Thoughts On: Venice Biennale 2017 (Part Two: Erwin Wurm)

Erwin Wurm 

One Minute Sculptures, Austrian Pavillion, Giardini, Venice Biennale

visitors interacting with Erwin Wurm's Just About Virtues and Vices in General, 
Austrian Pavilion, Giardini, Venice Biennale 2017 (2017)
Wurm's One Minute Sculptures, exhibited in the Austrian Pavilion, was the second show that I saw within the Giardini. The One Minute Sculptures series was conceived by Wurm initially as short-lived, precarious assemblages of human and object and captured only on film at the end of the 1990s. Following the success of his images, Wurm created objects specifically for the public to interact with and recreate their own versions of his sculptures.

These objects were spaced widely through the Pavilion, the midcentury colour schemes and forms jumping out in sharp relief to the grand white surroundings. Around, inside, under and through each object were the audience: diligently following the handwritten instructions explaining each position to assume in order to 'complete' the sculpture. All while a friend or family member faithfully captured the moment of transition from audience to art with a DSLR or more ubiquitous camera phone.

Following instructions.. Erwin Wurm's One Minute Sculptures Austrian Pavilion, Giardini, Venice Biennale 2017 (2017)
The heady mix of kitschy, nostalgic objects, colours and patterns with the hand drawn/written instructions created an intoxicating 'safe play space' designed for adult bodies. There was, additionally, that slight air of surrealism: disembodied arms and legs protruding from the corner of a caravan in Just About Virtues and Vices in General, for example. However, it was fantastic to see people fully and intentionally immersing themselves in the art, albeit as a captive audience (attending the biennale immediately betrays an inclination towards art appreciation). 

As the adrenaline of *being the art* faded, I found myself asking: could this be the future of Art? Wurm first conceived One Minute Sculptures in 1997 as a series of photographs, utilising whatever materials and people were close at hand. There are two threads within the concept which I think would lend itself to an Art Movement for the future. First, is that Wurm is using everyday objects: proving that even when (in the event of an apocalypse) we have run out of paint or other specialist art materials, art could still be made by using the 'rubbish' around us. Secondly, some futurists believe (thanks to the robot revolution), we will eventually become humans “of leisure” and by creating this work where human bodies become the Art Wurm's One Minute Sculptures point to a purpose of Art more akin to self-therapy, self-fulfilment, and possibly even a religion through purpose and the transformation of the self into another state of being.  

Instructions inside Erwin Wurm's Just About Virtues and Vices in General, 
Austrian Pavilion, Giardini, Venice Biennale 2017 (2017)
The works, and this idea of people stopping and holding poses is, in the age of Instagram and Snapchat, very social media-worthy. It is in many ways a pure elevation of the ego of the individual. What is the highest form of being for a person? For many centuries it has been to spiritual fulfilment, the giving over of oneself and to the higher power of a god or gods. But perhaps now, the highest and most 'worthy' form of being is to be proven to be of enough value to be photographed. What these sculptures do, is to give the audience is the idea that they are not just 'important'; but 'vital'. Firstly to the existence of the work (as without them the objects that they are requested to interact with are simply objects) and secondly, by extension of their participation the individuals have become sculptures, worthy enough to be photographed and displayed to the world. 

In this metaphysical transformation, where does the power lie? Is it with the audience before, during or after the audience-sculpture state? Or is the power remaining in the hands of the artist, as he conducts and sculpts the forms of the willing audience (through the written instructions) from afar? If, while left alone, the objects are only objects, and become sculptures only with the addition of the human form, while the presence and obedience of the audience "makes" the sculpture - I would tend to believe that Wurm retains the power. He has created an inviting scenario, full of pleasing colours where the ego of the audience is stoked. We are in thrall to the lure of becoming photograph-worthy, to being more than what we are and Wurm has hit on a way to pull those strings very effectively.
Composite from a Google image search for
Just About Virtues and Vices in General 

The sculptures can only exist when the audience themselves are present and following the given instructions. This means that the sculptures are different each time: the physicality of the human body in all it's intricate diversity provides never ending moments of sculptures that are as unique in nature as they are egalitarianistic. Everyone and anyone is invited to become this art  (provided they have paid the entrance fee to the Giardini), which creates an equality while simultaneously highlighting difference. Added, to this 'same but different' contrast is the element of compositional choice: first the choice of the original photographer, of composition and lighting, and secondly the choices I have made in putting the images into the composite. 

Finally, and with a consideration towards states of being, within the work I found a thread of concept akin to the theory of Loop Quantum Gravity (where on a Quantum Level things pop in and out of existence at random: "...the world is a 'frenzied swarming of quanta that appear and disappear'" Carlo Rovelli) in that the One Minute Sculptures pop in and out of existence. Overall throughout my visit to the Austrian Pavilion there was a sense of unbridled joy and playfulness, a gleeful accepting of the transience of existence. The sculpture is there, the sculpture is gone. 

In September 2017 I visited the Venice Biennale and discovered many wonderful things. I am looking back at what I saw in a four-part series of short writings. This is the second 'article'.

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