After Us People Gave Up

Sergey Guskov: Making tattoos on pig’s or human skin, you have explored limits of the market or artwork. So what are your conclusions now?

Wim Delvoye: Tattoo is a very working class medium. People who naturally attracted to tattoos are already having a dangerous life, like bikers, seamen, sol- diers, students. They are a little bit more aware that life is limited. But at the same time tattoo is a something funny. And it’s forever, but on what? Not on canvas. On something that is not forever and one day disappears. Even if there is a tattoo of flower, I think of death. I ask people what it means, they often give me the most uneducated explanations I’ve ever heard. Sort of “oh, this is the name of my dog.” The people are not necessarily educated in art, and this is their art form in a genetic sense of the word. That’s why I like it. This is like a raw diamond. Studying iconography of tattoo, it comes straight to you from some person unfiltered. Just a simple guy who is not listening to art critics and just doing this. I want to convince people who don’t know about art, I want them to like me. If you make something and show it in the museum, all the art lovers appreciate it. But I’m for 99% who is not here. They have to work. And art is so elitist for home. I tried to break it, that’s what I liked about tattoos.

SG: But why pigs?

WD: They are closer to human, more than they can admit. We take organs of pigs, so you can have a part of a pig inside you. But paradoxically in most of the cultures, except Chinese, there is a very negative connotation of the word “pig.” It’s very strong when you say to someone “you are a pig.”

SG: A year ago at Skulptur Projekte Münster, there was a piece of Michael Smith. He tried to promote tattoos for people who usually don’t have tattoos. He offered deep discounts to seniors aged 65 and older. What do you think of this strategy?

WD: I would never promote it. When people ask me if they can have a tattoo, I usually question them saying, “Madame, you are so beautiful. You will regret. What’s if you don’t like it anymore? Do you know how much does it cost to take it away and how painful it is?” One of the best collec- tors of my work makes a lot of money with the dermatological machine that takes away tattoos. I liked tattoos but I don’t like the idea that it’s so permanent. It’s better to have a henna tattoo which stays for three weeks and then it’s gone. People want others to like them and start making tattoos exactly the same way they start smoking. And also that’s why people start buying art. They But I do appreciate artists making works with tattoos like Santiago Sierra who paid prostitutes and drug addicts to make a line tattoo on them. It’s not about tattoo but exploitation.

SG: And also you like, to say, criminal aesthetics. Prison tattoos, brass knuckles. Why?

WD: I think, it’s a generation likes this. We were the last generation who didn’t want to just please, we wanted to resist. After us, people gave up or something. In you country, you have an artist Oleg Kulik. He’s very rough, very tough, and very-very violent. He’s from our generation. And now younger artists are a bit confused, they work with Chanel or Louis Vuitton. My generation was very critical and also very much thinking about what could be art, what more could be art. Is that art? Now artists make paintings. Galleries and collectors are happy, artists are happy and rich. I mean, I studied painting in school but it was the last time I did something with it. I love looking at paintings and sometimes I buy them but it’s not for me as an artist. 

DI # 6-2018

December 13, 2018