Contemporary

Is it ever JUST a kiss?

It was just a regular day of museum visiting at the Beyeler Fondation in Basel, Switzerland. That is, until it wasn’t.

Danielle and I had just finished discussing some works in an exhibition featuring Wolfgang Tillmans’s photography, emerging from the show feeling very serious, very intellectual.

We trotted into the next room on our artsy fartsy high horses. In the following moments, we were knocked clean off our noble steeds. THUD THUD. Dumbfounded.

birdyThe space is large, white, mostly empty. There is a big square mirror propped against the right wall. It doesn’t hang but simply rests on the floor. On the left side of the room I recognize the polished gold surface that belongs to my favorite sculpture, Bird in Space by Brancusi. Right smack dab in the center of the room on the floor, sandwiched between the mirror and sculpture, lay a man and a woman kissing.

We don’t really know what to think.

The kiss is long and slow. I don’t embarrassedly look away like I normally do when I see these sorts of kisses between couples in public.

The man and woman appear to be in their late twenties or thirties. Both have tied back their brown hair in loose buns, some flyaway wisps of hair escape the elastic constraints. They both wear plain pants and shirts.

They move in a perfectly controlled slow motion, methodically shifting between positions of spooning, cradling, hugging, different forms of embrace. All the while they maintain an unbroken eye contact.

I, not usually a great admirer of excessive PDA (public display of affection), was completely mesmerized.

What made this so special? After all, we see people kiss and embrace all the time. Heck, and you sure see a lot more if you’ve been watching Game of Thrones. But these two fully clothed, regular people seared an image in my head, probably forever.

It was done tenderly and with such sincerity. Didn’t feel phony, didn’t present as a set-up. Those two could have been visitors just like everyone else and suddenly plopped down in the center of the gallery and there they were.

tinoWhat we were seeing was a presentation, Kiss (2002), created by Anglo-German artist Tino Sehgal on display at the Fondation Beyeler during a limited time. Sehgal does not call his works “performance” or the participants “performers” because that might suggest viewers don’t play a role in his works, which they defintively do. Instead he calls them “constructed situations” and “interpreters.” His oral instructions and rules are interpreted by male and female artists who can usually sing, dance, and choreograph. The situations he creates are “immaterial and fleeting, the thing that truly matters being the viewer’s experiencing of the situation.” Sehgal gives an insightful talk on his inspiration, thoughts and motivations for creating Kiss which I link here.

Once Danielle and I were finished dusting ourselves off from our metaphorical fall and processed the situation as an art piece, we calmed down. We wearily re-mounted our high horses and started to analyze and discuss.

This act breached the boundary between performance and “real life.” Where does one make an exact distinction between the two anyway? The blurred line freaked me out a bit.

What a funky paradox. It feels private and intimate, yet other visitors and I were watching them do their thing safely from within the sanctions of a museum. Besides, this was not real…. right? It was a feeling of internal conflict I had never experienced before.

Danielle and I began to observe the other visitors filing cautiously into the room.

kiss3A teenage brother and sister blundered in. His gaze fell upon the interpreters, the color rushed to the tips of his ears and he twitched a sheepish smile. The siblings retreated to a corner of the room and with body language oozing of insecurity continued to watch in spurts of furtive side-glances. 

A young woman and her hunky beau strode in holding hands. As they registered the situation, they broke apart and perhaps unknowingly distanced themselves. She was very intent on watching the piece while he stood behind her and stole a glance at his watch. Heaved a sigh. 

Another couple -much older this time- hobbled in. They watched the embrace side by side for some time before pulling each other in close. A secret smile spread across her face and her eyes flickered in a way that gave away her nostalgia.

A father and his pre-teen daughter shuffled through the doorway, talking. She was facing him and saying something when he first discreetly spied the interpreters and made the decision to keep a fluid walking pace. She didn’t look around the room as they crossed, her eyes fixated on him the whole time. They disappeared in the other doorway.

Funny how a performance can unveil so much about its audience. Some were embarrassed, some drew together while others spread apart. Everyone kept an invisible radius of distance from the couple, and no one stayed long. I didn’t meet the interpreters, but I did meet the visitors in a sense.

It can be refreshing to not know what to make of an artwork at times, to be humbled by it, to have to work to comprehend.

Thank you, Sehgal, for the challenge. I hope I stumble on another equally as curious “situation” again one day.

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A Manchester Masterpiece

Watch Manchester by the Sea. I feel comfortable making such a bold demand because I can confidently place this movie “up there” on a mental list of fascinating films.

If you’re the kind of person that prefers to go into a movie without prior knowledge and opinions to taint your thoughts, then stop right here.

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manchesterAlright, you’ve been warned. Here goes!

Turns out that I am unsure where to start because of all the sub-themes and emotions buried in the layers of this film.

Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a taciturn Bostonian custodian who gives off an initially funky vibe. The first few minutes of the movie are mostly silent: Lee shovels snow, Lee watches TV alone, Lee goes to a local bar, Lee gets in a fist fight at the bar.

What is this guy’s deal?

Lee’s backstory is revealed in the peppering of back-flash snippets during the two-hour stretch. Yeah, I quickly changed my mind about him.

Unrestrained display of raw moments lends this film its poignant emotional punch. There is no shying away from showing agonizingly awkward silences between uncle and nephew or panic attacks induced by frozen meat.

I’m no expert but I think it’s safe to suggest that Michelle Williams qualifies for an Oscar nomination. The scene in which she encounters Lee near a general store parking lot left me speechless.

screenshot-2017-01-04-17-01-21At several points in the film, Lee is shown driving quietly alone. There’s nothing to it. Nothing interesting happens; he just drives and occasionally uses the turn signal.

Such familiar slowness reminds me of French film style. Perhaps this could annoy an impatient viewer, or make the film seem unnecessarily drawn out. But I appreciate these scenes because it makes the story seem more down to earth. Ordinary people don’t simply cut from one location to the other, driving must happen in between. It provides for a more fluid narrative.

So I have to disagree with critic David Eldestein, who calls the film draining (but also worth seeing). The slowness is actually refreshing. Lee still goes through the daily motions of life. And quite frankly it helped me relax between intervals of such intense emotional tension. These moments coupled with Patrick’s comic teenage shenanigans keep the movie fresh and lively despite the dark subject matter.

screenshot-2017-01-04-17-02-41I am far more in sync with the Chicago Sun-Times’s claim, “What a miracle of a film. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan delivers the cinematic equivalent of a great American novel. Casy Affleck and Michelle Williams give career-best performances… If this film receives anything fewer than 10 Oscar nominations, it’s an injustice.”

Again with the French film style, the movie ends with an indefinite resolution. Gosh, everything about this movie is frustrating yet genius at once.

I juggle with my interpretations of some characters- Lee, Randi, and Patrick in particular. I was so quick to make judgement calls about them. He’s insensitive, she’s uptight. The film progressed to unravel their stories that shattered by initial judgements. I was proven gravely wrong about each character with each new bit of information revealed about them. I took this is a lesson I should apply beyond the movie.

I think I’ve decided on the “meaning” of this film; but I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow, and then change my mind again the day after that.

screenshot-2017-01-04-17-01-21This is exactly what constitutes a masterpiece though. It sticks with you long after you’re no longer in its presence.

So please, in case I have not made myself clear: watch. the. movie.

 

The Wonders of Vesta Minor

Vesta Minor crawls with dinosaur life forms, bulbous plants oozing with jelly consistency, fast growing fungi, massive fish with dragonfly wings. You know, just the usual.

screenshot-2017-01-03-00-30-21Scavengers is the most impressive animation I have come across in a long time. The eight minute clip featuring alien life forms and fantasy landscapes was released this Christmas Eve. The clip immerses viewers into an other-worldly (heh, literally) experience and introduces an entire cast of 2D and 3D animators.

Although many artists worked on the animation for Scavengers, at the core it remains the brainchild of Charles Huetter and Joseph Bennet. The two wrote, directed, animated, and created background art for the piece.

screenshot-2017-01-03-00-32-12screenshot-2017-01-03-00-32-45My favorite scene (2:00): a mushy yellowish egg is slit open. The severed egg reveals a plush, fleshy blue interior. Nestled inside a crevice of the lush aqua womb lies a naked alien form in fetal position. He awakens, blinks, stares. He climbs out of his nest and navigates the slippery surface. His body begins to shrivel and wither as he ages. He tugs on a few juicy levers, sighs, hoists his fragile body back into a crevice, shuts his eyes. End scene.

The Vesta explorers’ mission is never resolved in the film. The animation closes with a sudden shift to a city scene brimming with pigeons, construction workers, old men milling about, a hipster on a bike, dogs on their daily walks, baby strollers.

Although I am unsure of what the purpose for this sudden shift really was, I can sure speak to how I interpreted this. After being immersed in the strange wonders of the planet writhing with inexplicable organisms, the abrupt cut to the “real world” allowed me to contemplate how very peculiar life on our own planet is.

This makes me think of a scene from the movie Boyhood when Mason asks his father

“Dad- There is no, like, real magic in the world, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, like, elves and stuff. People just made that up.”

“Well I don’t know. I mean what makes you think that something like elves are more magical than like, like, a whale? You know what I mean? I mean, what if I told you a story about how underneath the ocean there was this giant sea mammal that used sonar and sang songs and it was so big that its heart was the size of a car and you could crawl through the arteries? I mean, you’d think that’s pretty magical right?”

“Yeah. But like, right this second, there’s no, like, elves in the world right?”

“No. Technically, no elves.”

Charles Huetter’s vimeo brims with his personal projects. I join others in finding that his animation resembles that in Adventure Time or the Amazing World of Gumball. I find this especially true for Tonk’s Island, in which he designed all of the backgrounds.

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The Jump

His first LNWC film, The Jump (2013) is probably my favorite of his clips. One of his clips, Every Night, strikes me as similar to work done by animator Joseph Bennet. The hairy creature teetering on gangling legs in a dark forest both repulses me and draws me in. It’s an awkward limbo position between fear and curiosity of the animal.

Bennet’s vimeo clips are consistently more disturbing, uncomfortable, and twisted that Huetter’s. Donna features a (demented) older woman disrupting and abusing animals while cheerfully chattering about nothingness and giggling right along.

screenshot-2017-01-03-00-53-30

Donna

A chubby boy shoots down a sparrow in taKE ME TO THE OTher side. The sparrow proceeds to compliment the human on his aim, chirp a little song, excrete waste, and laugh manically.

Anonymous Mortician begins with an yellow-toothed balding man assuring viewers “I’m not a necrophiliac, is that okay?” Totally normal disclaimer to make before launching into a story. Not concerning at all.

Bedtime Stories with Abraham Willosby Episode I and II hold an unsettling quality as a wealthy elderly fellow shares “bedtime” stories of betrayal and death without resolution, after which he enjoys a hearty laugh.

Generally, I enjoy short films created by multiple animators more than individual clips. I find that the stories serve a purpose beyond crafting a surreal experience that unsettles viewers, as seems to be the point in much of Bennet’s solo work.

Short animation films are definitely underrated. They have a certain punch that a two hour movie could never quite possess. Perhaps its the pressure to emit a meaningful message under a time crunch. Maybe short animation films place the aesthetic quality of picture on equal footing with the plot. Whatever it is, I like it and I wish more of it was readily available and circulated.

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Background from Tonk’s Island

 

Scientific Art or Artsy Science

Jimmy Fike’s botanical photography is a harmonious fusion of science and art that promotes aesthetic modes of utilitarianism. Phew! Mouthful. Now let’s break down my pretentiously worded, esoteric thesis.

Artist Jimmy Fike takes pictures of plants that are both useful and pretty, and it’s awesome.

A brief LA Times article covers the gist of Fike’s work: Fike scavenges in nooks and crannies, ditches and alleys in search of plant specimens which he can photograph. Like any photographer, he carefully positions his models to emphasize desired traits- in this case it could be a leaf of interesting root. In the following months, he digitally illustrates the images to render edible plant parts in color.

Over the years Fike has complied an inclusive catalog of hundreds of photographs and plants and has exhibited some of his work under the title “J.W. Fike’s Photographic Survey of the Wild Edible Botanicals of California.”

Think about how multidisciplinary this work is. Biology, photography, media, ecology, and technology all compressed into a single image. An image that can seem as simple and

california_poppy_small

California Poppy

innocent as that of the California Poppy. What is most interesting is the uncertainty I encounter in how to address this work- is it research work, scientific work, or art work? Or, gasp, all three!? One many wonder whether Fike’s photographs belong in a science text book or an art gallery.

It is precisely this fluid exchange between fields that should be welcomed into the contemporary artistic sphere. These photographs, which are neither entirely aesthetic nor purely scientific, possess the power to reach a wider audience.

Images like these can possibly attract artists and scientists, women and men, children and adults alike. In light of the highly concerning juxtaposition between American politics and the rising threat of climate change, work like Fike’s should be encouraged, circulated, and gaining increasing relevance.

Bringing education and awareness of nature by means of art is genius, if you ask me.

Olafur Eliasson accomplished exactly this in his work Your waste of time. The piece features massive chunks of ice collected from broken fragments of Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The 800-year-old ice blocks are exhibited in a refrigerated space and behave as sculptures; visitors may walk around them and contemplate their age, their size. 

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But it is possible to stretch our frame of reference. When we touch these blocks of ice with our hands, we are not just struck by the chill; we are struck by the world itself. We take time from the glacier by touching it. In a sense, Your waste of time is a ‘waste of time’ because I shipped the ice across the world for it to be on view for a short period of time, after which it melts away – a nanosecond in the life of the glacier. Then there’s another way in which time is wasted: we take away time from the glacier by touching it. Suddenly I make the glacier understood to me, its temporality. It is linked to the time the water took to become ice, a glacier. By touching it, I embody my knowledge by establishing physical contact. And suddenly we understand that we do actually have the capacity to understand the abstract with our senses. Touching time is touching abstraction.” ~ Olafur Eliasson

img_mda111139_1600pxIn few other contexts would the general public in Berlin or New York be able to experience the ancient Icelandic glacier. Again, Eliasson’s installation is not purely art, nor is it purely scientific. A mysterious factor beyond either field- the same one present in Fike’s photographs- lends the piece a surrealistic feel. This factor instills a mix of wonder, awe, oneness with nature. These feelings are crucial to contemporary issues about the rapidly changing earth. Humans must acknowledged this issue, must care enough about this issue to take action.

Works by Fike and Eliasson address the very foundation of concerns like climate change- tackle the roots, if you will. It begins with educating humans, reinstalling a connection to nature, and fostering that bond to blossom into meaningful action. 

Header Image: Western Gooseberry 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poteau Patriotique

Get out of the house and have an experience! -she said. It’ll be fun! -she said.

The “she” is my aunt and the “experience” was this public event in Fribourg, Switzerland that she had helped to organize with the APCd Foundation -a contemporary art gallery. I wasn’t sure I fully understood when she tried to explain to me what the event would be like.

“It’s the installation of a Poteau Patriotique (Patriotic Pole) on August 1st, Switzerland’s Independence Day. There are going to be a few speeches, and food.”

Still completely lost, I nodded my head and smiled, awaiting the next day with a mixture mild amusement and trepidation. What in the world is a Patriotic Pole? Who is giving the speeches? And more importantly, what type of food?

monney1My questions were all answered rather promptly when my mother, little sister, and I pulled into the parking lot across from where the event was to take place. We timidly parted the waters into the sea of unknown suits and flowing dresses with intricate designs. They all had clear plastic cups with glittery fizzing liquids; they all looked at us. Then I looked at us. My mom in a casual top with slacks and formal flats, my sister in a body hugging black dress with classy sandals, me in a t-shirt with jeans and flip flops. I catch sight of my aunt: thank god. She introduces us to her colleagues- Director of the gallery, handshake and smile. Exhibition manager, handshake and smile. Arts director, handshake and smile. Then she points out the creator of the Patriotic Pole, Alain Monney, also known in Switzerland for being a prominent comedian.

My sister and I casually float over to the appetizers. We take turns tasting the different macaron flavors. I try a tuna tomato bite sized tart. Then another, and another. By the time I’ve popped the fifth in my mouth, the crowd hushes. I stop chewing.  

A bald man holds a microphone while the crowd molds a crescent shape in front of him. After clearing his throat and uttering words of introduction, he takes out a scrap of paper from his coat pocket and uncrumples it- the paper is shaking. I watch his moist red face move for a few minutes. He announces he is nervous, as he is in the company of such prominent comedians and skilled speech-givers. I guess he was a comedian. I didn’t laugh.

He hands the microphone to a young woman with a prim pixie cut and small lace bows on her baby blue ballet flats. She is lively and intelligent; as she speaks she motions to the Patriotic Pole. Upon first sight, the Pole looks like a clumsy jigsaw puzzle of sporadically arranged pieces.

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But, as Prim Pixie explains, there is far more thought behind the piece than meets the eye. Monney chose the names of specific villages and cities in Switzerland and arranged them on the pole so that when read phonetically in order, the words on the pole sound like the first words of the Swiss National Anthem. Additionally, each label for the town points accurately towards its direction from the site of the pole.

Pixie hands the mic to Daniel Rausis, a well known Swiss comedian. He moves his hands and fingers in a way that tells you that he sat alone at the lunch tables in high school.

Then, things get weird.

img_2594All of a sudden, a priest emerges from the crowd, Rausis hands him a clear cup with water in it and a small twig of rosemary. The priest approaches the pole, dips the rosemary in the water, and twitches the twig towards the pole, sprinkling it with water.

Did a priest just bless that Patriotic Pole? I have to make a blog post about this.

When the priest retreats, Monney takes the spotlight and leads the crowd in singing the Swiss National Anthem around the pole. My sister and I blunder with the lyrics, mostly moving our mouths to blend in.

At last, the ceremony ends. I had endured a peculiar journey from banana flavored macaroons to nervous comedians to a priest blessing a pole to pretending I could sing the Swiss National Anthem.

If you read my previous post, you know I have had issues in the past with accepting contemporary art.

We are in for Round 2: Coming to terms with the fact that a street pole is art.

I cannot unlearn what Pixie explained. When I drive by next summer and catch sight of the jigsaw puzzle, I will flash back to the macaroons, the bald red man, the blessed rosemary, and mouthing words to the Swiss Anthem. I now associate the pole with my oddly entertaining experience. I also understand the logic behind Monney’s choice of towns and their position on the pole, as well as his choice to mount the pole on August 1st.

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However, had I not been present at this event, this pole would have meant nothing to me. No memories, no association, nothing.

How then, can others who did not attend the event or create memories with the piece, consider the pole a work or art? Perhaps, Swiss people can feel a sense of general bonding, familiarity, belonging to their country, as the pole features towns from all the cantons.

But what about for total strangers? They have no bonds to the pole itself, and no bonds to the country it wishes to praise.

Because this pole caters to only a small audience who can truly connect to it, is it even art at all? Is all art universal? In this case, the pole is a piece that is not universal. Is it still art?

As usual, I end my post with more questions than I began with. I would love to hear your opinion in the comments.

Grande Discussion

Recently I visited the Kunsthaus Zürich Museum to view its newest joint exhibition with the MoMA of New York on Francis Picabia. There, I encountered his amusing quote, “Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction.” I found these words witty and perfectly relatable to spark the following discussion.

I can gush for hours about art’s powerful transcendence of the reality buried within our innermost souls, pouring over with a refreshing effervescence which prods all subjects to enter into deep contemplation about fate, destiny, and sexuality (whatever that means).

Now that’s all fine and dandy- but what is art anyway?

picabia spanish night

Francis Picabia, Spanish Night (1922)

To be completely honest, I’m not sure. I have tried and failed time again to capture a single definition. The best possible answer I have found so far, is to respond with Picabia’s ingenious words. Like his quote delineates, our thoughts –both personal and universal- on what art truly entails change constantly. Heck, I change my definition daily!

But it’s not totally our faults either, right? Correct. Artists seem to be constantly rebelling against the boundaries and definitions of art. Meanwhile, us plebeians are desperately trying to grapple for some scraps of understanding. It’s like riding a rollercoaster with no seatbelt-what is this madness?

We try to capture art’s essence in a box, because that puts us at ease; unfortunately, we can’t Pokémon Go our way through this one. Humans are comfortable when things we cannot fully understand are able to be contained, where we can control them (Side thought: consider why racial or gender based stereotypes exist. Hmmmm). Constantly evolving and morphing with our world, art is practically impossible to pin down. So how are we supposed to define art, if the definition is in constant revision?

To that, I still have no answer (yet), but I’m on it!

Contemporary art is often met with some degree of rejection, disgust, and confusion. Despite how new and uncontrollable this contemporary art movement seems to be, our reaction as a public is nothing new.

Did you know that impressionism was considered unfinished and messy? That’s right! Our treasured Monet Water Lilies were monstrous contemporary splotches of the 1920s. Critics found impressionists’ coverage of average, everyday scenes distasteful. If we wanted to see a garden, well, we could walk right outside and see it for ourselves, couldn’t we? And, sacre bleu, what is this blatant show of brushstrokes, this absurd color palette? Impressionist artists were rejected from exhibiting their works at the famous Salon de Paris. In retaliation, they exhibited at the Salon des Refuses/the Salon of Rejects and even adopted the derogatory term art critic Louis Leroy used to review Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise. He sarcastically wrote in the 1874 April edition of the Le Charivari, “I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it — and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape.”

Fauvism received a similar “welcome.” The art movement’s name also derives from an insult delivered by influential art critic Louis Vauxcelles. Upon viewing the vivid canvases displayed in the same room as a statue by the Renaissance sculptor Donatello at the 1905 Salon D’Automne, he remarked, “Donatello parmi les fauves/ Donatello among the wild beasts.” Later, the artists would proudly espouse the term to define their art movement which explored such “offensive” clashes of color. For goodness sakes Matisse, a woman’s hair is not blue and her skin is not green. Blasphemy!

Although now greatly admired, realism, post-impressionism, cubism, and minimalism all underwent similar receptions at the time. In the words of the almighty Drake, the artists “Started from the bottom now we here.”

With this in mind, I just can’t help feeling that we are in for another cycle of condemning today’s art to the dark abyss of frustration.

Here is a vague solution to finding a definition for art: rather than fight to confine what cannot be controlled, begin with a base definition that you feel fairly entails art. As you encounter pieces not included in your definition- perhaps like this one- gradually reform your definition to become more expansive.

Simple as pie. Well, not really. But pie certainly does sound good right now.

I’ve ended up right where I started, and in the process I’ve asked more questions than I answered. But after all, it is this constant challenge of  searching for an answer that keeps me lively!

I’m curious to know, and encourage you to comment: What is your definition of art, so far?

Header image: Francis Picabia, La Source (1912)

Contemporary Art: The Real Load

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.

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Win Delvoye, Cloaca Faeces (2003) APCd Foundation’s Mobility exhibition

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 duchampand 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)