The Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has created a machine that turns shit into art. He also tattoos pigs on a farm in China and sells the hides. Now he has tattooed meby Ben Lewis / June 19, 2005 / Leave a comment
In the past, artists created art from life; nowadays the most interesting ones create life from art. For centuries we have relied on the definition of art as a useless object, worth contemplating. Artists, we were told, stood aloof from society and the market—they could deal in ideas with no use-value. This idea of art reached its reductio ad absurdum with Duchamp’s readymades—useful objects transformed into useless vehicles for ideas by being presented in an art gallery. But sometime in the last 30 years, one artist (it is hard to say exactly who) had a further thought: why not exploit my independence from the market to make prototypes for a new and better world? I will make art that is useful.
And now they are all at it. There is Carsten Höller and Rosemary Trockel’s house for chickens and humans, in which people and animals would live together. There is Andrea Zittel and her mobile homes: desks and chickens as works of art. And there is Liam Gillick with his liberating architectural designs—most recently the canopy for the new home office building, which is chicken-free. These artists and their theorists call such works “parallel structures”—alternative ways of organising the world, developed free from the pressures of global capital. It is tosh, of course. Today’s artists produce slavishly for the luxury market, and their entry into the worlds of design and architecture is just another shameless marketing strategy, devised to diversify their brand and maintain their position as the highest of cultural producers. Still, it has created some interesting, if queasy, art.
One of the artists involved in this new utopian activity is the Belgian Wim Delvoye. At first Delvoye’s work appears to be ironic. He has created realistic-looking palatial marble floors out of triangles of salami. And he has made a series of x-rays of people having sex. But his chef d’oeuvre is Cloaca, a machine which imitates the human digestive system. You put food in one end and it gets chewed up and piped through two gently rotating washing machines full of bacteria, then heated a little, and guess what comes out the pipe at the bottom? Yes. Shit. Real shit. I should know: I recently submitted a sample of my own and a sample from Delvoye’s machine for tests at Reading University’s microbiology department. They were remarkably similar.
Cloaca has been exhibited in museums all over the…