How will you be spending your time during the era of worldwide social distancing? Tim Steiner is quietly sitting on a plinth in a completely empty museum in Tasmania, whilst his elaborately tattooed back is livestreamed across the globe.
“I’m not an artist, this is not performance art. I’m a regular dude from Zurich that sits on a box,” remarked Steiner. He will be sitting out the coronavirus crisis in The Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Hobart for the next two months between 10am and 4.30pm (Australian time zone).
The former tattoo parlour manager confessed that “the work of art is on my back, I’m just the guy carrying it around.” Every day Steiner says he stretches and excises to prepare himself for the gruelling 6.5 hours of isolated stillness.
In 2007 Belgian artist Wim Delvoye was searching for a human canvas when he met Steiner. For the next two years Delvoye spent 40 hours tattooing the Zürcher’s back with a monochrome depiction of the Virgin. Entitled Tim, the piece shows golden sun rays emanating from the praying figure and is surmounted by a Mexican skull.
“Tattooers are incredible artists who’ve never really been accepted in the contemporary art world,” observed Steiner. “Painting on canvas is one thing, painting on skin with needles is a whole other story.”
Delvoye is a controversial neo-conceptual artist whose work, which includes tattooing live pigs, often shocks viewers. The German art collector Rik Reinking purchased Steiner’s then incomplete back tattoo for €150,000 (£121,000) in 2008. As part of the deal, Steiner is obliged to display his body art in museums and upon his death the skin on his back will enter Reinking’s collection: “gruesome is relative…my back is the canvas, I am the temporary frame.”
Like many other museums, Mona was forced to shut down two week ago due to the outbreak of coronavirus. The museum’s owner David Walsh said “I hope people care enough to visit when we reopen. I hope that people care enough to understand why we’ve closed.”
Although MONA remains indefinitely closed, they are clearly finding avant-garde and innovative ways to continue entertaining their audiences online. Speaking about his experience, Steiner added “I am the first person that is fully aware of how ridiculous this is; I am an adult man that sits on a box for a living… but what I experience… is [something] that nobody in the world can share.”