I did it. I put myself out there and gave contemporary art a chance. But of course, right as I begin to get comfortable viewing the APCd Foundation’s new exhibition, BAM. I am proven gravely, gravely wrong.
Low and behold, before me, wrapped in vacuum tight, clear plastic, sits a piece of shit. Just waiting to be admired, contemplated, squinted at. I wish I was kidding. But at this point, it was just too tempting to not call bull-you know what.
After staring at the object dumbfounded for some seconds, I took a deep breath and recollected myself. I was pretty frustrated, but since my sister was completely absorbed in watching a film, and my dad had given up and trudged to the café, I huffed fine. I’ll give it a try.
Instantly my thoughts filled with self doubt as I oscillated between “Will I look foolish if I give this object my time? Is it even meant to be given time, or simply skimmed over with a smug smile?” and “Does this object have a higher, symbolic meaning? Is there more than meets the eye?”
The encounter was all too reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, a “readymade” sculpture consisting of a porcelain urinal that Duchamp flipped upside down and scrawled on the initials “R. Mutt 1917.” Upon its first exhibition (photograph form), hordes of artsy fartsy elites cocked their heads, wrinkled their foreheads, and stroked their beards as if in deep contemplation of the upside-down pee funnel. This was Duchamp’s way of poking fun at the I-can-name-wine-in-my-sleep-and-own-a-ridiculous-number-of-turtlenecks people I’ve mentioned before. Here they all stood, in deep reflection and introspection, before a piece Duchamp had designed specifically to mock their irrational worship of art. His mindset was in alignment with the Dada art movement, which aimed at being purposefully nonsensical. “It was the representation of the exact opposite of everything that art stood for.”- Little Art Talks.
Was I falling into Duchamp’s trap?
It didn’t matter; I was tired of being bullied by contemporary art anyway.
Maybe this dung nugget isn’t meant to be viewed on its own, but as part of a bigger whole of the exhibition. The exhibition displayed countless contemporary pieces, seemingly all disconnected from one another, within the same context- Mobility. There were pieces mimicking clockworks for mobility of time, flickering candles for the mobility of light, shoes with wood soles for the mobility of walking, a self-beating drum for the mobility of sound, wooden and paper airplane installations for the mobility of flight, photographs of exhausted children washing into shore on raggedy lifeboats for the mobility of refugees. Taken in this context, the feces can stand for the mobility of food through the intestines. The mobility of our bodies.
Further research on Delvoye’s work revealed that this is not human poop: it’s machine poop! The feces we see packed in the translucent box is only one of many produced by his famous art installation, Cloaca in 2000. The machine, “fed” twice a day, is equipped with glass containers which allow viewers to follow the digestion process from beginning to end (see header image).
Even still, reaching this conclusion has brought me no satisfaction, no enlightenment. To content myself, I’ve created a deeper and more whimsical “meaning” for this turd.
Perhaps, in the end, the art of Delvoye’s Cloaca Faeces lies in the subjective reaction of each viewer. It could be establishing that, in a setting out of the ordinary, an object as natural as excrement can elicit confusion, disorder, or humor.
I considered myself an easy going, laid back person…until this encounter. After reflecting on my own reaction from the work, however, I realized that I can actually be rather orderly and rigid, which in turn makes me sensitively fragile to any disturbance in my sense of structure. It’s astounding that this piece, of all things, revealed my limited comfort zone and most profound tendencies.
Confession: I spent an absurd amount of time searching “synonyms for poop” on the Internet.
Title credits: Sophie Aubry
Header image: Wim Delvoye, Cloaca Machine (2000)