Elmgreen et Dragset / Xavier Veilhan / Wim Delvoye
Elmgreen et Dragset / Xavier Veilhan / Wim Delvoye
Elmgreen et Dragset
Isn’t it as if we have once again forgotten that reality is not purely the sum of facts by which we are constantly confronted? Only through glimpsing a drama unfolding itself on a micro level - something almost unreal, yet familiar, like noticing a sparrow dying in the far corner of a public square - do we suddenly, for a split second, perceive the surroundings in a different way. The high rise buildings; the rush hour traffic; the gray colored pavements become a battle field for life and death, a surreal stage for our perverted fascinations and for all those inner worries of ours. Then, in the next moment, we once again get absorbed by the streams of media news. We watch tendencies change. We take a look at the numbers and figures delivered by the quarterly statistics, which give us an idea of death tolls and inflation rates. We get to know of cities rising from the ground and new economies emerging. And on the basis of such an overload of information and changing modes and fashions, we draw our conclusions, we react or turn our heads away. There is only little room left in our lives for what some label “The Unreal".
Elmgreen & Dragset’s exhibition “Disgrace" consists of two sculptures, which twist the old theme of “masters & servants". A white Rolls Royce Corniche has been dipped into tar and rolled in feathers. Like an outlaw it sadly spins around on its turntable car display. At the other end of the room the audience is welcomed by a maid who is dressed in an emblematic black and white maidens dress. She is humbly looking down to the ground, awaiting your orders. Her body is cast in bronze and covered in real gold. She is a trophy like the Oscar statuette or an ancient relic. The sculptures are an investigation into the dangerous layers of desire and ritually based power structures that are embedded in our social roles and in the objects which surround us in a time of late capitalist decadence. It’s as if Georges Bataille would meet Charles Ray or Rainer Werner Fassbinder would meet Jeff Koons. Caught in the act we, the voyeurs, find ourselves in the middle of a scenario, which exudes a repressed, uncanny sexuality, like in a Hitchcock or Bergman movie - camp but controlled.
In 1515, Albrecht Durer made a woodcut of rhinoceros, an animal he had never seen. Based on a written description of a specimen gifted to King Emmanuel of Portugal by the Cambodian Royal Family, the woodcut - with its myriad inaccuracies - soon became the dominant image of the species in Western visual culture, and was reproduced in innumerable bestiaries and scientific treatises, as well as in popular prints, bronze and marble statuary, and on commercial tapestries and porcelain. In a reality without the shadow reality of photography or film, these things happen. In a world in which unfamiliarity is the default setting, the viewer is erroneously familiarized.
Xavier Veilhan’s iconic Le Rhinoce'ros (The Rhinoceros, 1999) is a very different beast from Durer’s. A pared-down resin sculpture painted a booming fire engine red, it assumes a knowledge of its subject-matter - assumes that we are familiar with these horned ruminants from the pages of National Geographic, from wildlife documentaries, or from visits to the zoo. What its smooth surface provides us with is just enough information, just enough ‘rhinoceros-ness’, for us to fill in the perceptual gaps from our own experiences and prejudices and access a level of reality that’s part fact, part our own fiction. The piece doesn't so much portray the Platonic form of the rhino as its prototype, or its corrupted copy. Perhaps this is for the best. Perfect simulacra, after all, tell us nothing about the nature of reality (how can they, when we can't distinguish them from the real thing?). As Veilhan's work demonstrates, it's the half-cocked stuff of mistakes, misjudgments and absences that helps us negotiate what we mean by 'truth'.
Veilhan’s is an art that is at once fascinated by the possibilities afforded by contemporary technology, and preoccupied with the formal conventions of the art of the past. Employing high-tech means, he makes simplified pictures and statuary of highly generic, art historically mandated subjects such as people and animals, finishing them in ultra-modern materials, and playing witty, occasionally alarming games with their scale. In his 2006 exhibition ‘Sculpture Automatiques’ at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, Veilhan exhibited a group of variously-sized sculptures representing a lion, a piano player, a naked woman, a looming monster and three clothed men (including the artist himself) that described a spectrum of representational resolution from the schematic to the photorealistic. Significantly, these objects were produced by electronically scanning their source material and then feeding this information into a computerized cutting machine - something we might imagine as a sci-fi studio apprentice, there to do the dog work of a very modern master.
What’s going on in these works? Not psychological portraiture (we cannot guess at the piano-player’s wants, or needs), nor a critique of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (Veilhan’s engagement with technology is about play, not labour, and resembles the gentlemanly use of machines depicted in the plates of Diderot’s Encyclopedie). Rather, these sculptures are archetypes that draw on classical and contemporary notions of perfection, but nevertheless still surprise - objects with trans-historical ambitions that are very much of their time. They are generous, robust, and curiously autonomous, demanding no backtracking, no appeals to the real. Perhaps this is why the sculpture of Veilhan faced away from the rest of the works in the show, a half-smile on its face. Born of a cyborg process, this is art that can look after itself.
Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin is pleased to present an exhibition of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s tattooed pigskins. Delvoye has been tattooing pigs since the 1990s, and in 2004, he set up the Art Farm, establishing his presence in China. Delvoye explains, "The idea for Art Farm is not only to produce art but to harvest art, for me it's the beginning of making art pieces that are developed in a very biological way." While the tattoos themselves do not contain specific messages, Delvoye says that, as pigs increase in size, the tattoos stretch and fade—a visual reminder of human dreams and wishes that have faded. Delvoye uses the art of tattooing as a means of critiquing human desire and ambitions.
The pigs on the Art Farm are sedated before they get tattooed and are gently raised until their natural deaths; usually well past six months, when most farm pigs are slaughtered. Collectors can buy the pigs live and pay for their keep as "foster parents" or purchase tattooed skins of pigs that had passed. "The Art Farm is a real enterprise and by selling, eventually, the skins, the whole thing gets financed and I can go on," said Delvoye, who has pushed other artistic boundaries with previous works.
When the pigs complete their life cycle, their skins will be canvases that remind the audience of the dreams that once were important enough to be engraved on the skin. The stretched pigskins are like raw canvases, each one possessing an original tattoo such as, hearts, skulls, anchors, swords, eagles, and a woman's name—reminiscent of Harley Davidson motorcycle gangs. Mortality is a primary theme in the pigskins. "Tattoos remind you of death. It's leaving something permanent on something non-permanent," says Delvoye. "Even when tattooing flowers, there is a morbid side to the activity."
Delvoye has continued to astonish the art world with works that test the conventional limits of art for more than fifteen years. He has gone beyond art's traditional mediums, incorporating technology, biology, and an understanding of today's market economy and culture into the scope of his art, in the process creating masterpieces such as “Cloaca," a machine that produces real feces; “Caterpillar," a sculptural imitation of a construction excavator intricately carved from corten steel and perforated with Gothic filigree; and “Marble Floors," photographs of meticulously cut salami, chorizo, mortadella and ham, arranged in geometric patterns based on Italian Baroque and Islamic motifs.
Image: Elmgreen et Dragset, Short Cut Milano
Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin
194, NW 30th Street FL 33127 Miami