Wim Delvoye


21 Monday 21st November 2011

Whether it’s building a defecating machine, X-raying sex acts or tattooing live pigs, it’s fair to say that Belgian-born Wim Delvoye is an artist with few creative peers. Often vague, consistently enigmatic but always utterly fascinating, we talk to Wim in his studio to get under his [pig] skin.

So Wim, tell us about your upcoming exhibit at the Museum of Old and New Art (located in a winery in Hobart, Tasmania).

I haven’t been counting, but I read in the press that there are 100 art pieces. It’s not a retrospective – rather, an introspective – and it’s going to be special, because the architecture there is so special. It will be about the future more than the present – a show looking at the physical.

D-11 Scale Model 2.0

Looking at your work, one thing that’s immediately apparent is your preoccupation with the human body. What is it about this medium that you find so fascinating?

My work is about searching for truth, like a scientist. How does [the body] work? Do we have a soul, really? I want to see that soul, I want to have proof. I want to use art pieces as things to measure, like you measure pH levels. I try to see the logic in things, or unlogic. Art is an indicator, something that tells you about people – socially, medically, anatomically. It’s something I expect from any art piece.

Euterpe, Calliope and Urania

So all art should take this empirical approach?

Art should take itself more seriously. There’s enough promiscuous art now. In the ‘90s, when I started, you were an interesting artist if your identity was interesting. My identity is very ordinary, so I was at a disadvantage – I needed another story. So, I thought, ‘Just don’t be ashamed to be a boy!’ Because of what our grandfathers did to our grandmothers, we grow up with a certain kind of guilt about being male. For me, art started when I didn’t feel guilty any more; I didn’t feel guilty, so I didn’t waste time – I made art. I went beyond shame and explored the way I am. My work is a boy opening up the body: science, anatomy, machines, screws, screwdrivers, electricity, computers… it’s macho, but not too much.

Details from Art Farm

With the rise of Internet culture, and the increasing proportion of our lives played out through computer screens, do you think that the role of the body is starting to lose its significance?

Yes. We will extend our body over the Internet, and our body will be affected by the Internet. We are already cyborgs, with our iPads in our hands – they’re like a second brain we carry around. We’re already arriving at this posthuman condition, where we can decide our own identity. It’s serious.

You’ve been quoted in the past as saying that art is ‘pointless’ – do you still stand by that statement?

Art is completely pointless. It’s just art. If you have too much passion for art, it’s paralysing – when you don’t care, then you really make the good stuff. How can you make art if you worry? You are either a bird or an orthinologist – if you are a bird, you don’t care! If you are an orthinologist, you will never be a bird!

Wim working on Art Farm while having a smoke

With your project Art Farm [in which Delvoye first tattooed pig skins, and later live pigs on an art farm in China] there was a pretty sizeable backlash from people denouncing your process as cruel and unethical. How did you respond to that criticism?

We thought [about these issues] ourselves; we didn’t need other people to think of them for us. Of course, I love animals – I wouldn’t think up such an idea if I didn’t. We were very diplomatic, and gave the pigs ice cream and lovely stuff, and we promised to keep them alive as long as they were healthy. We reasoned for the pigs – as the pigs couldn’t reason together with us – that they would prefer to be tattooed than eaten. 

Cloaca Professional, Museum of Old and New Art. 2010

With projects like Art Farm and Cloaca [a machine that digests food into faecal waste], a lot of your work has been labelled as ‘shocking’ – would you say that you set out to make that kind of shock impression intentionally?

If the work is shocking, it’s often collateral. I wouldn’t especially look for the shock. With Cloaca, if you think of avant-garde art, in that way art has to shock a little, and criticise, and be deconstructionist. The pathological, the sexual – these things are not so shocking these days. The great thing about Cloaca is it didn’t shock or discriminate against anybody. There is nothing separatist about Cloaca; it includes all of us, because everybody shits. You can’t get more cosmopolitan. Plus, it’s a machine – who doesn’t love machines?

Anal Kiss - Hotel Lutetia Paris

If you fancy some more Wim, visit wimdelvoye.be

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  • Guest: renshawsally
    Tue 22 - Nov - 2011, 08:29
    Um... What utter bullshit. I think the pigs would prefer to be eaten, oh hang on, how should I know?