Thomas Hirschhorn's cave

A passage between the chambers in Cavemanman is strewn with tape-covered rocks. The walls are covered with pages from philosophy books.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

Just about everything in Thomas Hirschhorn's cave challenges visitors to think. For one thing there's the walls.

"So they will see a lot of tape. Brown tape. Taped on the walls, on the floor, on the ceiling," he says.

Thomas Hirschorn
Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn lives and works in Paris.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

There are miles of tape creating sedimentary lines across the wall. There's also a tide line of fluorescent lights.

Hirschhorn is a tall square-jawed guy with a dark hair, and black framed glasses. He's sweating a lot. When you cover an entire cave in packing tape it does a great job of keeping in the heat. Hirschhorn says he wants to create what he calls a different mental space.

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"That's why I needed to cover entirely the walls the ceilings and the floor with tape. To give the possibility, to think, we are in another space in our mind," he says.

As Hirschhorn talks, his helpers keep adding more tape.

Thomas Hirschhorn (center) discusses what to do next as helpers work on the completion of "Cavemanman."
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

The whole structure shakes slightly as we walk. When asked if this is important, Hirschhorn says "Of course."

"I wanted to give this feeling that you are not more on a gallery space that is flat."

When you think about it, caves can create an almost primal reaction in people. Caves can provide shelter, but they can also hide predators. They can be home to prehistoric artwork on the walls, but they can also be the place where young lovers go to make out.

Giant books
The caves are littered with objects including piles of giant books
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

They can be ancient and riddled with history, having been visited by hundreds of thousands of people, but there is always a chance you might be the first person ever to enter.

It's clear someone else has been in Hirschhorn's cave, but he wants a visitor to wonder who.

There are pop cans strewn over the floor.

Some rooms sport posters like a teenager's bedroom. Another has a wall of clocks bearing the names of cities all around the world, but each is set at the same time.

There are also the books themselves, apparently attached to sticks of dynamite.

Explosive reading matter
Several of the rooms in Thomas Hirschhorn's "Cavemanman" have classic books attached both to the walls and what may, or may not, be an explosive.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

"We don't know if this is, in fact, to make fear to somebody who comes into the cave without permission, without asking," Hirschhorn says. "Or is this because the dynamite is attached to the philosophical books because in the books is the explosive matter?"

There are video monitors in some of the walls. They show images Hirschhorn shot in Lascaux 2. It's the exact replica of the famous Lascaux caves in France, built beside the original so people could see the cave's prehistoric paintings without disturbing the originals. Hirschhorn delights in the fact that a visitor is standing in a fake cave looking at tape of another fake cave.

Many of the cave rooms have foil covered figures,
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

Some of the rooms contain metallic human figures ranging from full-size to just inches high.

"The cave was inhabited by somebody - or is STILL inhabited, we don't know - by somebody who was concerned by the human condition. And he tried to figure out with these mannequins. He wanted to give form to the concern he has, And his concern was complete equality between human beings."

Equality is ultimately Hirschhorn's main concern. The last and perhaps largest room is covered in graffiti. It's the same phrase over and over, "1 man = 1 man."


"Several years ago I read that somebody in France was condemned because on a prehistorical site he made graffitis," he says. "And in a way I think this is completely absurd because I accept the Lascaux beautiful paintings as I accept the graffiti of somebody today. I think it is completely absurd to make a distinction what makes value, you know."

Hirschhorn says just as painters have always painted over old canvases, it is natural for people in caves to paint over older cave paintings. He wants people to realize the intrinsic value in everyone, that no-one is better or worse than anyone else.

Hirschhorn calls his work "Cavemanman." It opens at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis this weekend as part of the Heart of Darkness show.