrated paranoia that fears the secret program, or uncanny transformative potential, hidden beneath the cute exterior. This suspicion applies to the objects of modern technology, infamous for hiding social codes in subroutines that can be neither deactivated nor configured. This suspicion has also long applied to media in general. It is in the essence of media to conceal their functions, whether as conscious deception or in consequence of their incalculable misappropriation. Media are never objective, least of all when, hybridizing apparatus and program (or form and information), they emphasize their objectivity. Their design is always an aesthetic diversionary tactic.
Moritz Hirsch’s gizmos simulate this strategy and its complex systems. Precisely because they present themselves at first as pure objects, one is tempted to ascribe to them a hidden intended impact, a purpose, a function. This effect is strengthened automatically, in the truest sense of the word, through their contextualization as a work of art. A work of art, after all, can rely on the dispositions of reception, in which it is impossible to accept the work as a pure “whatchamacallit.” At the same time, the demonstrative corporeality of the objects, their relatively anachronistic volume in the microelectronic age, play down their technical potency: to an extent these are apparatuses disguised as apparatuses. In contrast to most “gizmos,” however, their programming does not remain inaccessible.
The way in which the medial character of the objects is revealed is naturally a question of perspective. In “90 60 90,” Hirsch deals with questions of optical perception on an elementary level. In “Television,” he short-circuits observer and object, and thereby input and output in visual formattings. In “Monolight,” he demonstrates the self-generated power that can emerge simply from the structure of medial concepts or usurp them strategically. “Formatierung” (Formatting) conceptualizes forms of artistically and technologically conditioned obsolescence. Lastly, in “Standby,” Hirsch completely transforms the traces of memory inscribed in his materials through the formal restructuring and re-layering of one work into a new one.
The works on display puzzle us, each in its own way. They consciously seduce the viewer into reflecting on their hybrid being. Hirsch also achieves the confrontation with the questionable mode of action of his objects through strategically calculating the paradoxical nature of perception of such categories as surface and depth, camouflaging and overt placement. The suspicion that a hidden intended impact, a code that can be activated at any time, or even merely a structuring knowledge is obscured behind the objects’ demonstrative corporeality is both the subject of the works as well as the motor that drives their reception.
Through this doubled operation, Hirsch not only directs the gaze to the blind spots of all those “things” assembled out of medial, technological and social components. He also makes clear the constant unreliability of that gaze itself. Every attempt at penetration is based on a paranoid character. “Gizmos” are so irresistible because they are not only instruments of deception, but also artifacts of beauty.
Text: Harald Staun / Translation: Ben Letzler