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Erwin Wurm

I do the opposite
and make myself smaller

He is desperate. Everything seemed to be going well for a long time. Healthcare improved, we all became more prosperous, we could travel more, and enjoy life. But now we are at an ecological turning point and we are hurtling towards the abyss. “That’s the way I see it,” says Erwin Wurm. “The older I get, the more I am aware of it. When I look outside, at how we treat animals, the planet, each other; it is absurd. And no, we can’t only blame capitalism for that. Communism, socialism, liberalism, it doesn’t matter. People treat animals cruelly. You can even see that in the Bible.”

Austrian Erwin Wurm is not immediately known as a ‘green’ artist par excellence. However, he became world-famous for his sculptures disguising criticism of consumer society. With his ‘Fat Cars’ and ‘Fat Houses’, he showed how, in his opinion, the craving for money and status affect the world. And he had an eye for the viewer, whom he wanted to bring into his world. This applies to, among others, his ‘One Minute Sculptures’: a series in which, since 1998, he has asked arbitrary participants  to take a slightly inconvenient position in interaction with everyday objects, such as a chair, a ball, a doorpost. Maintaining an inconvenient position for one minute and being watched, photographed and filmed by the artist and all the spectators while doing so is, in his opinion, a good time span to reflect on the question of what a sculpture actually is. There is also room to laugh about it, which is apparent in all his work. “With the ‘One Minute Sculptures’, I come very close to the ordinary things we do. There is nothing strange about me holding a pencil. But if I put two in each nostril, then you’ll actually ask questions on psychological matters and help people view their world differently.”

This is exactly what he is doing in Middelburg. For Façade, he picked the façades at the Balans on the square of CBK Zeeland for his location. Second-hand furniture will be attached to these walls. Chairs, a table, a made-up bed: a complete interior will be exhibited this way. Erwin Wurm turned ‘ordinary’ furniture into art before, as can be seen at a solo exhibition in Museum Jan Cunen in Oss until the end of August. The series ‘Narrow Furniture’ is being exhibited there; life-size furniture that has been compressed to suffocating dimensions. For the untitled Middelburg installation, previously owned pieces of furniture will be purchased.

The artist is very familiar with the public space. There too, he knows how to catch the eye in an often surprising way. For example, with the single-family house that has been dropped on the roof of the Vienna Museum of Modern Art (Mumok). About his installation in Middelburg, he says: “We bring the furniture outside. This type of work is a reaction to the weighty art of the ‘60s and ‘70s that I was raised with. What is the source of our existence, what is our destination; very weighty, pathetic works that make the viewer smaller. I do exactly the opposite and make myself smaller. By bringing furniture outside, you, being an artist make yourself vulnerable.”

Vulnerability, viewing the world differently; interior turned into exterior sets you thinking. About ourselves, about the world. It is about time, according to Erwin Wurm: “We have come to a point where we need to change drastically. I am not a philosopher, nor a scientist. In small things, I try to contribute to a better world. I drive an electric car, I let the grass grow long, I try to fly less often, I don’t use insecticides. But yes, even if I don’t use insecticides, the poison enters my plants through the groundwater. City people don’t realise that. Most of them don’t believe it; they are just fine as long as they make money and fame. That shocks me. I’m tired of those people and of politicians who don’t take action.”

Erwin Wurm  (Bruck an der Mur, 1954) is an Austrian visual artist and sculptor. He lives and works in Vienna and New York. Besides bronze, wood and ceramics, he also works with polyester, metal and textiles. His work has been included in, among others, the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, the St.Gallen Art Museum (Switzerland) and the Paris Centre Pompidou. In Museum Jan Cunen in Oss, his solo exhibition ‘Am I a House?’ can be seen until 28 August.

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