Wim Delvoye and the Tattooed Chinese Pigs

It’s Saturday morning and I’m surrounded by complete silence. Something I’d have never imagined before this Chinese New Year. Last year, living in the heart of town, I managed to spot a few living souls walking around. Now, so far out of the centre, the ambience is granted a different angle. Millions of people have left Shanghai to visit their families, the locals are at home, watching TV and binging on festive meals, foreigners are back home or down south scuba diving, so the city suddenly has a village feeling to it.  On top of all this, the image of a wild, concrete forest is highlighted by the fact that ten days back I found myself totally alone in a 15-storey building. There are no families, nor a single student in the dorm. Yesterday, I didn’t even see any signs of the guards, either. Creepy but somehow illusionary and charmingly otherworldly, too.

Bueno, I wake in this paused, still peacefulness. I finish a bowl of steaming hot porridge while watching my breath in the crispy air. I realise I’m too tired and my hands too frozen to hold a book, so, why not, a laptop with a good movie and its warm bottom on my lap will do.

And bingo. My surreal(istic) Saturday continues, with yet another bizarre level added on top. Half-way into the film, I’m suddenly getting warmed up. Mainly by the idea of the random, marginal artsy-fartsy stuff that bobs up in Shanghai. And I’m glad I’ve found this one. True, you’d normally have to get out of your way to find some decent Babylon Blue movies, the far from mainstream titles you find in small DVD stores sometimes is mind-blowing. I bumped into films on sensitive stuff before, like Farewell, My Concubine, Mao’s Last Dancer or Wong Kar Wai‘s Happy Together on two gay chaps’ emotional odyssey.

Well, this one I’m watching today on Belgian artist Wim Delvoye‘s Is This Shit Art? is another rare discovery, I guess. His various art works span a broad scale, like constructing Cloaca, an enormous (monstrous?) machine that produces, some very realistic human excrement or painting tattoos on pigs in a Chinese farm.

What’s the future of this pig? 

– He will be a painting. It’ll be on his stretch. – While he’s tattooing his signature on the sedated porker.

When the pigs reach a certain age, Delvoye kills them and preserve their skin. I love the combo of a visionary’s earnestness with a flickering farce in his art: “You see – he explains while tattooing in one of the drugged porkito – what an intimate relationship I have with these pigs. He’s lying before me!”

“Tattooing in a way is showing a lot of vanity and expectations from the human world. So, with the projections we make, dreams we have, like Jesus or Rock and Roll, you want to express these on your body. You want to say, hey, that’s me, that’s my identity, I want to believe in that. And then, you put it on a pig: your whole belief system becomes completely ridiculous” – says the artist.

Normally, while many of his ideas are an assault on the art world, they also represent something else: “Art saves their lives – says Delvoye – it’s like Schindler’s list. They are here and a whole team is taking care of them while their brothers and cousins are slaughtered elsewhere.”

By putting designer labels on pigs, he wants to draw attention to the obsession every Chinese girl seem to have: a Luis Vuitton shoulder bag. The guy who interviewed and followed him around his workshops for a while asked Delvoye to make a tattoo on his shoulder. Since the decorated pigs are auctioned and sold for thousands of pounds he hoped his human value might also go up if a part of his body becomes a work of art. He got a big one on his shoulder-blade: Micky Mouse crucified with Minnie weeping at the bottom of it. After he goes on his way he soon finds out that, while it is a unique piece of art indeed, it’s actually priceless since a human being cannot be sold, cannot be put any value upon. One of the closing scenes of the documentary is showing this young journalist, observing at length his newly gained Disney stamp in the bathroom mirror.

“A cat will look down to a man. A dog will look up to a man. But a pig will look you straight in the eye and see his equal.” Winston Churchill

More on Wim Delvoye here.

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