Austrian sculptor Erwin Wurm first gained notoriety with his ‘One-Minute Sculptures’, the first of which appeared in the late 1990’s; social-sculptures which depended on the participation of museum-goers to do absurd acts for a minute and take a picture of it. These call into question whether human beings can be considered a work of art at all or whether its just a publicity stunt, a fraud even.
Many of these acts call into question the reality of what we see and the role of clothing as a sign and facilitator of this illusionary environment.
In Fat Man (1999), Untitled (Hamlet) (2007) and Anger Bump (2007) we see how we have been conditioned to equate protrusions on certain areas of clothing with certain sexual connotations, while in reality they have just been propped up by a bottle of liquid detergent.
These ‘living sculptures’ have also been placed on a pedestal, a signifier of an important piece of art work, and exhibited alongside classical master pieces to transform the traditional notion of what can be considered a sculpture into a human performance.
Wurm also produced a series of ‘fat’ cars and ‘fat’ houses which provide a commentary on the state of consumerism, or over-consumption, the tendency of human beings to indulge themselves on their desires, manifesting itself through ‘mac-mansions’, muscle-cars or body builders on steroids. Ultimately it is about power, and the quest for power.
In Narrow House (2010), first presented at the 2011 Venice Biennale, its about the opposite; it expresses the stifling conditions (artistically) under which Wurm grew up in, with a detective father who ‘viewed artists with the same suspicion as criminals’. By shrinking the house, its rooms and furniture, making them unimaginably narrow and claustrophobic, visitors have a sense of the restrictive atmosphere present at the time both within the home, and even within the whole country, as Austria grappled with its post-war identity.
The lack of physical space translates to a lack of mental space; the freedom to imagine or experiment. This is coupled with a skewing of the perspective where none of the surfaces are plumb or ‘perspective accurate’ and even the telephone is custom made to be skewed to achieve a level of detachment from reality.
Wurm’s Architecture (2011) and House II (2011) sculptures dive deeper into the theme of clothing as a building facade and a protective shell; both of these transform our preconceptions of the function of the sweater and jacket into something else. While Architecture (2011) reconsitutes the sweater as a building facade, stretching it into another object through the abstract supporting frame, House II (2011) a bronze sculpture made to look like fabric, takes it one step further; it is both upside down and right side up at the same time.
While the buttons and hood of House II (2011) is obviously facing upwards, the shape and disposition of the jacket looks like a man lying face downwards on the ground, with the upper torso being held up by the left elbow if one squints at it, ignoring the details. This ambiguity is further explored in the Drinking Sculptures (2011), a cabinet that looks like a piano but is actually a bar that one can sit or walk into and have a drink, all this taking place within the museum, transforming the traditional roles of the viewer, the art object and the art exhibition into something else.