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5.21.2010

Tim Steiner, the "human work of art" by Wim Delvoye!!

Good morning contemporary art lovers!
I am very glad to introduce you to Tim Steiner whom the story is simply unbelievable... Have you seen the french-italian movie "Le Tatoue" (The Tattoed One) produced in 1968? The story is about a french soldier whom the back was tattooed by Modigliani. Or did you read the book entitled "When I was a work of art" written by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt? The story is about a desperate man who wants to kill himself and is "saved" by a megalomaniac artist who convinces him to become one of his works of art, as a property. As far as I know, Tim Steiner is the only "human work of art" in the world. He has his back tattooed by Wim Delvoye, a Belgium artist, and sold for 150.000 euros to Rik Reinking, a collector, curator and art historian, in September 2008. The tattoo represents a Madonna with a skull above her head and it took 35 hours of work.
As Tim told me "If I were still in school, Wim would be my most loved teacher and Rik my best friend".

Could you please explain us how all the story began? How did you meet Wim and which one of you got the idea of this incredible tattoo?

"In 2006, my girlfriend Stephanie Schleiffer was working for the de Pury & Luxembourg gallery in Zurich. She was responsible for the upcoming spring show titled 'Take a Walk on the Wild Side' which was a group show where Wim was taking part. He wanted to set up his Tattoo Studio with two pigskins. He told Stephanie that for some time he had been looking for a human canvas that he could have tattooed and sold. He hadn't found anyone and he asked her if she knew anyone who wanted to be a 'human tattooed pig' and she gave me a call. I had tattoos already and she asked if I knew anyone who would be interested. She told me the story and I wanted to do it myself immediately. I met Wim in Zurich with my friend and tattoo artist Matt Powers. The design is more or less the same as on the pig Sybille. Matt changed it to fit my back and so it all began."

Your back is a work of art, but it's a part of your body. How do you feel about that? Do you have sometimes the impression to be a work of art and to lose your own identity as a human being; as if you were the canvas, Wim and "your owner" the frame?

"I feel like the frame and the canvas. I am the thing that carries the artpiece. Where the art goes, I go. Art is the master and I am the slave. But only as long as I want to be. I'm a free slave. When my back is exhibited I have no identity. When I have a shirt on, the art no longer exists."

Could you tell us what was your impression during your first exhibition as a piece of art and how does it work? Do you still have a right on your body and how many times a year are you "exposed"?

"Being exhibited is a very bizarre experience. I face a wall for many hours (with breaks), listen to loud music and can only sense those around me. Sometimes I interact with people, but I prefer just sitting there. It's a very personal experience which is amazing, peaceful, nerve-wrecking and terrible all in one. I am exhibited as many times as I am asked to and I agree. All the rights are with me. I can quit anytime. But then the money goes back too..."

I saw many pictures of you posing with pigs, playing with them in the mud or taking a shower in their pens. Is it like a performance for you? As a human being, how do you feel in the middle of animals, treated like them?

"The session with the pigs in China was one of the most remarkable experience in my life. It was a blessing. Being accepted by these majestic animals for a few hours was extraordinary. It felt like a performance on another plateau. I am forever thankful to Wim, Stephanie and all those involved in the China project for that experience."

There is the question about the temporality of the work of art. Your tattoo can change because of the elasticity of your skin and also because the skin is made of living cells. What do you expect for the future? How do you imagine yourself in 40 years?

"It will decay over time. The more time passes, the more ugly it will look. I hope that I will be a canvas on show for all my life. 'TIM' will be really interesting in 40 or 50 years. A decomposing art piece with decades of stories. The only difference being that this canvas can share these stories with everyone."

Dear Tim, thank you so much for having done this interview. It was a pleasure to write about your story which is amazing! I am thinking about having more tattoos but I couldn't hold a candle to you!
For those who may want to know more about Tim, check his website...


All images Courtesy Wim Delvoye - Tim Steiner

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