“It’s art because it got sold.” – Wim Delvoye in Shanghai, September 2008.
Image courtesy of Alexis Zavialoff.
The first contact I had with the world of journalism was a few days after the gallery de Pury & Luxembourg released a statement, that with Wim’s signature my tattoo had been completed and that now I was officially for sale. Interview number one was over the phone with a German art magazine. I was on my way to buy some 4.20 material behind the train station when my phone rang. I stopped in my tracks and had an enjoyable conversation with a very pleasant lady. After two minutes the police arrived and raided the street for dealers and consumers. Lucky me… I finished the conversation, waited til the cops were gone and bought my grass. A week later I had two interviews for Swiss newspapers. The first one was with a rather odd lady. She met me in the gallery and the first thing she said was that she believed the entire project was a hoax. She had never heard of Wim before and speaking with her really sucked. So did the article. After that I met an old-school reporter in a restaurant. Paper, pen and a highly professional journalistic neutrality. That was a lot of fun. Great article too. I thought it would be desperately exciting to read about myself in the papers. Well, the novelty of it all faded pretty quickly. Always the same questions, always the same answers.
But then I was sold. Stephanie released the statement at 4.15 in the afternoon and 5 minutes later the phones began to melt. It was bizarre. Within 24 hours I could read about myself everywhere. Everyone wanted a piece of that story. I was advised to stay away from the sensationalist crap publications and work with the serious ones. This I did and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I met some extraordinary people and speaking with them really helped me to learn more about WimTim and the art market in general. The coolest guy by far was Harry Bellet from Le Monde with whom I spoke in Shanghai. He was straight out of a french novel. We clicked immediately and his company was very inspiring.
After a couple of weeks in the dim limelight my 15 minutes of fame were almost over. What followed then was the cherry on top of melted ice cream. I was approached by a reporter from a major German-speaking weekly publication. The magazine wanted to interview Rik Reinking and myself in his exhibition space in Hamburg. After a bunch of e-mails a date was set and I flew to Hamburg. The next day Rik and I picked up the journalist, met the photographer and got to work. It took all day. Many photos and hours of in-depth conversation. So far, so good. Back home I sent the journalist the invoice for my plane ticket. He was outraged. After some pretty intense mails he said that the magazine agreed to reimburse me for half of the ticket price. I couldn’t fucking believe it! They got an awesome spread for free and then they wouldn’t even pay my travelling expenses. You live, you learn. That won’t ever happen to me again. Assholes. Mediocre article too.
Anyway, what started as a news tsunami has transformed into a minor ripple on the surface of a puddle. And that’s fine. I always thought that media attention would impact on the way that I perceive myself. It would make me feel cool and important. But nothing changes. Many publications print what they want no matter what you say to them. Very few reporters have even attempted to see WimTim in an artistic context, but only want to feed the mass tabloid need. Seeing it all from this angle has made me much more critical when it comes to media than I already was. I’ve certainly learned to think before I speak… – TIM
adel abdessemed, boris groys, christoph schlingensief, de Pury & Luxembourg, franticek klossner, hochschule der künste bern, medium religion, museum, peter weibel, rik reinking, tattoo, tim steiner, tobias efthymiades, wim delvoye, zkm
A few weeks after my back (with the rest of me still attached to it) was bought by Rik I received a call from him at work in Zürich. I had been invited by the ZKM in Karlsruhe to take part in a six month group show titled ‘Medium Religion‘. I couldn’t believe it. A show curated by Boris Groys and Peter Weibel about religion and media. Out of the tabloids and into the art world. I was ecstatic. A few weeks later I took the train to Karlsruhe with my brother Ben and Stephanie. In the museum we met up with Rik and his friends and had a tour of the show. An hour before the vernissage I was led to my bar stool and for the first time in my exhibition history there was a placard on the wall saying ‘TIM by Wim Delvoye / tattooed skin / 2006-2008 / Courtesy Sammlung Reinking, Hamburg’. Very nice… Wim couldn’t make it to the opening because in Belgium there was a snowstorm from hell. After a few drinks and laughs the evening began. The event was packed. First the speeches and then the media tour by Groys and Weibel.
Same procedure as every time: I take off my t-shirt, sit on my bar stool, straighten my back, pull in my stomach, get in the mood with my i-Pod (Slipknot, The Passive Resistance, Pantera, The Prodigy, Vale Tudo and Leonard Cohen), face the white wall and lose myself for 30 – 60 minutes. I can see the shadows reflecting on my wall from those standing behind me. I hear nothing, I see no one, I have no idea what’s going on. Sometimes I feel extremely exposed and vulnerable. I get scared. Other times I’m completely in tune with the moment and my surroundings until I’m more ‘TIM’ by Wim than the actual Tim. When I’ve had enough I put on my t-shirt, remove the headphones, get off my seat and go to the bar for a beer. This ritual happens between four and six times per session. At the end of the day I get my stuff, say adios to the security staff and head to the train station. Usually pretty tipsy…
I was exhibited seven times in six months. Once a month and twice at the opening. Three weeks ago was my last visit. I miss it now. There was a satisfying normality to the process. It was very exhausting, which is weird since I never did anything. It felt normal and only in retrospect does it seem a little bizarre. Arriving in the morning and going to the reception for my free pass was amusing every time. The lady at the desk and I would greet each other and I’d tell her that I could get in for free since I was being exhibited. She would ask if I’m an artist and I’d say that I’m an artwork. In the beginning there was confusion and I’d show myself in the brochure, towards the end we all knew each other. The ZKM as a building has an intense atmosphere and being exhibited together with artists like Christoph Schlingensief and Adel Abdessemed was a very humbling and extraordinary experience. The whole exhibition was excellent. Challenging, provocative, enticing, critical, humorous and honest. It was a great success for the ZKM and caused a lot of constructive discussion.
Every trip to Germany was different. Sometimes I went with friends, other times with journalists, but twice I went by myself. That was very awkward. For the first time I felt like an object, a piece of art. This wasn’t necessarily bad, but certainly different. The staff at the museum were busy with their work. I didn’t speak to a single soul all day and basically came and left unnoticed. This really wasn’t about me, I was just the canvas…
After the first few times in the ZKM the ladies doing the guided tours through the exhibition began to include me in the discussions with visitors about Wim’s ‘TIM’. At first I could feel a crowd gathered around me. I’d turn down the music and hear the lady in charge speak about Wim and myself. Strange. Then I’d turn around and answer questions. This was a whole new twist to the experience which I enjoyed very much. It also became the norm and on my last visit I sat through five guided tours. The discourse with visitors was great. Some were supportive and fascinated, others just repulsed. The younger people were far more critical than the older generations which I found interesting. I learned a great deal about WimTim and art in general in these discussions and they were always challenging.
The first time I was ever exhibited at de Pury & Luxembourg, I always wanted there to be as many visitors around as possible. Made me feel more important. But in Karlsruhe I experienced a whole different rush. It was truly magical when I was sitting and the museum was empty. No human presence or interaction. Feeling like it was just the other artists pieces and myself. Inanimate intimacy. Sometimes I would look around and maybe see one visitor in some far away corner. When that person came to me I existed exclusively for him/her. A new layer to the onion of the WimTim experience.
There are many people who were involved in making this a definite highlight of the project for me. I want to thank them here: Stephanie Schleiffer, Wim Delvoye, Rik Reinking, Ben Steiner, Antonia Marten, Anne Däuper, Tobias Efthymiades, Franco Scalese, Peter Weibel, Boris Groys, Ursula Eichenberger, Franticek Klossner, the students at the Hochschule der Künste Bern and everyone at the ZKM. Thank you for the memory of this experience. – TIM
All images are courtesy of Tobias Efthymiades.
“The Yoso tattoo Blog is an attempt to document observations and resources regarding Tattoo culture and the world around it. Every mark is a sign that has meaning. The Act of tattooing oneself, or getting a tattoo is an ancestral and transcendental tradition. Although Tattoos are fashionable. I would recommend everyone who is interested about tattoos to research its deeper meaning and its cultural context. Yoso reveals the soul to the Skin, Let the ink talk.” – Yoso
“The role of art is to interrogate, not to reassure. This act disturbs society: a person becoming a work of art poses moral and legal questions. They want to keep his skin when he dies; that becomes macabre and disagreeable, but interesting,”
“Sociologically it is interesting. Donating organs to save a life is legal and noble. Mixed with art the gesture loses its usefulness but sets an example.” – Bernard Fibicher, director of the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Wonderful story. Read Roald Dahl if you haven’t. Too close to home?…