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Urs Fischer Installation Miami Design District Pho
Urs Fischer “Bus Stop” (2017)Photography Robin Hill

Why a decaying skeleton has been left at a bus stop in Miami

We take a walk with artist Urs Fischer around Miami’s luxury Design District to talk about his latest work, his thoughts on art for social media’s sake, and how he’s channelling Edward Hopper

Walk past the Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton stores into the brand new shiny Paradise Plaza in Miami’s Design District and you’ll find a skeleton resting on its back on the bench of an inactive bus stop. Urs Fischer is the man behind it – a Swiss-born artist living in New York – and the piece is simply titled “Bus Stop” (2017). Miami Art Week might be the figurative death of some people – with all of its art fairs and succeeding after parties, not to mention the blazing sun – but Fischer’s intentions are far from morbid. In fact, the artist actively finds himself enlivened by the absurdity of it all and has been returning to the city every year for more than a decade.

The skeleton is also recurring for Fischer and his art. Notably in the 2000 exhibition, Skinny Sunrise, whereby a skeleton arches its back whilst lying face down on what appears to be a park bench. “If you don’t want the figure to be a real person; have a face, a gender, an age, an expression, it’s a very easy and simple thing to do,” he tells me when we meet in the Design District and walk to a local petrol station so that he can pick up cigarettes and a bottle of water. “The bus stop,” he continues, as we conveniently pass one, “I’ve been thinking about for maybe two years. I was thinking about how bus stops are always like little stages. You see people waiting at the bus stop and they have nothing to do.” The irony isn’t lost here, considering there are a-million-and-one things on Art Week’s itinerary. Fischer goes on to reference works by Edward Hopper, the American painter whose life’s work was often underscored – imposed by others, not him – by loneliness, particularly in a bustling city, such as New York where he lived – as does Fischer. “Hopper’s paintings are also often like a stage,” he continues, “sometimes there's a figure in the room and sometimes there’s not.” Fischer shrugs, pulling on a fridge door in the petrol station and offering me a drink.

The third element to the sculpture is a constant trickle of water that drips onto the skeleton’s forehead from the bus stop’s roof, gradually forming a shallow pool beneath the bench. It echoes some of Fischer’s previous works, where the artist introduces an element that results in a gradual deterioration of the piece. We see it in his various ongoing giant candle works that are slowly melted down by a flame, as well as in his 2003 show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, You, in which he dug the floor out of the New York space so visitors can be seen standing on mounds of dirt in the hole. “The crater was about wanting to show less,” Fischer explains when I bring it up. “It was almost an emotional state – so the audience come in and there is less in there than there was before, and that's your show.” However, the trickle of water and its accompanying puddle here in Miami aren’t, literally, that deep. “It’s just to activate the sculpture,” he says, reassuring me that because the sculpture is made of bronze, it should be fine, aside from a bit of natural discolouration and residue. “Puddles and things that drip are such an urban thing. In big cities, there's always this grimy feeling; something dripping from some ceiling somewhere. It's maybe a little Blade Runner-y too.”

For an area lined with luxury stores selling the consumer fantasy, a slowly decaying skeleton on its back feels quite bold... disturbing even. But Craig Robins, the Design District’s founder, says that it’s sculptures such as Fischer’s which make the area what it is. “We should have very powerful public art, architecture, and design in the neighbourhood so that when people come they have a real profound cultural experience, one that differentiates this neighbourhood from any other place in the world,” Robins tells me over the phone from Miami once I’m back in London. “Urs did a brilliant job of giving us a very powerful expression, something for us to experience and contemplate. One of the things that I love about it is it's a fountain, it's interactive, people can go and sit in there. It's a great place obviously to do selfies. The power of social media!” It’s a topic I put to Fischer as we walk back from the petrol station to the Design District. Although he doesn’t have social media, does the knowledge that people are more likely to share works of art if they can be interactive with the piece – whether via mirrors or actually sitting down with it – impact the way he creates? “No,” he responds briefly, “some things are just very friendly to be photographed.”

While his Miami tan fades, Fischer will be continuing to work on two shows for the spring, both to take place in New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood. The reason, it seems, is because he feels “like Chelsea is on its way down”. He continues, “It’s not like it’s over, but a lot of young people have moved away from it. It’s not like it was in the 90s – which is why I want to do (a show) there now.” Fischer also adds that each show will only have one piece of work each, but when I search him for more information all he tells me is, “I think that they’ll be some of the most ambitious things I've ever made.” I press him, “why?” He laughs, “I don't know. You'll have to ask my shrink.”

“Bus Stop” (2017) will be on public display at Miami’s Design District for the foreseeable future. See more works from Fischer in the gallery below: