Belgian artist Wim Delvoye is often described as an agent provocateur. One of his best known works is b (2000-07), a series of machines that mimic the human digestive tract, converting food into excrement that fouled up the gallery space as much as it did viewers’ expectations of art.
Delvoye has been researching and collecting drawings and design-related literature of the Gothic period for more than a decade. He first started to deploy Gothic style in his works in an ironic manner, using its heavily ornate motifs, once reserved for castles and cathedrals, on objects such as dump trucks or cement mixers. Since then, in several dramatic works such as Nautilus (2010), he has played with the structure of Gothic buildings to create sculptures that look like cathedrals and towers that have been mangled or twisted out of shape.
A sculpture in the shape of the marine mollusk it is named after, Nautilus is made of steel that has been cut into delicate filigree using lasers. One of the finest natural examples of a logarithmic spiral, nautilus shells were considered great marvels in the middle ages and were often made into elaborately decorated showpieces to be displayed in Renaissance period ‘cabinets of curiosities’– precursors to modern-day museums. In Delvoye’s take on the nautilus shell, it is reborn as a Gothic cathedral that has been coiled into the shape of a mollusk’s whorled dwelling. Though it is the product of highly sophisticated techniques of computerised design, the sculpture evokes the intricacy and laboured craftsmanship of antique metal work, creating a unique conflation of styles, time periods and sensibilities.