A curious scene: a woman stands in the street performing a dangerous balancing act. Forks and knives are poised on the tips of her fingers and jut upwards into the curves of her face. The captured moment is all the more surprising that the oddity of the gesture and its masochism contrast with the tranquility of the surroundings and the photographer’s approach. The reason is that revulsion and fascination often go hand in hand whenever pointed, sharp objects come in contact with the face, and especially the eyes.
Made in 2000 in Taiwan, and entitled Outdoor Sculpture, this astonishing photograph appears to be above all a living, human sculpture. Having started out as a sculptor, Wurm gradually incorporated photography into his practice as a medium in its own right. He thus breathes life into this type of hybrid work and makes the most of both sculpture and photography in order to generate an unsettling effect. This Outdoor Sculpture might in effect be thought of as a dual work: a (living) sculpture and a photograph which operate in tandem and owe their existence to each other.
A disconcerting photo-sculpture, the image transcends its performative component. The physical aspect of the print invites the viewer to go beyond the spectacular and start by reconsidering the place of the model, of her body within the frame, because for Wurm the body constitutes an essential sign of its condition as a sculpture. Second, the action of the model in an outdoor environment borders on the absurd, putting us in the position of a voyeur. The binary revulsion–fascination makes itself felt again, making us question our contemporary relationship to images, hardly any of which are shocking any more. This is perhaps an invitation to take a closer look at things that aren’t just staring us in the face!
By Anne Laurens
Erwin Wurm: Photographs
March 4 to June 7, 2020
Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris