Thursday, 12 July 2012

Erwin Wurm

Having developed his photographic series for over two decades, Erwin Wurm is finally having his first solo exhibition in the UK, showing at Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery until September 2nd. ‘One Minute Sculptures’ is a concept the Austrian artist has been working on, as aforementioned, for many years, and this exhibition showcases a selection of his photographs from the 1990s. Wurm’s work addresses the question, what is sculpture? And makes us reconsider what we feel we know and accept about this traditional artistic medium.
Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculptures’ are created in the immediate present, and are strictly temporary, taking away any of the permanency that we associate with sculpture. The artist combines live subjects with everyday lifeless objects, in a way making his human models into simply another material to work with. Interestingly this technique often makes the objects appear to dominate or manipulate the subject, in a clever reversal of roles.
Wurm has certainly been redefining sculpture from the word go. Reminiscent of the Surrealist ‘objects’ of the early 20th century, the emotionally varied aspects of his work are certainly an innovative continuation of earlier rebellious sculpture. His work is essentially an amalgamation of various mediums; not only does he focus on the sculpture aspect, but this is contained within photography, and all his images have a performance element to them. In a sense the temporary nature of Wurm’s sculptures makes each photograph a documentation of a spectacle; they are memorable, but not continuous.
Many of Wurm’s photographs have a comical or playful edge to them, but these lie among others which certainly have much darker and violent connotations. The artist uses the simplest of gestures and especially familiar objects to create a feeling of both surprise and unease in the viewer, in a way mirroring the spontaneous and often surprising path of everyday life. Wurm himself has suggested that his work reflects the many aspects that make up a human being, both physically and spiritually, which is perhaps why his photographs simply combine the elements and objects we are met with every day, just in alternative scenarios. It is in this way that Wurm seeks to integrate art with the regular flow of existence, with his subtle commentary on the impermanency of living.
There is a variety of Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculptures’ within the Open Eye’s exhibition, including a combination of both satirical and violent images. Photographs that involve, for example, stationary lodged into a subject’s facial orifices, are interestingly comical and aggressive at the same time; just one reason why Wurm’s work is so thought-provoking and innovative. Other live subjects are rendered faceless with just legs showing, taking away any personal or entirely human aspect, and making them as objective as the lifeless items they are used alongside with.
Wurm believes that everything around him is useful, and can be used to some effect in his art. However the transitory nature of his work seems to comment on the trend of disposability, and perhaps dwindling permanency, in our contemporary society. His pieces exist as a sculpture only in the moment that the shot is taken, and are like documentations of fleeting memories which disappear so rapidly from our temporary memory. While slightly unnerving and bewildering at times, Erwin Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculptures’ are a refreshing and relevantly modern take on sculpture, which continue the battle of temporary vs. permanent by existing only within photographs, a clever move on the artist’s part.
by Liz Buckley

This review was first published on ArtFace, read more here -

Images: Courtesy Liverpool Open Eye Gallery