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Indepth Arts News:

"Erwin Wurm: No 5 and No 8 Great Newport Street"
2000-12-07 until 2001-01-21
Photographer's Gallery
London, , UK

The art of Erwin Wurm assumes myriad forms - drawings, sculptures, installations, photographs, videos, bookworks - but at its heart lies a concern with expanding the concept and principles of sculpture. This solo exhibition, his first in Britain, reflects on a decade of sculptural work realised in photography and video. Traditional sculptural concerns such as the movement from two dimensions to three; the relationship between object and pedestal; the function of gravity; the increasing and decreasing of volume play through all Erwin Wurm's work, and yet the final result is the antithesis of sculpture understood as monument, model, or maquette.

Wurm's sculptures are wrought from the human body choreographed into absurd, witty and often perilous, relationships with objects of everyday life - vegetables, crockery, chairs, cardboard boxes, brooms, balls, and bicycles. Riven with a sense of imminent failure, each sculpture exists for barely a minute, before gravity triumphs, everything collapses, and the only thing to remain is a photograph or video. These works collectively titled 'One minute sculptures' redefine the concept of sculpture into one of dynamic 'act' rather than static object.

Ever since Marcel Duchamp selected his first ready-mades and speeded up the process of making sculpture, many artists, from Richard Serra to Bruce Nauman, Gilbert and George to Charles Ray, have worked to reinvigorate the static unchanging art object by introducing ideas of process, action, and the living body into their sculptures. Erwin Wurm is similarly interested in the relationship between time and sculptural form. Spontaneity and brevity are key to his artistic vision, as is the idea of endless permutation at the expense of a final, fixed form. These temporal investigations have allowed him to bring sculpture into a very particular dialogue with the media of photography and video.

One minute sculptures can happen anywhere, anytime: on the street, at home, in a hotel room. They have been described as a sculptural variant of situation comedy and the effects are certainly similar: usually funny, often ridiculous, occasionally pathetic. On a metaphoric level, they can be read in terms of the momentary successes and inevitable failures that tend to define all of human life. Wurm also points to the awkwardness and limits of the human body in relation to the things which surround it.

Erwin Wurm very often works collaboratively with the audience at his exhibitions, inviting visitors to create their own sculptures in situ in the gallery. Earlier pieces the 'do it' series, for example exist in the form of written or drawn instructions. Anyone can follow the instructions, photograph the result, and then send the photograph to the artist who signs it and delivers back a valuable, validated artwork. Wurm designs not ready-mades, sculptures fixed into an unchanging form, but works which are constantly ready-to-be-made.

Increasing, remodelling or removing volume the habitual interests of many a sculptor are given a new twist in Wurm's work. The piece From Size L to Size XXL, 1993 for example, presents easy-to-follow instructions on how to gain two extra sizes in just eight days. Structured like a recipe book, it contains detailed advice on how best to ingest huge amounts of calories, at the same time as conserving maximum energy and minimizing weight loss through normal bodily functions. The reading of the book and the resulting mental image of the abruptly enlarged person who takes shape in the mind of the reader, is here, what constitutes the sculpture.

In a related series of video works, such as Fabio Getting Dressed, 1992, a sculpture is created through the very ordinary activity of putting on clothes, pushed to absurd lengths as Fabio eventually manages to struggle into the entire contents of his wardrobe.

The humorous quality of Erwin Wurm's work belies a serious investigation into the relationship between performance, sculpture and photography. If someone is standing still, do we define it as a happening or an object? At what point, he asks, does something change from an action into a sculpture, from a sculpture into a photograph?

Erwin Wurm was born in 1954 and lives and works in Vienna. He has had solo exhibitions at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna; at Kunsthaus Bregenz, and at FRAC Limousin in Limoges. He has also featured in many important group exhibitions including, most recently, Partages d'Exotismes, the 5th Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art and the forthcoming Taipei Biennal.

Erwin Wurm
One minute sculptures
Self-service series, 1999

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