Tim loved tattoos and went to host a full-size one on his back – a kitsch Madonna surrounded by roses and other drawings you see in the picture, designed by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye. He also tattoo signed it. But it was tattooed by a Swiss tattooer called Matt (Black Arm) Powers. It took 40 hours.
After this choice, Tim is a living artwork, having being sold (his body, part of his time) to a collector via a gallery and, once dead, his tattooed back skin will be given back to his owner (actually, a German collector of his same age, they know each other well).
Wherever and whenever this act will remain unique in the entire story of art and its market (actually it is), Tim (who agreed to donate his organs after his death) is also requested, due to the same agreement, to tour three times a year all along his life, to show himself. Bare back, sitting on a pedestal 6 days a week for long hours, i.e. the opening time of the art museums. So far, he toured the world, also being exhibited in well-known museums as Louvre.
Can you tell us about your life before becoming a ‘lifesize’ artwork? We would love to hear from you as long as you wish to talk about yourself, including the childhood!
I had a good childhood. I have one younger brother and my parents tried to raise us as best as they could. We travelled a lot and grew up in a safe environment. We went to private schools and always had everything we wanted. But when I was young, I realised that all that matters is collecting as many stories as you can. Life is a book and you have to write the chapters. So most of my life I’ve gone and tried to experience as many things as possible. Everything at least once. I was always very restless. I worked all the jobs, travelled to all the places, met all the people, did all the drugs, experienced happiness and sadness to the best of my ability. Always as extreme as possible. I’ve asked a million questions, but often the answers don’t really matter. I always wanted to find a group of people where I could feel at home. Music, sports, tattoos, drugs, freaks, spiritual stuff. But something always ended up bothering me. But I like the art world. Here I feel at home. It is the place with almost no limitations. Great stories, extraordinary people, very beautiful. Real.
Can you tell us about your life after that decision to become a lifesize artwork?
Wim Delvoye and this project opened the door to an unknown world for me. I always loved art, but wasn’t creative myself. From one day to the next I suddenly had access to these amazingly creative people and their art planet. Out of nowhere I became a part of it all. But until this day I’ve always felt like an observer. From the outside looking in. But after ten years I am ‘TIM’ now. By Wim Delvoye. I have my role in this bizarre circus. The experiment is working. I also like that as long as I live, what the piece is and what I do will not change. The tattoo will get older and I will just sit there until I’m gone.
How do you combine the rest of your life within the agreed intervals in which you will be touring around the world to be on show?
For the first ten years the project was only a small part of my life. There were maybe two exhibitions for a few days per year. It was easy to organise my job life around it. Since my second time at MONA it looks like ‘sitting on boxes’ is what I’ll be doing for the next few years though. The piece only really makes sense to me if one day I can actually live from sitting on various boxes. Now it finally looks like it’s heading in that direction. So no more steady job. No more home. Just a rucksack and an itinerary of different institutions where I sit for a couple of months at a time.
Which is the trick to stay focused so many hours a day sitting still in a place?
I sit for 5 hours, six days per week. I take a 15 minute break to stretch and warm the muscles every hour. This time at MONA it was easier than usual. I could see the people in the museum, so there were many different things to focus on and look at. When I stare at a wall it’s more difficult. The first fifteen minutes I get into the right mind-set, the next thirty minutes I try to stay there and the last fifteen minutes are always just pain. Physically and mentally. I do the same thing every day, but it’s always completely different. Always depends on how I feel and if I can work with these feelings. Some days are amazing. Other days are hell…
Have you ever questioned the validity of the lifetime contract? If yes, with which kind of results? Which will be your position if the work will be auctioned and so you will change ‘owner’?
I have never questioned the contract. I feel very happy with Rik Reinking as my ‘owner’, but I also like the idea of an auction where suddenly the piece belongs to someone else. As long as I am alive I can collect the stories which are written by this art work. So the more stories there are, the happier I am. I cannot be forced to do anything in this project that I do not want to do. But I want to honour our contract and therefore do this until I pass away.
Which were your feelings once you started to change the way you exhibit yourself in contemporary art museums, such as the ‘living interviews’ or a tour guide of yourself at MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Tasmania, Australia? How did you design this new form of ‘appearance’?
I only do the ‘Tattoo Tim Talks’ at MONA. All other institutions I only sit. But when I came to MONA the first time in 2011 for four months, I knew that I had to find some way to connect with people or I would go crazy just staring at my wall all day. I thought that no artwork can tell its own story. But I can. So every day I would get together with a group of people and tell them everything from A-Z. It was and is amazing. I get to connect with the visitors on a personal level. They get to interact with the frame of an artwork. Win-Win. With every passing year the story grows and the people come back to hear what else has happened. It gives ‘TIM’ a new perspective and is just another layer in this complex/simple project.
Have other artists or performers approached you to get inspiration?
Have you already thought to write a novel or another form of writing from your story? Which relation do you have with storytelling and more in general with creative writing?
I’m not a writer, but a pretty good storyteller. I think it is a very important art form. Only listening and creating the story in your head to someone else’s voice. No music, video, lights, effects, just words. I like that I can experience something with people I don’t know for 70 minutes and when I’m done it is gone. It only remains in their heads. It only exists in the moment. You cannot hold on to it or own it. I like this very much and would like it to stay that way.
What about the place audio-books have in your life? If they have room, which is the way you search them and which are your favourite ones?
On the box I do not listen to audio-books. It takes too much energy to focus on the words and it makes me tired. Not falling asleep is quite central in what I do. So most of the time I listen to heavy metal music. Slipknot, Slayer, Pantera, Metallica, etc. The energy and power keep me awake and alert. It’s a beautiful contrast to sitting so still and not moving all day. Also, I prefer reading rather than listening to books.
You as a ‘classical’ reader: which place literature and paper books have in your life? Which is the book and the music with you now?
I think books and reading are extremely important. Dealing with silence and focusing without constant visual input is becoming more rare today. I think reading is like meditating. And I love physical books. I like taking them with me and I like the way they change while you read them. I don’t use those reading devices on screen. I am minimalist in life. I own a rucksack, clothes, blow-up mattress and a sleeping bag. Plus dozens of boxes filled with books… They are all in storage in Zürich. Books are the only physical things that matter to me. In my time off the box I don’t really listen to music. I go to a lot of rock concerts in Hobart in my free time, but that’s it. Right now I’m reading an instructional book about farming in the Swiss mountains.
You as artist and collector: is or will it be in your life room for art as an interpreter and a buyer so far?
I don’t consider myself an artist. I am the temporary frame for the work of Wim Delvoye. No Wim, no Tim. The back, which belongs to Rik, is exhibited and I have to go along with it. I like it this way. I have my very own position in the art world. I am told where to sit, for how long, and then I do it. What I experience and deal with on the box is very intense and personal. It has nothing to do with the art. Just me – dealing with me. I don’t think I’ll ever be a buyer or collector. But I love supporting young artists in any way possible. The more money I make, the more I can give for young creativity.
Do you still love receiving and making tattoos?
I have never tattooed. Only some friends when we were drunk 🙂 I managed a tattoo parlour in Zürich for two years. But I do enjoy getting tattooed again. I needed a break for a few years because the tiger on my chest was a terrible experience. I love it very much, but the pain was extraordinary. It traumatised me. Now I’m slowly getting back into it. I love the atmosphere and the people in tattoo parlours. But now I’m just getting little things done. Too weak and old for the big stuff 🙂
I guess you’ve learned so many things from your life that is uneasy to choose one of them to tell us…
I sat on a box in MONA without moving for almost 13 months. 6 days a week. In the end it was 313 days and 1500 hours. Just sitting there. Looking, thinking. I have learned that life is what we make of it. So simple, yet so difficult. It doesn’t matter what you do, but how you do it and how you feel about that. You are in control of that, so what happens around you and what you are actually doing doesn’t really matter. I learned that there is no good and evil, just plus and minus. If we have the capacity to be like God, then we must also have the capacity to be the devil. We are free to be what we want without consequence. That freedom makes being a decent human being so worthwhile. Because it does not matter. Nothing matters. Eliminate all forms of judgment and suddenly life is only love. All life is privilege. All of it. Embrace the contradiction and everything will make sense.