WIM DELVOYE In the course of making my second series of Art Safari, I acquired my second tattoo. It’s on my back, on my right shoulder and it shows Mickey Mouse on a crucifix with Minnie weeping at the base. It’s signed ‘Wim Delvoye’. Somewhere in a tiny farmstead on the outskirts of Beijing in China, there’s a pig running around with exactly the same tattoo, also signed ‘Wim Delvoye’. That’s because the pig and I got tattooed at the same time, and in the same room, by the same contemporary artist.
Wim Delvoye is a forty-something Belgian artist who has been on the margins of the international contemporary art Premier League for about a decade. If it was tennis he’d be seeded about fourteen, but he’d never have won a major tournament. Nevertheless Delvoye’s simple but witty pop conceptualism locates him at the heart of Twenty–First Century art. His transformation of low-brow, low-profile objects into high art puts him in the same bag as Jeff Koons‘, but while Koons‘ trick is (usually) to mimic popular kitsch with a combination of exactitude and enlargement whether it’s huge balloon dogs, porn photos with Cicciolina or the xmas decoration of the ‘Celebration’ series Wim makes his objects by dislocating style and content, and creating a politically critical contrast between material and object. Thus he has made gas cylinders out of Delft porcelain, he has commissioned ornately-carved wooden concrete mixers, he has laid look-a-like marble floors out of care- fully chopped-up bits of salami, taken x-rays of people enjoying oral sex and built huge models of JCBs and long trucks out of metal panels decorated in the style of Gothic cathedrals.
Yet Delvoye’s most famous works of art are not static sculptures, but productive enterprises, unprecedented in the history of art, which mimic real economic entities. One is ‘Cloaca’, of which there are two versions, a machine of interlinked tubes and containers, including, in one variant, washing machines, which, supplied with the right enzymes, replicates the human digestive system.
You put food in one end, and shit comes out the other. You can buy the Cloaca dried shit as a limited edition and also purchase shares in the machine. Delvoye hopes one day to build a whole factory full of machines producing shit.
The other major work is located in China. Here the artist runs a pig farm, where the animals are tattooed with images as varied as Walt Disney characters, the Louis Vuitton pattern and Russian prison tattoos. When the pigs are sufficient-ly decorated they are slaughtered and either stuffed or skinned, in which case the hides are stretched and put into large frames. Wim’s ambiguous artworks are both a way of ennobling the proletarian and everyday, and, in a recent tradition that has its roots in the Belgian artist of the seventies, Marcel Broodthaers, a merciless mockery of the values of art. The “Art Farm” is a wonderfully enigmatic work of art which appears to save pigs from the anonymity and industrialized death of factory farming, only to replace that with a new kind of sadistic, artistic cruelty.