Focusing strongly on the human body, Belgian artist Wim Delvoye creates challenging works that are full of contrasts: beautiful and alluring, yet also hideous and repulsive. Working with media as disparate as tattooed living people, vast machine-like structures and stuffed pigs, Delvoye plays with our perceptions of high versus low culture and how value is attributed to art in our society.
Delvoye’s starting point as an artist was drawing, but he soon began to challenge the media and materials of art, for example by painting on wallpaper and carpets. The tension between traditional concepts of art and everyday objects was evident even in his early works from the late 1980s, for example in works consisting of shovels painstakingly decorated like Dutch porcelain, and the slightly later Gothic works from the 1990s in which he created objects such as concrete mixer trucks out of beautifully ornamented steel.
In 1992 Delvoye won great international acclaim for the work Mosaic, shown at Documenta IX. The work consists of glazed tiles decorated with pictures of the artist’s faeces. Here, Delvoye moved into body-based art, a medium that Piero Manzoni had revolutionised thirty years before with his work Merda d’artista.
Human faeces is also the theme of the series for which Delvoye is probably best known: the Cloaca installations. They present machines created through eight years of collaboration with experts within the fields of engineering, plumbing and the human digestive system. Food is transformed into faeces in huge, transparent machines, allowing the entire process to be seen (and smelled) by the spectator. The faeces is subsequently collected and sold in small, transparent containers. Like Manzoni before him, Delvoye is transforming the most worthless material of all, a piece of shit, into art.
Credits: © Studio Wim Delvoye, Belgium