__ For archeologists, the presence or absence of sewers, as well as their efficiency and complexity, are elements that help determine the level of development of ancient societies. What could an analysis of our system tell about our society? The Western world is systematically wasting an unmeasurable quantity of clean fresh water to flush into dispersion their biological waste.
Nobody, including government institutions, seems to be aware that other less wasteful and overall more convenient solutions are available.
Is our squeamishness the cause of a systematic waste management failure? Or the cause lies at a deeper level in a lack of social discourse and a hypocritical distancing from the body and its functions? Furthermore, what do artists say about the issue? Can the contemporary bio-waste management issue be taken on by today’s artistic discourse? Is there a place for bodily excretion in Art?
Human Excreta are indeed being used to produce Art. Art has been looking at excreta for their symbolic meanings, for their power to shock and raise eyebrows as well as controversies.
The most reverent example of this sort, in the history of contemporary Art, remains the Artist’s Shit (in Italian, Merda d’artista), artwork created by Piero Manzoni in 1961. The work consists of 90 tin cans, each reportedly filled with 30 grams of feces. The label of the can reads: “Artist’s Shit/Contents 30 gr net/Freshly preserved/Produced and tinned in May 1961”. The true content of the cans is unknown. Friends close to Manzoni have claimed that the cans are filled with plaster. Since opening one of the can would mean destroying the art-work and its value, no attempt has been made to ascertain the nature of the cans’ content. Many have been the critical assessment of this somewhat controversial work of art, none can deny the sarcastic tint of the piece. Enrico Baj, a friend of the artist, has described the cans as “an act of defiant mockery of the art world, artists, and art criticism”.
In a panorama where artists have been engaging with human waste solely to create sensation and disarray, the work of Joep Van Lieshout is an interesting and isolated exception.
Joep Van Lieshout rose to fame in the mid-nineties with his extraordinary re-interpretation of the mobile home, which he used to reflect on the themes of autonomy and autarky, and the relation between the person and the institutional power, as well as the dependence of the individual on society.
Since then Van Lieshout has become one of the most exhibited and controversial among contemporary Dutch artists.
Driven by the idea that Art should be part of people’s lives and of the world we live in, he has often confronted himself in reinterpreting the shape and the function of homes and furniture, elements which are present in the daily life of any individual.
Another element that has always been present in Van Lieshout practice is the interest for complex mechanisms and especially for the machine that is the human body. Famous are his extrapolation of human organs which are magnified so that they can be explored, admired in their complexity and sometimes even inhabited.
In Lieshout’s view, the human body can be understood as a complex system for managing and recycling waste material through the processes of digestion and excretion.
The artist has been fascinated by the themes of survival and self-sufficiency and consistently exploring parallel, possible worlds that combine utopistic and dystopian elements, it seems natural that Joep Van Lieshout became interested in the composting toilet solution. The composting toilet solution touches upon most of these themes. A composting toilet is a complex system that mirrors the excretion and digestion mechanism of the human body. The material is received, processed and then released back into the natural world in the form of soil or energy.
The first work dealing with the theme, titled Composttoilet, dates back to the year 2000. Composttoilet expresses the similarity between the compost toilet system and the human organism. It consists of an elongated anus funnel, which sucks excreta from the rear-end and deposits them in a compost canister through the curved ring of the toilet.
The Technocrat is another artwork that creates a total system composed of three parts: The Feeder, The Alcoholator, and the Total Faecal Solution, which transforms their feces into biogas. Total Faecal Solution is further separated in an array of possible solutions: Large Biodigester, Biodigester, Septic Tank and Autocomposter (all 2003).
Uritory is a unisex waste solution thought for liquid waste. The toilet bowl is positioned at a specific angle making the amenity suitable for both men and women. Uritory is connected to a small biogas installation that recycles the waste material into valuable energy.
Many other works on this theme have been created by Atelier Van Lieshout. The last born of this series of works is Excremetus Megalomanusm, which Transnatural has the privilege to exhibit at the Dutch Design Week 2019. The new work is so described by its creator: “Throne, watchtower, pulpit, pot, cocoon, module, spaceship, mutating virus, living organism, arthropod, liberté, égalité, fraternité, peace, pis, everything your heart desires, urinal, vomatorium, ejaculatorium, excrementorium, toilet of toilets, compost to the people.”
Written by Stephanie Busuito