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What artists are doing now. Erwin Wurm in Limberg

Odrija Fišere

31.03.2020

An inspiration and mutual solidarity project for the creative industries

In the current situation, clearly our top priority is to take care of our families, friends and fellow citizens. Nevertheless, while public life is paralyzed and museums, galleries and cultural institutions are closed, in many of us, neither the urge to work nor the creative spark have disappeared. In fact, quite the opposite is happening, in what is turning out to be a time that befits self-reflection and the generation of new ideas for the future. Although we are at home and self-isolating, we all – artists, creatives and Arterritory.com – continue to work, think and feel. As a sort of gesture of inspiration and ‘remote’ mutual solidarity, we have launched a project titled 'What Artists Are Doing Now', with the aim of showing and affirming that neither life nor creative energy are coming to a stop during this crisis. We have invited artists from all over the world to send us a short video or photo story illustrating what they are doing, what they are thinking, and how they are feeling during this time of crisis and self-isolation. All artist stories will be published on Arterritory.com and on our Instagram and Facebook accounts. We at Arterritory.com are convinced that creativity and positive emotions are good for the immune system and just might help us better navigate through these difficult times.

Austrian artist Erwin Wurm gave a short interview over the phone and provided us with a look into his Limberg studio and the preparation of his upcoming exhibition in Taipei:

Is there any project you are working on right now, in your studio?

Right now, I am preparing a show in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum [One Minute in Taipei: Erwin Wurm Solo Exhibition – red.]. The opening is going to be on the 1st of April. First, we thought, I have to be there to explain in person how to install the artworks and how the performance has to be carried out. Now we decided to do everything digitally over the Internet. We use Skype and WhatsApp to send or receive pictures and videos and have video conferences with the museum staff showing us the installation progress. We do all these things online and give out long distance instructions, and it is working! Maybe it is a new solution in these times and also for the future – not to fly but work via Internet instead. I was flying so much in the last few years and I got a bit tired of it. Now the process of work has changed. I find it very interesting!

Erwin Wurm's pictures from the photo-shoot in Vienna

It is going to be a big show. The space has 1000 square metres. There will be many performative pieces, photographs and One Minute Sculptures. There will also be an opening performance, with me giving instructions to the participants and speaking to the audience in real time over the Internet.

In 2000 I was one of the participating artists of the Taipei Biennial. At that time, I made photographs for the show which were called “Outdoor Sculptures Taipei”. It’s been 20 years now. When they invited me to do the solo show, I came up with the idea to show the old pieces in the form of a wallpaper and to make new photographs referring to the old ones. Since the Coronavirus became such a hot topic, especially with me as an asthmatic, I was afraid to travel to Taipei to make these new pictures. Instead of me going to Taipei, the museum staff came to Vienna to shoot here to minimize the risk of me getting infected.

I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t know that Taipei people are very careful and responsible. The country had the SARS epidemic, before and they know best how to handle such a situation – all of them were wearing masks, gloves and went into quarantine after arrival. They brought models and we made the shooting here in Vienna.

Erwin Wurm's pictures from the photo-shoot in Vienna

The show will be a mixture of a huge wallpaper, almost 28 by 23 metres large, photographs, and a performative platform with small houses made of clay – I have made similar performative sculptures in the past and this time those will be models made from traditional and modern Taipei houses with marks and tracks of people walking, sitting, or making push-ups on them, etc. We have also made a sculpture of the biggest skyscraper in Taipei, the 101 building – at one point it was the tallest building in the world. We made it 6 metres high, and people can climb on it and conquer it.

Also, there will be a big room with One Minute Sculptures. These are platforms with tools and a drawing on them which instructs the spectator to perform a sculptural pose on top of the platform. There will also be two platforms with Word Sculptures. Here, the spectator is instructed to stand on the platform and read the given text aloud; By listening to the text, the brain transfers the text into a picture and into a sculpture. For example, one sentence could be: “A football size piece of clay laying on a light blue car roof, A juicy cucumber is inserted into the slit of a pink Fontana.”

Studio of Erwin Wurm

Sounds like nothing has stopped for you…

No, that’s not true! We had prepared a big show for Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris – a retrospective of my photographs from 1986 until now. The preparations took us nearly a year. Everything was done very well and they did a great catalogue as well. The show was opened in the beginning of March and then two weeks later it was closed again.
I had to cancel several shows. Just recently a show planned with König galerie in Berlin and another one in Cologne were cancelled. A show in Tokyo will probably be cancelled too.
We also don’t produce that many new pieces right now and have almost completely stopped the workshop.

Studio of Erwin Wurm

What is your recipe for survival in this time of almost exclusively bad news?

Not reading newspapers! The press is awfully hysterical! Every little problem becomes a huge, unclimbable mountain. It is just about sensation and it is horrifying. Of course, you need to stay informed and you should pay attention but you have to stop at some point, otherwise you will get infected by this news virus. They have now started to broadcast news about the Coronavirus in the morning, in the noon and in the evening – it’s crazy. I think ‘abstinence’ is the new word – you don’t smoke, you are free from alcohol, and you are also clean from the press, clean from auction houses.

Studio of Erwin Wurm

The art world and the culture sector are some of the most affected. What is the main lesson the art world should learn from all this?

The artworld in the last few years was so much about money. The galleries, the auction houses, everything was concentrated on money. I remember that in the 1970s money was not the big thing in art and all of a sudden it became so important! Dealing with art became in a way like a stock market. It was not about artistic qualities anymore but about value and how to increase the value in a short time. I hope this can change. It is okay if you have a show and the gallery doesn’t sell well or anything at all, they can still deal with it. But when this happens 2 or 3 times, then it might get hard to find somebody who wants to work with you. This was very different in the 70s. The auction houses had a big role in this development! They pushed into the art marked and destroyed many galleries and many interesting cultural structures, especially small ones that had no chance anymore, because they couldn’t sell. Every artist auctioned for a cheaper price, and it was horrible.

Now there are new aspects coming up. Our world was so full of speed and overproduction. Maybe there will be a change of perspective now. It will be interesting to see the changes when things are getting slower. I think we might begin to notice how it is when we are not running around like crazy all the time and maybe we have the possibility to rethink our lifestyle in general – maybe we can come to some new conclusions. We were destroying nature on a major scale. The Earth is being damaged and I think it is necessary to look at these things from another perspective.

However, we shouldn’t forget this drama that is going on now. There are people who are still making parties – they have no sense of responsibility; they are short-sighted and ignorant. This is a shame really! They should be more careful. If not for themselves then, for their parents, older citizens, siblings, relatives. The ignorance is always something that is unbearable. And it is very close to idiotism. It’s the same with the denial of climate change, with the denial of how people treat animals. Some people do not care for our nature and do not care for others. This is shameful.

Erwin Wurm's notes for the upcoming exhibition in Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Erwin Wurm's notes for the upcoming exhibition in Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Erwin Wurm's notes for the upcoming exhibition in Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Erwin Wurm's notes for the upcoming exhibition in Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Erwin Wurm's notes for the upcoming exhibition in Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Erwin Wurm's notes for the upcoming exhibition in Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Erwin Wurm. 2019. Photo: Eva Würdinger

***

Austrian artist Erwin Wurm is consistently listed among the top names in contemporary art. His art is often characterized by the feeling that the world and the things that take place in the world are profoundly ephemeral and ambiguous. With his signature humour, and even a touch of cynicism, Wurm turns everything into a question, tearing down the borders between everyday objects and art, between the human body and sculpture. Fat cars; melted buildings; pencils and bananas that grow out of armpits and nostrils; a figure wearing layer after layer of sweaters; people who agree to do the strangest things so that they can become One Minute Sculptures – Erwin Wurm creates his own alternative world in order to escape the existing reality. At the same time, his works bring up important issues and make us look at societal norms and prejudices from various perspectives, completely free of any pathos.
By consistently expanding the concept of sculpture, Erwin Wurm demonstrates that he can find an answer to the moods and social conditions of our time in an intrinsically artistic manner – sometimes sublime, often philosophical – in images and objects.

Erwin Wurm’s work is widely represented in international museum collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tate Gallery in London, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Berkeley Art Museum in California, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Albertina and MUMOK in Vienna, Berlinische Galerie in Berlin, Museum Ludwig in Cologne among many others.
In 2017 Erwin Wurm and Brigitte Kowanz represented Austria at the 57th Venice Art Biennale.

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