Whether it’s squashed buildings or inflated cars, Erwin Wurm likes to produce sculptures that make his audience really think about the world around them.
The Austrian sculptor Erwin Wurm, 58, is best known for his One Minute Sculptures, in which he poses – or gets his models to pose – in strange and uncomfortable positions in the name of art. For one, he shoved marker pens up his nose and held camera film in his eyes. In another, he persuaded Claudia Schiffer to stick a broom up her skirt. He also likes to remake everyday objects, often with humorous and unsettling results. In a recent series, Fat Cars, he remoulded desirable cars into grotesquely bloated and sorry machines – melding one type of indulgence with another. His work has been displayed at the Centre Pompidou, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Venice Biennale – and featured in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music videos.
The Hunger: What are you working on at the moment?
Erwin Wurm: I’m actually having a show here in Salzburg in a few weeks. I’m doing a series about houses and housing. I have made some small houses – like, two metres. They are made in clay and later cast in bronze, aluminium and resin. Then they are attacked, aggressed, by me, physically – one with a sword, the other with my legs and my fists. I also made some jails and aggressed them. So I took rough, monolithic architecture and I applied to it a method from the art history of the 60s: Actionism. Like a musician does with sampling, I wanted to use a certain method from a certain time and mix it together with something else. So this was helping me to express certain issues that I was interested in. I’m also preparing a picture for a museum in Malaga that’s also about housing. I used the big narrow house, which I made for the Venice Bienniale last year. It’s my parents’ house, squeezed to one sixth of the width while remaining the same length and the same height. You can open the door, walk in and go through the rooms, but all the furniture and all the rooms are squeezed, so immediately it gets quite claustrophobic and strange.
What is it about housing and space that particularly interests you?
I have always worked on basic sculptural questions, like surface, skin, volume, mass. I realised after a certain time that the skin defines the piece. And I soon realised that clothing is the second skin of the human being – it defines the body by the way it’s worn. I think the house is the third skin. It protects. So this “skin story” of space and volume relates very much to questions of our time, like the cult of youth, healthcare, obesity.
Within these playful objects you are offering a serious message?
Yes. At the Bienniale, my house was standing parallel to a palace from the 18th century. It was a cultural clash. Visitors from Austria were very disgusted to recognise an ugly Austrian house from the 1970s in the middle of Great Italy. This type of house is related to a very particular social background and a social group, so it speaks also about how our country developed and how it goes on with this. It speaks also of claustrophobia and repression; I grew up in a repressed society. In the 50s and 60s, it was a post-war society. Everything was strict, stiff. So when you look at the housing, you get these flashbacks. Art relates to your own background and brings us back where we come from. Good art always brings us back to this.
Read more of this interview in Issue 3, out on the 11th of October 2012, subscribe here.