Wim Delvoye
Wim Delvoye is a Belgian neo-conceptual artist known for his inventive and often shocking projects. Much of his work is focused on the body. He repeatedly links the attractive with the repulsive, creating work that holds within it inherent contradictions- one does not know whether to stare, be seduced, or to look away. As Robert Enright wrote in Border Crossings, "Delvoye is involved in a way of making art that reorients our understanding of how beauty can be created." Wim Delvoye has an eclectic oeuvre, exposing his interest in a range of themes, from bodily function, to the Catholic Church, and numerous subjects in between. He lives and works in Belgium, but recently moved to China after a court of law judged his pig tattoo art projects illegal.

Early life

Wim Delvoye was raised in Wervik, a small town in West Flanders, Belgium. Though he did not have a religious upbringing, Delvoye was influenced by the Roman Catholic society in which he lived, in particular the religion’s reverence of symbols. In a conversation with Michaël Amy of the New York Times, Delvoye stated, "I have vivid memories of crowds marching behind a single statue as well as of people kneeling in front of painted and carved altarpieces…Although I was barely aware of the ideas lurking behind these types of images, I soon understood that paintings and sculptures were of great importance." Delvoye’s artistic career would later be marked by his ability to manipulate objects.


Growing up, Delvoye attended exhibitions with his parents, and his love of drawing eventually led him to art school. Delvoye has said that the pessimistic expectations for Belgian art students freed him, essentially making him realize that he “had nothing to lose.” Shortly thereafter, Delvoye began painting over wallpaper and carpets, coloring in the existing patterns and defying the tendency towards free expression vibrant in the art world at the time.

Delvoye considers himself an originator of concepts- he is attracted initially to the theory behind pieces, instead of the act of painting itself. After 1990, specialists directed by Delvoye have executed most of his work. In 1992, Delvoye received international recognition with the presentation of his “Mosaic” at Documenta IX, a symmetrical display of glazed tiles featuring photographs of his own excrement. The organizer of Documenta IX, Jan Hoet claimed, “The strength of Wim Delvoye lies in his ability to engineer conflict by combining the fine arts and folk art, and playing seriousness against irony.” Three of his most well known projects are “Cloaca”, “Art Farm”, and a series of Gothic works.


Delvoye is perhaps best known for his digestive machine, “Cloaca”, which he unveiled at the Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerp, after eight years of consultation with experts in fields ranging from plumbing to gastroenterology. In a comment on the Belgians’ love of fine dining, “Cloaca” is a large installation that turns food into feces, allowing Delvoye to explore the digestive process. The food begins at a long, transparent mouth, travels through a number of machine-like assembly stations, and ends in hard matter which is separated from liquid through a cylinder. Delvoye collects and sells the realistically smelling output, suspended in small jars of resin at his Ghent studio. When asked about his inspiration, Delvoye stated that everything in modern life is pointless. The most useless object he could create was a machine that serves no purpose at all, besides the reduction of food to waste. "Cloaca" has appeared in many incarnations including: "Cloaca Original", "Cloaca - New & Improved", "Cloaca Turbo", "Cloaca Quattro", "Cloaca N° 5", and "Personal Cloaca".

Commissioned "Cloaca" for MONA

Previously, Delvoye claimed that he would never sell a Cloaca machine to a museum as he could never trust that the curator would maintain the installation properly. However after two years of discussion with David Walsh
David Walsh (art collector)
David Walsh is a Tasmanian millionaire, entrepreneur and owner of a large private art collection.Walsh grew up in the Glenorchy district of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, the youngest of three children....

, Delvoye agreed to construct a custom "Cloaca" built specifically for the Museum of Old and New Art
Museum of Old and New Art
The Museum of Old and New Art is an art museum located within the Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. It is the largest privately funded museum in Australia. The museum presents antiquities, modern and contemporary art from the David Walsh collection...

 in Hobart
Hobart is the state capital and most populous city of the Australian island state of Tasmania. Founded in 1804 as a penal colony,Hobart is Australia's second oldest capital city after Sydney. In 2009, the city had a greater area population of approximately 212,019. A resident of Hobart is known as...

, Tasmania
Tasmania is an Australian island and state. It is south of the continent, separated by Bass Strait. The state includes the island of Tasmania—the 26th largest island in the world—and the surrounding islands. The state has a population of 507,626 , of whom almost half reside in the greater Hobart...

. The new installation is suspended from the museum ceiling in a room custom built for it.

“Art Farm”

Though Delvoye started tattooing pig skins taken from slaughterhouses in the United States in 1992, he began to tattoo live pigs in 1997. Delvoye was interested in the idea that “the pig would literally grow in value," both in a physical and economic sense. He ultimately moved the operation to an Art Farm in China in 2004 where restrictions regarding animal welfare were less strict. The pigs have been inked with a diverse array of designs, including the trival, such as skulls and crosses, to Louis Vuitton designs, to designs dictated by the pig's anatomy. The designs are created by Delvoye and his three colleagues in residence." In an interview with ArtAsiaPacific's Paul Laster, Delvoye described the process of tattooing a live pig,"we sedate it, shave it and apply Vaseline to its skin."" As another manifestation of contradiction in Delvoye’s art, he owns a pig farm though he is a practicing vegetarian.

Gothic Works

Delvoye is additionally well known for his “gothic
Goth subculture
The goth subculture is a contemporary subculture found in many countries. It began in England during the early 1980s in the gothic rock scene, an offshoot of the post-punk genre. The goth subculture has survived much longer than others of the same era, and has continued to diversify...

” style work. In 2001, Delvoye, with the help of a radiologist, had several of his friends paint themselves with small amounts of barium, and perform explicit sexual acts in medical X-ray clinics.He then used the X-ray scans to fill gothic window frames instead of classic stained glass. Delvoye suggests that radiography reduces the body to a machine. When he was not an active participant, Delvoye observed from a computer screen in another room, allowing the subjects enough distance to perform normally, although Delvoye has described the whole operation as "very medical, very antiseptic." Delvoye also creates oversized laser-cut steel sculptures of objects typically found in construction, customized in seventeenth century Flemish Baroque style. These structures juxtapose "medieval craftsmanship with Gothic filigree." Delvoye brings together the heavy, brute force of contemporary machinery and the delicate craftsmanship associated with Gothic architecture.

External links

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