'As a child - I was very good at drawing - I was convinced that one day I would be able to do what Rubens did.' (Daenen, 2003) These are the words of Wim Delvoye (°1965), who, in 1983, at the age of eighteen years, went in good spirits to the KASK in Ghent. Where he had a rude awakening: 'I was really not prepared to make that minimalistic and conceptual art that I got to see during my studies' (Daenen, 2003). On the sly, he goes to study drawing in Sint-Lucas. As a punk 'who had something against success' (Levi, 2007), he nevertheless learns 'how the game is played'. His professor in painting, Karel Dierickx, who was selected for the Venice Biennial of 1984, together with Jan Fabre, 'explained how much lobbying there had been.' 'He also told how Fabre had stolen the show by pasting posters everywhere in Venice. The story about Jan Fabre who minded his own affairs, made a strong impression on me.' (Brams/Pültau, 2009). Two years later, in 1986, it is all installations that are the order of the day in Jan Hoet's 'Chambres d'ami'. Delvoye was not prepared to be referred to the background as 'one of these dumb painters who were getting dropped everywhere.' He soon had learned the lesson. 'As an excellent organiser, he could present an completely sponsored catalogue for his final examination.' (Elias, 2006). In that catalogue overpainted kitschy carpets are presented.
'Meanwhile, the tide of the times had turned against anything that smelled of paint' (Brams/Pültau, 2009). That is why soon the last remnants of paint and canvas disappear: the overpainted carpets are replaced with shovels and ironing boards decorated with heraldic motives (1988-1989), gas canisters and circular saws covered with motives in Delft blue (1988-89), and a whole series of 'Goals' whose nets are replaced with stained glass windows with kitschy subject matter (Penalty, Saint Stephen, Panem et circenses, Finale, 1989-1990). It soon turns out that Delvoye has drawn the lucky card. In 1990, he is selected for the Venice Biennial, and in 1992, Jan Hoet introduces him to Sonnabend and features him on the Documenta IX.
During that Documenta, he steals the show with his tattooed pigskins. He exhibits them again on living pigs in Middelheim (1997) and Watou (2003), where he meets the protest of animal protectionists. To escape from this and other regulations, he decides to found an 'Art Farm' to raise tattooed pigs in Shun Yiin near Beijing in China (2004). From 2007 onwards, his interest turns to his 'Gothic projects' (of which more soon), but he continues to play with the idea of restyling his pig project as 'Art Pharm', this time with genetic manipulation.
Next to pigs, turds are introduced: in 'Mosaic'' (1992) - a tiled floor - they replace the heraldic motives and the Delft blue. The scatological theme is further developed in sculpture groups: 'Rose des Vents I'(1992) - four nude figures with a telescope from arse to mouth, 'Rose des Vents II' (1995) - an angel pissing against the wind, and 'Rose des Vents III' (1996) - four figures gazing each other in the arse. After 'Anal Kisses' (1999- 2000) - printouts of lipsticked anuses - the theme comes to its apogee in what Delvoye considers to be his magnum opus: the 'Cloaca'.(2000) - an intricate machine that produces real shit. Meanwhile, he has constructed a whole series of them: from the prototype 'Cloaca Original' (2000), over 'Cloaca New & Improved' (2001), 'Cloaca Turbo (2003), 'Cloaca Quattro' (2004'°, 'Cloaca N° 5' (2005), 'Personal Cloaca' (2006), 'Super Cloaca' (2007), to 'Cloaca Travel Kit' (2009). There is a whole spin off production: packed shit, toilet paper, 'original drawings', 3D and x-rays, scale models, videos...
Meanwhile, the ornaments withdraw on cement mills. In the beginning (1992-93), they are rather small, but, when during the Asian crisis the Rupiah collapses, Delvoye has them executed in teak in Indonesia. Soon, they are executed in laser cut Cor Ten steel with Gothic decorations: 'Caterpillars' (2001-02), 'Dump Truck' (2006), 'Flat Bed Trailer' (2007, for Art Basel), 'Cement Trucks' (1990-99, 2008) and 'D11' (2008). To understand the further development, we have to make a detour to the stained glass windows of the 'Goals': on occasion of 'Over the Edges' (2000), they are replaced with x-rays with couples making love ('Trans Parity' in the old Norbertijnerkapel in Ghent). They soon develop into a cycle of the twelve months ('Chapel, 2001), a series of 'Nine Muses' (2001 -2002), 'Sex-Rays' (2001) and 'Twelve Stations of the Cross' (2006) with mice as actors. In 2006, the Gothic decoration frees itself from thee cement mills: a real chapel has to provide the appropriate frame for a new cycle of stained glass windows in the MUDAM in Luxemburg. On occasion of the Venice Biennial (2009), the chapel itself develops into a 10 meter high Gothic tower 'Torre', on the terrace of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (Peggy Guggenheim's pied-a-terre in Venice). In 2010, Delvoye intends to move it to the roof of the Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels, and in 2012 over the pyramid of Pei in the Louvre. Plans for a version of 25 meter high in De Bueren in Melle with a tomb for the genes of the master are rejected by the town planning board. Also this time, Delvoye seeks to escape regulation in China (a Gothic sky-scraper in Tian Jin) and Oman (a tower in Morisco style). In expectation, he wants to build a real 'Gothic Chapel' in 2010, on the terrains of the Katoennatie of Maecenas Fernand Huts in Kallo-Beveren. The 'Torre' is only a scale model. Delvoye has more ambitious plans: adding ever more segments, he wants to surpass the highest Gothic towers, if not the Eiffel Tower. Up to now, only the stained glass windows are integrated into the Gothic chapels, but Delvoye wants to unfold his chapel into a real cathedral where, next to stuffed pigs and building machines, also his Cloaca will be displayed as an altar. He also plays with the idea of founding a 'Cloaca religion' in a deserted village in the South of France (Sterckx, 2004) or in Las Vegas (2007), and he even dreams of a 'Celestial Jerusalem' (Glei, 2009).
The line of the 'Rose des Vents', finally, is continued in another project for Fernand Huts: the Brabo (2005). Delvoye made 3D scans of Jef Lambeaux's Brabo in Antwerp. For the occasion, Fernand Huts and his wife Karin posed on the pedestal. Even Delvoye must have resented such kitsch: he knew to save his face by giving the whole an elegant twist. The twist is taken over in new series of bronze sculptures like 'Helix' (2009) and 'Twisted Jesus' (2009), where it is supposed to remind of a DNA string. The twist can even be used in a 'twisted tower' for the Guggenheim of Frank Lloyd Wright...
Two central themes, hence: that of the decorated ready-mades culminating in the Gothic works, and the scatological theme culminating in the Cloacas. And two second themes: that of the stained windows and that of the sculptures.
This unstoppable advent is in the first place Delvoye' own merit. First after the example of Jan Fabre 'who minded his own affairs', then after that of Christo, who financed his own project with drawings and of Andy Warhol with his 'Art is what you can get away with', and soon also on instigation of figures like Maurizio Cattelan who organises his own exhibition and runs his own publications, Delvoye asserts himself from the beginning as an independent entrepreneur. And he knows how to set about his work.
To begin with, he always manages to catch the attention of a broader public (Dali): first with his turd motives and his tattooed pigs, but foremost with his shit machine. His Lenin on a pig in China - Mao would have been a bit too risky - was already more modest, and by now somewhat threadbare is Jesus - as a tattoo on a pig or as a 'Twisted Jesus'. The theme of Gothic architecture, on the other hand, has a big potential in this age of the 'clash of cultures'. We are dealing here with a deliberate strategy: “The more people gossip about my pissing angel, the better' says Delvoye on occasion of the comments on his ''Rose des Vents II' (1995). And, to keep the fire burning, he never refuses an interview. Also all kind of scandals on occasion of incursions on building permits - 'the soviet is not in China, but here in Flanders' - and protests of animal protectors or of the ordinary man in the street against the disposition of his works are welcome: time and again, he can pose as a victim of all kinds of regulations.
But Delvoye is also an entrepreneur in the literal sense of the word - he no longer creates with his own hands - at a handicraft level - but has his works executed by a whole bunch of specialists. Initially, he used cheap labour in Indonesia or China, where he also had Danny De Vos apply tattoos. Meanwhile, he has his own 'Studio Wim Delvoye' in his own country, where he has the creative work done by his countrymen and leaves the execution to cheap labour in Shanghai, on advice of Ai Weiwei. In his castle in Kwatrecht, he now disposes over his own 'showroom' and his own collection - say 'The gallery Delvoye'. Also the scale of the public changes in accordance: no modest handicraft works for the living room of the modest middle-class art lover. Delvoye is rather after museums and the big collector - often artistically upstart successful entrepreneurs like Fernand Huts and Michel Delfosse here in Belgium, or oil sheiks in Oman and capitalists in China.
The trend towards production on a large scale manifests itself for the first time in 'The Factory' of Andy Warhol and studios like those of Robert Rauschenberg or Christo, and equally as a largely rhetorical gesture with early conceptual artists like Lawrence Weiner. But it comes to the fore with the breakthrough on neo-liberalism in the eighties: the yuppies manifest themselves not only in the regular economy, but first and above all in the art business. Meanwhile, they have turned into real tycoons of the art market - think of figures as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, the artistic counterparts of the guys who do not hesitate to endanger the entire financial system in view of their own private profit. As such, there is nothing wrong with this development. Until the advent of the cult of the genius, division of labour has been the rule in the art studios, where it allowed the masters to concentrate on the more prestigious tasks. Above all since Pop art, its is a consequence of the increase in scale and the industrialisation of the production (like in the film): it is only normal that Delvoye does not weld his towers with his own hands. Further in this text, we will have to make some additional remarks on this subject.
Suffice it here to point to the rather remarkable fact that the only thing Delvoye seems to feel embarrassed of is his identity as an entrepreneur. He wants to give the impression that he does not earn that much with his art and that most of his income comes 'from the rental of houses.' When it appears that what he earns from his art is not nothing, he objects: 'People forget that I have also to pay my materials and my colleagues. After deduction of the production costs, I share the profit with the art dealer'. When it appears that these profits are rather high than low, he emphasises that he is not out at money: 'The Cloaca is not profitable, because I do not intend to sell the machine. You can buy a turd for 1.500 euro, that's all. By doing so, I get the stigma of being a commercial artist, which I am not.' (Daenen, 2003). Until finally the truth comes out: 'I’m not planning to sell my shit machines. Why would I when I can just sell the shit? It would be like selling the goose that lays the golden eggs' (Laster, 2009). Golden eggs, hence, but not so much as others, who live at his expense: critics, gallery owners earn far more than the artist 'who is at the bottom of the food chain'. Elsewhere, he confesses that he earns more on his art rather than on his 'commercial' products. That makes me think of Jan de Cock, who holds that an artist is a business man, but one who has the responsibility to work 'against the market'. I rather prefer Maurizio Cattelan, who managed to grant himself a nice holiday under the guise of an artistic undertaking - a fake '6th Caribbean Biennial’: 'Maybe I am just saying that we are all corrupted in a way; life itself is corrupted, and that’s the way we like it. I’m just trying to get a slice of the pie, like everyone else.' (Siegel, 2004)
Delvoye's embarrassment is all the more remarkable, since he has a more honourable motive. By earning lots of money, he wants to dispose of the necessary means to realise his projects, without having to rely on subsidies of the community or financing by private sponsors of the stature of a Fernand Huts, let alone on the blessing of critics like Greenberg, directors of museums, curators like Szeeman or collectors like Charles Saatchi: 'They have their say in the commissions, they own the galleries, they set up the exhibitions'. 'Away with regulation', hence, and 'back to the autonomy and the free entrepreneurship of Renaissance artists' ('Theys, 2007), Just like Jan Fabre and Koen Van Mechelen, Delvoye does not await an official invitation for the Venice Biennial. With far more flair than his colleagues, he puts himself on the stage there: alongside his Torre on the Canal Grande 'some 175 000 people a day' pass by. Even those who have not a ticket for the exhibition can admire my Torre from the Canal.' (Optima) Even the museums - where, after the vernissage, only attendants are to be seen - are only a means of conquering the public space: the Torre was not erected in a hall, but on the facade of the palace, and that goes also for his performance in the Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels and the Louvre in Paris.
For all his recklessness as an 'autonomous artist' - read: free entrepreneur - Delvoye, who, besides, is not averse to subsidies, forgets that he owes it to curators that he was allowed to the art scene at all, and that his fate is still in the hands of gallery owners and directors of museums: his heavy investment in theTorre in Venice was certainly not meant for the 175.000 tourists a day.. Also in that respect, Delvoye does not differ from other free entrepreneurs, who equally tend to overlook that their so scorned state(borders) are the precondition for their lucrative undertakings: he has more of a free-rider on the system, than of an autonomous player on a free market...
His embarrassment has also much to do with the critical pose that seems to be still endemic in the world of 'high art'. As if he stemmed from a previous generation - he calls himself a neo-Marxist (Daenen, 2003) - he bluntly declares: 'My work is as critical as Hans Haackes work' (Bourriaud, 2007). His Art-Farm - a company with a webcam for the 300 collectors-shareholders - would be a 'caricature of capitalism.' (Verhoeven, 2005). But 'capitalism' is soon narrowed into 'capitalist art market', or further still into 'investment art': investing in a small tattoo in expectance of the growth of the pig. Also 'Cloaca' is presented as the imitation of a company: 'the production, the research, the logistics, the marketing, the accounting, the publicity.' (Daenen, 2003). Delvoye is talking of a 'strategy of radical complicity' (DeBaets, 200'4)
Many commentators equally regard him as a critic. Dan Cameron (2001) even proclaims that 'Cement Truck 'symbolises Imperialist expansion'. Also here, the target object is narrowed, for example by Lewis (2005): 'Delvoye's work satirises the art world, with its inflated prices and daft intellectual cul-de-sacs.' Michael Amy (2001) is still more vague: 'Similar to Art Farm, Cloaca (... ) offers a trenchant critique of our ultra-consumerist society in general and of the art market in particular'. Also Klara Tuszynski (2008) speaks of a criticism of 'consumerism'. Others take a less political stance. Thus, Mosquera is talking about civilisation: 'To me, getting science, technology and art together to produce shit is a kind of a metaphor for our civilization' (Mosquera/Cameron, 2002). 'According to Dannat (2000), on the other hand, Delvoye rather criticises the 'scientific systems of the machine age'.
Apparently, a critical stance is allowed, provided if it is not political - say: left wing. But even a critical stance is no longer on demand. The same Dannat (2000), who preferred the term 'machine age' above the term 'capitalism', asserts that Delvoye imitates 'the current systems of distribution and consumption', 'not parodying or critiquing such business systems (that would require a very different artist from a very different previous decade) but actively adopting and extending such practices.' Also Foncé (2000) asserts that there is no longer talk of 'social criticism and Freudian sublimation' - which would distinguish him from Tinguely. Perhaps, these critics of the critic are right, for, the same master who takes a critical stance above, sings another song when it suits him: 'I am not out to upset the bourgeoisie, but to upset the art world by being bourgeois' (Leguebe, 2003). More plain: 'I am not really against, it is rather ironic. I make fun of it. I take no stance whatsoever.' 'I am Belgian, I am Flemish. I have nothing to loose. Besides, what stance can one have on something that is omnipresent, like God: our economy. Everything is economy''. (Breerette, 2005).
And he adds: 'It is sad to say: I think that socialism, it is like psychoanalysis, it is really passé...' (Breerette, 2005).
To emphasise how revolutionary Delvoye is, Foncé (2000) describes how the taboos on eating and sexuality have been lifted gradually, until only one last taboo remained: that on defaecation. Wim Delvoye, on the other hand, proclaims: ''From the Second World War on, I see only scatological art, even when it is not meant to be.' (Enright, 2005). And he has a point. Although there always have been works like those of Rabelais and Georges Bataille, there is no doubt a bloom of scatology from the eighties of the past century onwards - the age of Tatcher and Reagan. It suffices to refer to philosophical works like Dominque Laporte's 'Histoire de la merde' (1978), the chapters on shit in Peter Sloterdijk's 'Kritik der zynischen Vernunft' (1983) Michal Onfray's, 'Le ventre des philosophes, critique de la raison diététique' (1989), and Jonathan Weinberg's 'Urination and'Wim Delvoye: from "Cloaca" to cathedral' its discontents' (1992). The same goes for the plastic arts. Before World War Two, it is hard searching for works like those of Félicien Rops, Marcel Duchamp or Salvador Dali. But, after the Second World War, there seem no stopping the scatological avalanche: just think of some works of figures like Piero Manzoni, Günter Brus, Richard Hamilton, Paul McCarthy, Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Joel-Peter Witkin , Kiki Smith, Andres Serrano, Gilbert en George, Annie Sprinkle, Cindy Sherman, Paul Quinn, Odd Nerdrum, Chris Ofili, and, in our country, Jan Fabre.
Nothing new then, with Wim Delvoye, you might be inclined to think. But Yona Foncé (2000) knows better: in Delvoye' s Cloaca 'the reproductive function has been suppressed, making it truly a machine célibataire'.. Dieter Roelstraete (2001) is more specific: Whereas for figures like Paul McCarthy the anal is still something sexual, Delvoye's 'Cloaca' is the first work 'to succeed in the desexualisation of defecation' Dannat (2000), puts it differently; Manzoni is about 'uniqueness', and Delvoye about 'the sameness of mass-manufactured products'. Peter Bexte (2001) puts it as follows: 'In the age of its technical reproducibility, Merda d'artista emancipates itself from the artista'. Dieter Roelstraete prefers Roland Barthes over Walter Benjamin: Delvoye 'depersonalises defecation', and that has everything to do with the Barthesian claim to the death of the author'. Elias (2006) summarises: Manzoni stresses 'the individualism of modern art, but Delvoye's Cloaca produces anonymous turds'. Dan Cameron (2001) descries another fundamental difference: with Manzoni, it is not clear what the cans contain, whereas with Delvoye 'all the processes and mechanisms involved are clearly visible.' Foncé (2000) sees more fundamental differences. To begin with, 'Cloaca is an autonomous work of art and not a secretion of an artist's epicentre from which works of art emanate to illustrate his only real theme: the artist himself'. And also: 'Cloaca' 'has an unusually emphatic presence. It is not a small container filled with overdetermined invisible ideas'. And, finally, Cloaca produces 'stool and not metaphors or metonymies'. Delvoye himself puts that Tinguely's work is proto-industrial, and his 'Cloaca' industrial; Francblin, (2002) finally, sees the difference with the other scatologists in the fact that Delvoye ''leans much more on the mechanical and clinical aspects than on the organic aspect that has been explored by artists who were more or less linked to the body-art movement.' Although the criteria are different, all the authors agree that 'Cloaca' is at the vanguard of the scatological avant-garde! Talking about the modernity of the postmodernists....
All the authors equally agree that there are deeper layers below the lowest of the lowest, although one depth is not the other. After the example of Peter Sloterdijk, who sees in the anus 'the plebeian, the fundamental democrat and the cosmopolite among the body parts', Delvoye regards shit as the 'democratic' essence behind all the random 'higher' accidentia: 'Shit shows no difference between, gender, race, age, sex, class or anything else' (Ayerza, 2001). On the other hand, such levelling 'democratic' fervour goes hand in hand with an denunciating reductionism: 'Eating and shitting, such is life' according to Delvoye. Man not a higher being, hence: nothing more than a pig. Or, to put it less metaphorically: 'I want to portray human beings as a kind of organic living being,' (Enright, 2005). In the same spirit, Foncé (2000) talks of a 'Revolt of the Flesh' and about 'the increased attention paid to the human body' 'after 'he abstraction of Minimalism and the immateriality of the Conceptual Art'. Dan Cameron (2001) sees a broader 'struggle between civilization's veneer of purely cerebral reflection, and the tendency of the body to assert itself as a vehicle for society's eventual return to earthier origins'. Patricia De Martelaere (2003) puts the philosophical crown on the work: 'Cloaca' makes her discover how much the spirit is rooted in shit: 'Show me how you shit and I will show you who you are'. And, lest we do not misunderstand her, she adds that this does not sound elevating in the ears of the crown of the creation'. Others descry in the toilet the true nature of the altar. Thus, Erwin Carels (2002) describes 'Cloaca' as 'an alternative altar, demonstrating a very basic form of transfiguration', just like Jens Hauser (2007) who opposes 'excrement' and 'sacrement' as a 'ritual of digestion as a secular form of transsubstantiation'. Bexte (2001) replaces transsubstantiation with incarnation: 'an automated nativity play'. Still others put it more bluntly. Stech (2003) holds that the technique of the x-rays proves that man has no soul. Onfray (2006) talks of the atheistic message of the X-rays. And Jens Hauser (2007) proclaims that, with Delvoye's X-rays, we have entered the age of 'man after Copernicus, after Darwin and after Freud'. 'Where is the soul? It has not been found'. After the Christian 'everything is spiritual', the Marxian 'everything is matter' and the (allegedly) Freudian 'everything is sex', the ultimate 'everything is shit': the upper wisdom of the post-modern - read: neoliberal - age of the 'selfish gene'. Wholly in line, Delvoye uses also a Darwinian paradigm: shit as a metaphor for the 'useless' competition in the frame of sexual selection. (Geoffrey Miller): Referring to the exuberant nests built by the bower bird, he remarks: 'Such a bird does something really remarkable in view of spreading its genes...' (Daenen, 2003). In his wake, Amy (2002) asserts that Cloaca 'underscores the futility of art and life', whereas Lévy (2007) puts that 'Cloaca' 'is a metaphor of the artist, someone who, in a certain sense, wastes his life,' On the opposite side of this Darwinian approach, we find the more (art-) philosophical approach of Roberta Smith (2002), who is talking about 'the diabolical sublime of contemporary art'. But no doubt the most sublime of all comments is the Lacanian from Ayerza (2001): 'Then there is the object, which is this shit (...) This is an objet a'...
From this and the former paragraph, it appears that there are many possible interpretations of 'Cloaca'. Delvoye sees no problems, quite the contrary: 'What is fun about Cloaca, is that (...) radio and TV stations just make fun of it. But you can also have serious discussions about shit and the psychology and philosophy of it; you can include everything.' (Mosquera/Cameron, 2002) And he adds : 'Everyone can create their own interpretation of it.' Also the man of the street, hence, of which Delvoye says: 'The plebeian likes me. He takes me for a Robin Hood who takes his side because I reveal what the art world is: a machine that produces shit' (Daenen, 2003). It is remarkable that all the interpretative vehemence above did not amount to this elementary insight. It dawns on us why, as soon as we replace 'shit' with another biologic metaphor: the 'decadent' from 'Entartete Kunst'. Just think of figures like Jean Clair, the current director of the Picasso museum, Jean-Marie Le Pen, or Brigitte Bardot, who, in 'Un cri dans le silence', writes that 'art has become shit in the literal as well as in the figurative sense'. When Colard (2004) reminds him of this, Delvoye simply remarks: 'They also love Cloaca, because they think that the shitting machine proves that they are right. But I do not agree with hem'. Apparently, not all interpretations of 'Cloaca' are permitted: Delvoye is prepared to join ranks with the plebeians, as long as they are not 'right wing'. Wherewith we are landed in modernism again ..
At the end of this article, we will come back on this ambivalence towards the unequivocal 'I reveal what the art world is: a machine that produces shit' - and on a movement that is the opposite of the one described above: an ascendance from the shit.
At first sight, the opposition between spirit, soul or culture on the one hand, and shit on the other hand, seems to find its counterpart in the opposition between 'high culture' and the 'popular' culture, scorned by modernism as 'kitsch' (Greenberg) or 'culture industry' (Adorno). In Delvoye's words: 'Van de Veire and other Adornos have a kind of "nuclear thinking": around a pure kernel - and that is what they call art with a big A - there is an impure mitochondrial soup of inferior classes of images' (Daenen, 2003). Delvoye not only enjoys the company of pigs and shit, he also likes to swim in such mitochondrial waters: the (Gothic or Baroque) ornament, the handicraft (carving, stained glass window, ceramics), or genres like the tattoo - according to Adolf Loos the most primitive form of art.
The question is whether the comparison can be pursued: if art is shit - or may be shit, is it also kitsch - or may it also be kitsch? At first sight, Delvoye seems out at liquidating the borders between the kernel and the mitochondrial soup: 'I have the same respect for tattooed people as for people who collect art' (Leenaert, 2009). But, elsewhere, it looks rather as if he wants to restore kitsch: in an effort to turn his back on the 'various reductionist paradigms of 20th-century art' ,'I sought to create an art that appeals to the people.' (Amy, 2002) Rather a reversal of the signs than a liquidation of the difference, hence: 'The high and the low are what gives status to things. Like when you bring a pig into a museum' (Enright, 2005). Low becomes high: what first was denounced, is glorified henceforward. And the other way round: high becomes low - shit. Whereas the abject pig and the popular tattoo are introduced in the museum, 'museum' itself becomes a dirty word: Delvoye rather calls his personal 'museum' Delvoyelibii, by analogy with Walibi. Although both do not belong in the temple of art, shit fares otherwise than kitsch: whereas the true nature of high art turns out to be shit, kitsch turns out to be art.
But does Delvoye really embrace 'popular' art forms? Appearances are deceiving. It is not at all his intention to restore the 'popular' - kitsch, let alone 'culture industry'. When it matters, Delvoye does not mince his words: the populace has not to judge of his art: 'When we have to organise elections to select an artist, I quit' (Dhooge, 2005). Art - his tattoos, his concrete mixers with Gothic decoration, his stained glass windows - 'high' as always, hence, a matter of an elite. To be sure, in view of his 'plebeian' (why not 'proletarian'?) image, Delvoye is prepared to have a look on the carnival floats In Aalst, and, for the occasion, even willingly declares that the creations of these anonymous popular artists are better than those of world famous stars of the high art scene like Paul McCarthy. But is evident that he is not going to follow the footsteps of Gert Verhulst: till further notice, Studio 100 continues to float in the mitochondrial soup, neatly separated from 'Delvoye City' in the kernel. Rather than sealing a conversion to the popular, Delvoye's reversal of the signs consolidates his position within the contemporary 'high art' scene - just like with Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. It is only a question of making acceptable what hitherto had been scorned within the confines of the museum. There is nothing to that, since, within the apparently still reigning modernistic tradition, 'high art' seems to come down to the breaking of taboos - the avant-gardistic pushing of the limits. Plebeian art is fine, but only within the confines of the forbidden zone in the temple of high art...
A similar ambivalence is to be observed with the commentators. For Jan Hoet, we are dealing with lower art forms that are elevated by Delvoye's intervention: 'the unassuming nature of folk art is transcended through an act of the intellect.' (Amy 2002). Elias (2006) rather claims that Delvoye 'questions the difference between low and high culture.' Patricia de Martelaere (2003) however sees low become high: she wants to allow the mitochondrial soup in the kernel and calls Delvoye 'the man who teach his people that also shitting can be culture.' A synthesis of Jan Hoet and Patricia de Martelaere has been formulated already years ago by Luyckx (1996): 'By the deliberate debasement of kitsch (the popular version of high culture, already debased a first time and turned into kitsch on a popular level) to instrument or the smearing with excrements, we can speak of art again'.
Only at the end of this essay will we be able to show that the paradox is only seeming: that behind the ambivalence - at least for Delvoye - an outspoken sympathy goes hidden - albeit not for kitsch...
High of low, critical or not: just like with Jan De Cock, we have to ask ourselves whether Wim Delvoye's works are art. With Delvoye, the answer has to be balanced.
To begin with, there are works which are art, but which have only indirectly something to do with the plastic arts. Thus 'Love Letter' is literature, where the focus is on the visual appearance of the letters - potato peelings - somewhat like with Lawrence Weiner who likes to pose as a sculptor. The 'Mountains' (2000) are a combination of word and image, like in a cartoon. The 'Marble Floors' seem to come nearer to genuine visual mimesis. But, we are not dealing here with the conjuring up of an object (floors) via a medium (charcuterie), but rather with the replacement of one material with another (as with Claes Oldenburg), whereby the focus is on the semiotic juxtaposition of 'high' marble' and 'low' cold meat. That goes also for the gas canisters and the ironing boards. These make it plain that two real - not imitated - objects are combined here. Design, hence, like with Méret Oppenheim. The photos of 'Marble Floors' are merely instrumental visual mimesis, that allows to conserve the visual appearance after the meat has rotten. Also with the concrete mixers and caterpillars in wood or steel, we are not dealing with the replacement of the real thing by a medium which conjures it up, but rather with a combination of machines and Gothic decoration. Equally no mimesis, hence, but 'fine' design (of non-verbal symbols and/or of useless objects like those of Panamarenko).
Visual mimesis in the strict sense - in fact: sculptures - are 'Roses des vents' I, II en III', 'Trophy' (1999-2002), the 'Brabo', and the series 'Twisted Jesus'. Equally mimesis in the strict sense of the word are the two-dimensional stained glass windows and the tattoos. As far as the tattoos are concerned: I am not precisely an expert, but a quick glance on the internet learns that even the best designs of Delvoye would not qualify for the pre-selections of an international contest, even in the category 'irony'. And as far as the stained glass windows are concerned: nobody thinks of death here, but rather of the performance during the shooting. The reason is that X-rays - just like the negatives of Nelson Goodman - are never experienced as real images which 'presentify' a absent reality. Just like with a plan, we read them as two-dimensional cross-sections of an original that is elsewhere. And that is because the natural clues for the constitution of a third dimension are lacking: overlapping, figure/background, shadow. Or, to phrase it, tongue in cheek, with Magritte: 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe'! It speaks volumes that the two-dimensional cross-sections of Delvoye are combined with purely decorative motives, so that Delvoye's rather poor X-rays acquire some decorative value nevertheless. But as real tableaux (say: 'history paintings') they do not amount to much: that becomes all the more clear when Delvoye wants to make real 'history paintings' in his 'Stations of the Cross' with transparent mice. The fact that the stained glass windows are arranged as cycles does not mean that there would be a compelling relation between each month and the corollary window, nor that there would be some internal logic in the whole. Although the stained glass windows belong to the best works of art in Delvoye entire oeuvre, from a purely formal point of view - apart form the content - comparing them with the Holy Lamb of Van Eyck, so admired by Delvoye, comes down to comparing Coca Cola with good wine.
Even more meagre does the image become in de tattoos on pigs, where it functions above all as a non-verbal sign (Lenin, swastika, Cross, and what have you), which easily lends itself for integration into a decorative context, just like the X-rays. That goes from the beginning for the coat-of-arms on the ironing boards, and the Delft blue on the gas canisters and circular saw blades. But it would be misleading to judge these works in terms of mimesis: Delvoye is rather out at the funny effect that results from the combination of images, but also of purely decorative motifs with 'found objects'. Design of objects hence, which sometimes comprises mimetic parts.
The true nature of Delvoye's creations, then, manifests itself in its purest form in his 'Cloaca'. No hint of mimesis comes to conceal that we are dealing here with a real machine that produces real shit - with pure object design, like with Panamarenko. In the wake of 'Cloaca', also the Gothic architecture frees itself from its decorative role to develop itself into pure architecture - spatial design - in the chapels and the towers. Such metamorphosis to architecture - sealed by the contact with architects like Ai Weiwei and Steven Couwels - comes to accomplish the 'designification' of art. That Delvoye thereby leaves the rooms of the museums to conquer the facades and the roofs of the museum, is extremely symptomatic for this metamorphosis.
Delvoye in essence a designer, hence, rather than a plastic artist: the second themes consist of rather mediocre plastic art, whereas both central themes belong to the category of 'fine' (in case: 'funny') design. And it must be granted: as a designer, Delvoye is a master: there is some genius in the shovels, the tattooed pigs, not to mention his 'Cloaca'!
'Whether it is art': does Patricia De Martelaere (2003), in her essay on 'Cloaca', laugh away the stupid question of 'the ordinary man in the street'. 'As soon as something controversial appears on the scene of art, this is the question that is raised time and again. So that the questioning itself could serve as a criterion: real innovative art that pushes back the frontiers, is recognised by the fact that the question whether it is still art always comes to the fore.' One could not find a better description of the way in which art has come to lose itself - in the beginning still pushing the borders within the confines of art, but more and more dissolving into design, reality or discourse outside the confines (see: Mimesis and art).
This goes especially for the oeuvre of Delvoye: the scarce remnants of mimesis of a rather suspect quality, highlight all the more that the entire oeuvre of the man has nearly nothing to do with art, but everything with design (of objects and architecture). That Delvoye (just like so many others - just think of Jan de Cock) nevertheless succeeds in letting himself pass for an artist, has everything to do with the fact that he only pretends to be an artist. He plays his role so good, that not only the art critics, but he himself in the first place, begin to believe it. - whereby mystifying theories on art are extremely helpful, especially the theory that sees in pushing the borders the essence of art.
Fake is, first, that fact that Delvoye, without any hesitation, describes the imitation of the (art)business in 'Cloaca' in terms of mimesis - of all things the phenomenon so loathed by the adepts of modern art: ''With my Cloaca, I still pursue a mimetic aspiration'. With an equally good conscience, many authors follow him therein. Paul Bexte (2001) describes Cloaca' in terms of ''art imitating nature'. Although Fiers (2001) recognises that 'Delvoye's work doesn't resemble the human body', she nevertheless contends that 'it could be called a figurative work' (!!!). In the same vein, Foncé (2000') points to the fact that in 'Cloaca' there is no longer talk of a 'formal analogy' with the human figure, but of a 'functional analogy'' and concludes that we are dealing with an 'extension of the mimesis concept' - whereby he, just like Nelson Goodman, overlooks the fact that not whatever similarity is constitutive of mimesis. Also Mosquera (2001) points to the fact that Delvoye's shit is not real, but that 'artificiality constitutes the backbone of artistic discourse': 'Delvoye is representing shit'. Dannat (2000), on the other hand, does not invoke mimesis, as rather another 'definition that is surprisingly adequate': that 'art is always superfluous'. Just like 'Cloaca' 'also the Mona Lisa serves no purpose' - wherewith the 'Cloaca' is elevated tot the same status as the Mona Lisa ...
Equally fake is the emphatic fervour with which Delvoye's work is inscribed, not in the tradition of (fine) design, but in the history of painting. Countless are the references to Magritte, also by Delvoye himself (Amy 2002), or to the skeletons of Ensor and Delvaux (Tuszynski, 2008). Also Marcel Duchamp is conjured up as a forebear: think not only of the emphatic presence of the 'ready-made' in his work, but also of the similarity between the 'Goals' and the 'Large Glass', between the 'Anal Kisses' and the sperm landscapes in 'Faux paysage', of the ironing boards and Duchamp's proposal of using a Rembrandt as an ironing board, of the shovels and 'In advance of a broken arm'. But, since Marcel Duchamp's credentials are rather dubious, it is above all the ties with pre-modern art that have to be emphasised. Although the X-rays rather remind of Jeff Koons, they are time and again sold as contemporary versions of the medieval 'danse macabre' or of Vanitas representations (Elias, 2006). Delvoye himself considers his tattooed pigs as a memento-mori, not otherwise than Tuszynski (2008) and Leenaert (2009). Onfray (2006) is talking about 'post-modern variations on the classic Vanity with its cortege of skulls and femurs, skeletons and danses macabres.' Bexte (2001) follows him therein, and also makes a comparison between the combination of painting with trompe-l'oeuil sculpture in the Holy Lamb on the one hand, and the contrast between the surface of the tattooed skin of the pigs and the transparency of the X-rays on the other hand. Others are not referring to themes, but to the old masters themselves. Klara Tuszynski (2008) descries an echo of Robert Campin in the mice of the "Stations of the cross', and finds that Delvoye's 'criticism of consumerism' is wholly in line with his compatriot Pieter Brueghel. Also Amy (2002) thinks that the scatological themes are heirs to Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. Jens Hauser (2007) compares ''Cloaca' x-rayed' with the 'last Supper' of da Vinci: both are horizontal! Delvoye compares himself with da Vinci, who was equally a 'machine builder, a bridge builder, an architect, painter and scientist' was (DeBaets/Tratsaert, 2004). Delvoye does match himself not only to da Vinci: 'I wanted to show that what I could do on a pig could be as good as Raphael or Murillo, sugary as Baroque art with holy virgins, happy children and cupids' (Laster, 2007).
Fake is equally the resort to the outer signs of art: the pigskins are framed in gilded frames to emphasise that we are dealing with real paintings. Even irrelevant similarities may serve the purpose. Although a three-dimensional object is not yet a sculpture, Sonna (2004) nevertheless sees in 'Cloaca' a 'laboratory turned sculpture'. And that goes in the first place for the disposition of Delvoye's works in a museum. Delvoye may well pretend that he is in the first place interested in the 'street value' of his works, outside the museum, his 'Cloaca' would just be regarded as a funny machine, even though it would lose only its status as an art work, not its value as funny design, whereas from Duchamp's urinal, only the urinal would remain.
Fake is, finally, the emphasis with which Delvoye repeats again and again that he is out at creating 'images' - although he rather prefers the polyvalent term 'icons'. From Pierce onwards, the 'icon' is the Trojan horse with which the sign is smuggled into art - or phrased more properly: with which the image is turned into a sign and thus stops to be art. Logos like the Y in a circle of Mercedes are 'icons', but they are not images in the sense that the Mona Lisa is an image. The Mona Lisa is also an icon in another sense: in the sense that also Madonna is an icon. When Delvoye is talking about 'images' or 'icons', he only takes advantage of this ambivalence. 'Cloaca' may well be a strong icon - in the sense of a non-verbal symbol that (functionally) resembles its referent, as well as in the sense of a generally recognised value - it is therefore not an image in the sense that the Mona Lisa is an image.
Faking art serves in the first place as a fig leaf for boosting the turnover, something of which, unlike many other tycoons of the art business, Delvoye seems to be somewhat embarrassed. If required, one can refer to Lawrence Weiner (Stech, 2003) who uncoupled the concept from the execution - so that the artist can concentrate on the concept, and the 'assistants' on the execution. Delvoye likes to call himself an 'artist of the Yellow Pages.' (Stech, 2003). A nearly related pretext is that we would be dealing with 'mimesis' of capitalism. 'It is not because I make art about commerce that I would be a commercial artist. A writer is not a murderer because he writes a book about murder.' (Daenen, 2003). Whereby Delvoye all too easily forgets that the writer imitates (a real or fantasised) murder in the artistic sense of the word, not in the real world - with the latter we would have the same problem as with Delvoye earning real money with real shit. Next to art, also the 'symbolic economy' (Bourdieu) may serve as a fig leaf. 'The people who are buying shit understand the game all too well. It is not about the monetary value of such an item, but about the game where you can feel an insider. It is a game in a symbolic economy of cultural signs.' (Leenaaert, 2009).
Faking art is, finally a very efficient means of escaping competition. What goes for his tattooed pigs, goes even more for his Gothic constructions: by selling his towers and chapels as artworks, Delvoye has no longer to compete with other architects who would like to give some architectural comment on the pyramid of the Louvre. 'When you are interested in architecture, you should not become an architect. To be an architect means lobbying. That is not an honourable trade. I am very lucky that people think that I am an artist.' as he confesses himself Corelio, 2009)
Also here, Delvoye scent a danger, and he clears his conscience - wholly in line with the so called 'institutional definition' of art - by putting: 'Art is not more than a title, a convention based on a centuries old tradition' (Brams/Pültau, 2009)
In an interview with Leenaert (2009), Delvoye gives away that he always 'has taken over the eating habits of his partners'. He thinks that such adaptability is typically Belgian: 'The Belgian fakes dead when the enemy arrives: he always agrees' (Thély, 1999). We remind of his 'I have no opinion' .( Bréerette, 2005): This adaptability extends to his geopolitical self conscience. Whereas in the beginning, he took a rather post-colonial stance towards the East, where you can find cheap labour, he soon discovered that China is becoming a world power: he pretends to have been invited to build a Gothic sky scraper in Tian Jin. 'I already feel more Chinese than European'. When he gets commissions for Dubai and Abu Dhabi, he discovers that Gothic architecture owes much to Arabian architecture. Adaptation is so much his second nature that he conceives being an artist as taking poses: 'With the Cloacas I wanted to show to the world that I could have become a crazy scientist... The Art Farm in China, with the tattooed pigs: that was an trial in entrepreneurship.' (Van der Speeten, 2009)' And he adds: 'A caricature and a pose of course. For, whether I tattoo pigs or whether I produce shit, to me it is all about art.' We know how Delvoye has meanwhile arrived in a new phase 'where he feels like an architect' (Van der Speeten, 2009). As we have demonstrated, also his admiration of popular art is only the pose of an adept of 'high' art. And it will by now have become clear that also his 'strategy of radical complicity' is merely a pose...
Delvoye's adaptation through adopting a pose, casts a new light on the work itself. We know how he was out at learning to paint. As a young boy 'he had the idea of going to the country side to draw wind mills during the vacation.' In the KASK he soon learned that such was not the intention: 'As soon as I was enrolled at the academy, this turned out to be taboo.' (Brams/Pültau, 2009) 'I gradually realised that I had not to do my best. You should not learn anything. You even should not try to learn something, since that was no free expression.' Delvoye adapts himself to this situation by just doing as told: 'I just did what Van Lierde told me: I put a screen on the logo of the VAB and painted exactly what I saw.' And behold: 'Nadine Van Lierde discovered that it was Pop art in.' (Brams/Pültau, 2009). Suddenly, many things become clear.
To begin with, only now do we really understand Delvoye's formula: he can continue to 'paint his windmills', provided that he debases them as kitsch - as Delft blue - and that he emphasises this debasement by painting his Delft blue on Duchampian ready-mades (shovels, ironing boards, gas canisters, concrete mixers, pigs). Through such double gesture, he acknowledges Marcel Duchamp's conceptual art ànd its contemporary variant in figures like Jeff Koons, while, at the same time, he manages to rescue an aspect of himself by formulating his own handicraft version of it. We will develop this topic further below.
Next, it becomes clear why Delvoye so fiercely resents the interpretation of Brigitte Bardot and her likes: just like them, also he regarded what they wanted him to do in the KASK as 'shit'. After his conversion, he has to emphatically reject this aspect of his former personality. And to embrace with all the more enthusiasm the discourse of his interpreters - to begin with Van Lierde. Henceforward, Delvoye could revel in the various interpretations of his work. Whereas Luc Tuymans puts the words in the mouth of his critics, Delvoye rather keeps his ear on the ground - he uses the interpretations of his commentators like he uses gallery owners, museum directors and curators. Only against this background do we fully understand the following sentences: 'Who do I make look like a fool with Cloaca? The art world? The public? The people who look at television think that I am on their side. They agree with me: finally, that Delvoye is telling the truth. But also the intellectuals love me, because they can refer to Freud and Lacan.' (Verhoeven, 2009) In that respect, Delvoye is a pupil of Andy Warhol, indeed. That sheds a new light on the naive pose that he used to take...
The problem with this cynical game is that, in the long run, you begin to believe your own lies, were it only for the fact that the game made you great in the very world to which you did not want to belong: after all, Delvoye did not become the great painter he wanted to be, but nevertheless an icon of contemporary art! Noblesse oblige. ..
How sad do the following words sound against this background: 'I'm a product of an art school. I went to art school, I learned to paint, for example, and I know how to draw. I also know how to draw in an academic way. (...) I had Neo-geo guilt when I was a young artist. It’s only been in the last five years that I have been able to show my drawings without any embarrassment. It's funny because I never had any embarrassment doing the concrete mixers and other things. But I had a lot of difficulty showing my drawings. I was hiding those skills. That was against the Zeitgeist. If you were an ambitious artist in 1986 or '87 and admitted you liked to draw, you would be regarded as one of these dumb painters who were getting dropped everywhere. So I certainly was not betting on painting. I have nothing against painting, I just didn't see much for myself in it. I just thought I had more important things to do as a young artist. Ambitious art in those days was not about drawing skills. But basically I'm a painter. I've always been one but I never dared to paint, maybe because I value it too much or something. (Enright, 2005).
Only a pity that, when we want to see his drawings, it turns out that he is playing another role here: whoever thought that we would be dealing here with another young Picasso, who surpassed his masters, is duped again...
THE RETURN OF THE REPRESSED
Meanwhile, it has become customary to understand Delvoye's works in terms of the confrontation of opposites. Says Bart Meuleman (2000): 'Delvoye always combines two simple concepts (...) and presents them in an equally simple transparent interaction.' Foncé (2000) talks of 'the juxtaposition of opposites' as a 'grammatical constant' in the work of Delvoye, and Jan Hoet about Delvoye's 'ability to engineer conflict by combining the fine arts and folk art' (Amy, 2002). 'In his art, Wim Delvoye gleefully cultivates the paradox' says Erwin Carels (2002), and Elias (2006) discerns the 'kernel of his aesthetics in the confrontation of two contexts, which have nothing to do with one another or are even one another's'' .Onfray (2006) prefers to speak of oxymora, and he tries to upgrade those oxymora to an 'oxymoronic dialectic'.
Let us remark in the first place that we are dealing here with different kinds of oppositions: there is, for instance, a big difference between the combination of kitsch and ready-made contained in the work itself, as we described it above, and the pure contextual opposition between the 'Cloaca' and the museal context of 'high art''. Next, and more important, we are not dealing with static oppositions, but rather with formations that are the outcome of an underlying conflict. As the relations between the conflicting forces are changing, also the terms of the compromise are affected, so that a second compromise between new terms is to be found. Only such dynamic is able to explain the development of the work of Delvoye.
Let us examine in this paragraph the development of the opposition between kitsch and modernism. We have seen how the conflict between the desire to draw and the desire to be accepted in the world of contemporary art lead to an ironic reversal: drawing is retained but devalued as kitsch executed by others, and contrasted with the ready-made as an icon of modernism. After the triumph of 'Cloaca' in 2000, Delvoye's embarrassment in drawing disappears (see above, Enright, 2005), and that is only the herald of a far more important shift. 'Nowadays, I seek no longer the irony that was to be found in my cement mills' (Wynants, 2009). The opposition between ready-made machine and Gothic decoration in the early concrete mixers disappears in the Gothic chapels and towers: only the Gothic pole of the opposition is left. This development goes hand in hand with an ideological shift: in the concrete mixers Gothic art still functions within the modernistic paradigm. But in the chapels and the Torre, the paradigm is dissolving. To be sure, Delvoye is still vaguely referring to an opposition to Peggy Guggenheims pied-a-terre, but that is not quite convincing. The opposition is no longer internal, like in the concrete mixers, but purely contextual, as with 'Cloaca', and the context is even no longer modern, but rather neo-classical, and not exempt of decoration. And for 'Knockin' on heaven's door' in Brussels (2010), it is even no longer clear what has to function as context: the modernistic architecture of Horta or the tower of the town hall. The emancipation of the Gothic architecture goes hand in hand with an upgrading. Delvoye refers less and less to the 'kitchy' neo-gothic architecture, and more and more the great examples in the Middle Ages. And he does no longer hide his admiration: he talks unabashed of Gothic architecture as 'the most beautiful of all styles' (Lambrecht, Klara). Of this youthful Gothic architecture of the still youthful Europe, he wants to make the 'high phase'. He even comes to feel like a 'Gothic man'. In '<H>art', he is even becoming lyrical: ''Whereas the Renaissance stood for a vision on the world, Gothic art was a state of mind. The Renaissance was an limited period that lasted for half a century, when it was succeeded with Mannerism. Gothic architecture is an art form outside time. The human eye (...) jubilates before the uprising of the magnificent towers.' (Anon). 2009). It is as if we hear the voice of Delvoye's father, who initiated the young boy in the first principles of culture...The modernistic paradigm, where art is opposed to kitsch, is gradually replaced with that of the advent, bloom and 'Untergang des Abendlandes', and therewith the term of abuse 'kitsch' with that of 'Entartet' - the shit of 'Cloaca'. The rejection of contemporary art, which in the beginning only applied to the 'neo-geo', extends gradually to the art after the Second World War, where Delvoye sees only 'scatological art', to finally encompass the 'various reductionist paradigms of 20th-century art' (Amy, 2002), And before he realises, Delvoye is already cleansing the Augias stables. Just read the comments to 'D11 Scale model (2008)': ''The bulldozer functions as an emblem for the removal of earthly temporal constructs in order for human aspirations to reach towards the heavens'. This bulldozers has something of a belligerent Jahweh, if not of a scorning Moses - and hence conveys the same message as 'Cloaca', albeit less concealed: in matters of architecture (or culture) Delvoye dares to speak out openly what, in matters of painting, he only succeeds in saying metaphorically in Cloaca. In an interview with Sterckx (2004), he opposes the blind fervour for innovation in twentieth century art with a gone-by ''past of art, things merged with the divine, with the magical.' Which suddenly makes it clear that the return of the repressed is only possible thanks to a new repression: that of drawing - art - through architecture. It is not difficult to see why: it is easier to have his engineers design and build a Gothic tower (or a Cloaca), than, say paint with one's own hands a contemporary counterpart of Jan Van Eyck's Holy Lamb, so admired by Delvoye. And, taking advantage of the confusion around the term 'art', you can nevertheless make architecture and objet design, and still can pass for an icon of contemporary art...
FROM CLOACA TO CATHEDRAL
Let us finally examine the development of the opposition within the opposite line of the 'Cloaca'
At first sight, the heavenly ascent of the Gothic works seems to be the counterpart of the downward movement in Cloaca, as described in the 'philosophical' interpretations above. But, just as the now glorified Gothic architecture was formerly staged as kitsch, just so does the lowest of the lowest conceal something higher. Talking about Cloaca, Wim Delvoye refers to the adoration of a 'doomsday rocket' which, in ''The Planet of Apes' 'was dominating people like a god or a boss' (Dan Mosquera/Cameron, 2002) Elsewhere, he describes that rocket as 'that technical thing that becomes religious, transcendent.' (Breerette, 2005). Whereas in the above everything seemed to implode in the shit, here the spirit seem to ascend from matter. The verticality of Wim Delvoye's Gothic architecture soon comes to pervade 'Cloaca': Cloaca IV 'will be vertical and phallic like a new sort of god.' (De Baets/Tratsaert 2004) The religious freight becomes more and more heavy: 'In biblical times, people would kill brothers and sons for gods. It’s what we do now for material things—now everything is about money, shopping, and wheeling and dealing.' (Mosquera/Cameron, 2002). Soon appear plans to found a new religion in the South of France or in Las Vegas. Initially, Wim Delvoye is just talking about a 'Cloaca religion' (Sterckx, 2004) or a 'designer religion' (2007, Vegas), but more recently he sees the culmination of his Gothic works 'into one celestial city - the city for the end of days.' (Glei, 2009) To be sure, there may be some doubts about the sincerity of Delvoye: 'Obviously, there is some irony and a plainly nihilistic attitude here.' says Cameron already in 2002, but he adds: 'But I also think that you were being a little bit serious.' (Mosquera/Cameron, 2002) Of course! And, also here, the young boy is to blame: 'I have been deeply religious' confesses the master 'I have always wondered where the soul has gone now'' (Desomer, 2000). There is no doubt that, in principle, we could hear the 'I am no longer out at irony' transferred to the religion in the cathedral, so that also the initial opposition between 'Cloaca' and the Gothic cathedral could dissolve into an uncensored synergy.
But the same forces that withhold Wim Delvoye from becoming a painter, will equally withhold him from discovering that human genes - to phrase it in his own neo-Darwinian terms - prescribe us something more than to build - in the case of Wim Delvoye rather outgrown - private bowers to sexually outcompete other males: after all, our human genes are also responsible for phenomena like religion and socialism. For, just as the move towards architecture is the outcome of a new repression of 'drawing (art), so is the apparent homesickness for the 'youthful Europe' - say: youthful Christendom - merely the manifestation of the inability to conceive what he and his soul mates would have to do in these 'post-historic' times of ours, were they only prepared to stop 'shitting'.
© Stefan Beyst, december 2009
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ADDED 04/2010: RODIN AND DELVOYE
Through to August 22th, Delvoye's Torre is displayed in the Musée Rodin in Paris. Although the intention might be to demonstrate that Delvoye is Rodin's next-of-kin, there could be no better place to show that his tower is not a sculpture - that has to compete with Rodin, but architecture - that has to compete with the Eiffel tower or the dome of the Invalides. The title of the accompanying exhibition ''Corps et décors, Rodin et les arts décoratifs' is not too misleading. Where the comparison is justified - between Rodin's Gates of Hell and Delvoye's 'Gate', it speaks volumes....
A turd produced by one of Delvoye's Cloacas has been sold for 7500 euro in Christie's in Amsterdam (June 08, 2010).
ADDED 07/2010: FIRST CLOACA SOLD NEVERTHELESS
In the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in the Tasmanian capital Hobart, built by the gambling millionaire David Walsh, a new Cloaca will be suspended like a “hanging toilet” from the ceiling of a fully adapted space. The machine is intended to be fed with the rotting meat from an installation by Jannis Kounellis with seven carcasses of beef. The first Wim Delvoye retrospective ever is planned around October 2011.
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ENRIGHT, Robert: 'Vim & Vigour, an interview with Wim Delvoye', Sperone Westwater, August 2005.
FIERS, Els: 'A human masterpiece', Artnet Magazine, 09, 2001.
FRANCBLIN, Cathértine: An Encounter between Bataille and doctor Frankenstein (sine dato)
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WOUDSMA, Henk: 'Het nieuwe beeldhouwen'