Erwin Wurm is the most important Austrian artist of our time. For the KPM he has now created a torso in which there is a bit of Donald Duck, a bit of himself and above all: a lot of ambiguity. In an interview, he explains to KPM employee Sally Fuls how it all comes together.

The headless vase sculpture is called “Uncle” and was created in collaboration with Galerie König (Photos: Roman März)

KPM: Mr. Wurm, are you a flower person?

Erwin Wurm: Yes, who isn't? I like flowers, we have a large flower meadow here in front of the door. We leave most of it standing, but every now and then we cut something and then put it in the vase.

Should it therefore be a vase for the KPM? What is behind the idea for the object?

The object shows a piece of clothing that works without people. Although it looks as if it was being worn by a person, as if there was a body inside. So it's about this game that I've been playing for a long time: the double skin that represents volume, mass, content, weight. All of this always plays a role in my work. If you look at classic antique sculptures, the beautiful young men and women, you see very massive aesthetic bodies, whether human or horse. But they are formed from a very thin bronze skin. The skin evokes mass and volume, but the truth is that there is only a thin layer of material.

The artist Erwin Wurm (Photo: Michael Wurm)

And why a male torso?

The idea comes from a series in which I dealt with exactly this topic, i.e. mass, surface and three-dimensionality. And at some point it made sense to basically take myself. Because that's me too. Me without content, me without I. Then there is the famous sentence by Gottfried Keller “Clothes make the man”. So you define yourself with clothing, present yourself and refer to your social status. Or the other way around: you camouflage your social status! There is endless play there.

And if you say that's you too - then why is the object called Uncle and not Erwin?

(Laughs) Well it's not a self-portrait. If there was one, his name would also be Erwin. The uncle is a genderless being. The father has a gender and so does the mother. And I was born midcentury in the last century, so I grew up with Donald Duck. And Donald Duck was always just the genderless uncle. And in a way that was the model, or rather a play with the genderless figure. This uncle here does not indicate any personality, there is no individuality. It's a picture of a certain suit that certain people wear at a certain stage of life. And the head is represented by flowers.

In the future, there should also be a female counterpart.

It already exists, at least as a draft for me.

And is the counterpart called aunt?

(Laughs) Well. No. There is no aunt. That would be more of a female first name, or maybe “Avatar”. Because in a certain sense it is an avatar, i.e. a specific person who is represented by a piece of clothing, which allows one to deduce a type.

Can you describe the type of uncle, what kind of man is he?

I don't describe my work myself. I produce something and put it up for discussion. The interpretation remains open. When you look at the object, your own thoughts and perspectives arise.

So then: I find it strange that an uncle is something genderless for you, because I actually don't feel that way at all. I almost find it a little disreputable.

They are of course culturally influenced. And that's exactly what underlines my thesis, because they let the work itself work. Everyone comes with their own history and socialization. And everyone sees it differently. You see the evil uncle who has a gender. But not me.

To what extent was the material important here? To what extent does porcelain play a role in the object itself?

Porcelain brings a story, memories and emotions. Of course my parents had service. Coffee was drunk from it and eaten from it on Sundays; it was the good dishes, the beautiful dishes that people were careful with and only used on holidays or Sundays. This has a social connotation: it's about a certain society that doesn't wallow in wealth, which is why this porcelain is not used every day, but is something special and marks a celebration. And that's how it was with us, my father was a police officer and we didn't have much money. But these things existed and were used very sparingly.

And as a child, did you have to or were you allowed to wash the expensive dishes on Sundays? Or was it kept out of children's hands as a precaution?

We always had to help, mostly we dried off. But with the expensive porcelain... of course we were careful.