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Erwin Wurm: Wear Me Out

The open air Middelheim Museum in Antwerp hosts an exhibition dedicated to the work of the legendary sculptor, some of it in collaboration with fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck

Despite early ambitions to become a painter, Austrian artist Erwin Wurm has spent the last 30 years exploring, questioning and redefining the traditional art of sculpting. He has contributed pieces to collections across the world, from the Guggenheim Museum in New York to the Pompidou Centre in Paris. But Wurm is particularly known for his clever and humorous ‘one minute sculptures’, where members of the public are invited to become their own temporary pieces of art under instruction from Wurm. Like the name suggests, they are constructed and dismantled in an instant, with only a snap shot or drawing to remember them by.
His fascination with the interaction between people and every day objects brought him together with Antwerp fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck to create what Beirendonck describes as ‘walking sculptures’. Dazed spoke to Erwin Wurm about the collaboration and how he defends his sub-ephemeral art work...
Dazed Digital: When did you discover your aptitude for sculpture?
Erwin Wurm: Originally I wanted to be a painter and so I took an entrance exam to get into art school. I didn’t pass but they accepted me into the sculpture class instead. So I thought, well this must be destiny, now what am I going to do with it?
DD: Tell us how you came to work with Walter Van Beirendonck?
Erwin Wurm: I have admired Walter's work for many years and so I thought it would be interesting to collaborate with him. I began by ripping pages from a fashion magazine and drawing my ideas onto the models. Then we had this dialogue where I’d send an idea, then he’d send something back and so on. In the end we collaborated on about 5 pieces. Clothes are important to my work because they’re just a second skin. In Roman and Renaissance times they created sculptures out of bronze which defined the volume of the piece and that’s exactly what clothes do too.
DD: What do you set out to do with your sculptures?
Erwin Wurm: To question the very notion of sculpture. What can it be? How can it relate? I find it very interesting to combine sculpture with social issues such as health care, labour and issues of politics. I also like to look at icons, I consider them to be the landmarks of our time.
DD: How would you respond to critics who say your One Minute Sculptures aren't Art?
Erwin Wurm: To me, they are sculptures because I define them as sculptures. I look at the short-lived relationship between a person and an everyday object to bring the medium of sculpture onto a completely different level. My pieces are given permanence – regardless of whether they’re for 2 seconds, 10 seconds or 5 minutes – by being photographed or drawn.
DD: Do you have a favourite piece?
Erwin Wurm: No, I couldn’t say. There are so many pieces, there’s so much variety.
DD: What do you want people to take from your work?
Erwin Wurm: Nothing. As soon as I’ve finished them and they are out there I don’t have any expectations, I don’t expect anything.
DD: How do you judge whether your work has been successful?
Erwin Wurm: As long as I like the outcome, then I’m happy. I never expect, or long for a certain museum to display my work, I’m happy just producing pieces I like.
DD: What would you like to be remembered for?
Erwin Wurm:
 I would never say I wanted to be remembered like this artist, or that artist. I want to be remembered for being a good father, I don’t give a shit about the other stuff.
'Wear Me Out' runs from 29 May to 25 September 2011 at the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp, Belgium