Remember that “Piss Christ” guy, Andres Serrano, and the controversy he stirred up back in the 1980s? Well, he was neither the first, nor will he be the last to scoop out the contents of a toilet and call it art. Artists have been doing outrageous and disgusting things to get attention ever since the first cave drawing of a prolapsed bison anus, and there’s probably a guy selling pubic hair dreamcatchers on Etsy this very moment. We simply don’t have the space to be able to show you everyone who’s ever dipped into the scatological toolbox in the course of their artistic pursuits, but here’s a nice, steamy sampling.
If you’re driven by an inner voice to express yourself creatively through the medium of poop, it’s probably safe to say you’re either a ward of the state or you’re trying to make an angry statement about something or other. Kind of like the way Italian artist Piero Manzoni sealed 90 of his own bowel movements in cans in 1961, labeling them all with the logo, “Artist’s &#%@.” The inspiration for this project was Manzoni’s father, who was allegedly known to tell his son that “your work is &#%@.” And then you have Christopher Ofili, who painted a portrait of the Virgin Mary out of elephant dung a few years back. Maybe Ofili didn’t do it out of anger or madness, but it sure drove Rudy Giuliani off the deep end.
You also occasionally have those who employ the medium for reasons that aren’t so readily apparent. For instance, Chinese sculptor Zhu Cheng was commissioned in 2010 to create a replica of the Venus de Milo out of Panda droppings. The man who commissioned him, a wealthy former Swiss ambassador to China, paid out nearly $60,000 to have this task accomplished. There was no political or social motive behind it; the reason given was because of a fascination with the “contrast of the preciousness of pandas and the prodigious amount of waste the creatures produce,” which doesn’t really seem like much of a reason at all.
But among all those who have ever put poop to paper or otherwise wrangled a turd, Belgian artist Wim Delvoye stands alone. For Delvoye doesn’t just use poop to create, he creates the poop.
Ok maybe we should have been clearer about that. Seeing as how there’s a good chance you’re “creating” right now, you might not be all that impressed. What we’re telling you is that Delvoye manufactures poop synthetically.
“Cloaca” is the name Delvoye has given to a series of towering machines, all designed to perform one function and one function alone: the dirty business of the bunghole. After consulting with expert plumbers and gastroenterologists, Delvoye came up with a contraption that could transform food into a very believable facsimile of human crap. You simply drop some food in one end, which then travels along an assembly line with various stations that approximate the human digestive process, and after awhile it will spit out a passable-looking deuce. Then for your convenience the end result is sealed in plastic and emblazoned with a brand logo which looks suspiciously like the one found on Coca Cola bottles. Further infringyness includes Delvoye’s appropriation of the Chiquita banana sticker, Chanel No. 5 and Mr Clean. Some might say that Delvoye’s creations are a pointless waste of time and effort, with no purpose other than to gross out and annoy the public at large. But in fact a diaper company actually offered Delvoye cash money to put his Cloaca machines to good use, believing they would be perfect for product testing. He refused.
Urine would seem to be too difficult of a substance to work with to be of much use on most artists’ palettes. It’s mostly water after all, and not likely to leave much of a lasting impression unless you’ve been eating asparagus. The aforementioned Andres “Piss Christ” Serrano got around this by just photographing a blasphemous jarful of the stuff, but that wasn’t terribly imaginative. So, once you’re done asking why, how exactly does one go about creating art with such an unorthodox substance?
British conceptual artist Helen Chadwick overcame the inherent limitations in an imaginative way, and was able to create these beautiful fountains using nothing but the power of her own kidney squirts. Well, for starters at least. What Ms Chadwick did was take a squat in the snow, carve out an area with the hot stream, then make a plaster cast of the results and call them “Piss Flowers.” They have been described as “unique and haunting winter wonderlands” that are reminiscent of “alien cities from a frozen planet, or fungal eruptions beneath the surface of the arctic ice.” It doesn’t appear that Ms Chadwick had much control over what she was creating, but that’s the beauty of the thing we suppose. As far as artistic merit goes, you can be the judge, but there is absolutely no disputing the vast potential of this concept in the area of gag gifts.
Oh, and you know how Picasso had a “Blue Period?” Well, Andy Warhol apparently had something similar, but with whiz. In 1977 he began work on “Oxidations,” an artistic exploration into the reactions between metallic paints and acids. Uric acid happened to be the acid of choice in this experiment. To get the results he wanted, Warhol would lay out a canvas covered in metallic paint, then invite some friends over to unzip and hose it down like the back of a urinal. Through trial and error it was found that a good amount of vitamin B supplements taken beforehand was best, as it caused the copper pigment to oxidize in such a way so as to produce the most “particularly pretty color.”
Playing around with blood isn’t just great for passing the time at boring crime scenes while you’re waiting for the police to give you a ride back to the nervous hospital. It’s also a natural fit for artists looking for a symbolic substance with which to express their rage, angst or what have you. Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton wore a vial of each others’ blood around their necks for Pete’s sake, and who’s more important to the history of artistic expression than those two?
Speaking of Pete, Pete Doherty, the UK’s version of Paris Hilton if Paris Hilton wasn’t very famous and addicted to smack, reportedly tried to reinvent himself last year as an artist. The horse-addled, quasi-musician’s 2012 exhibition “On Blood: A Portrait Of The Artist” featured works made from the “arterial splatter” of his own red stuff forced out the end of a syringe and onto canvas. It was as embarrassing as you’d suppose.
There are some serious artists out there too with a hankerin’ for hemoglobin. Jordan Eagles of New York has been using animal blood for years in his works, which “explore the physical and intangible connections between the body-spirit and the universe.” His stuff actually looks pretty cool from a distance. You have to get up close and realize exactly what it is before the barfing starts.
Which brings us to Washington-based artist Phil Hanson and his masterwork, “Value of Blood.” While working as an x-ray technician, Hanson smuggled home enough bandages (6,000 of them to be exact ) to cover an approximately 4×8 foot area. He then spent the next 5 months drawing enough of his own blood (17 ounces) to paint a gigantic portrait of one of the most hilariously brutal dictators of this or any other era, Kim Jong Il. One would think that the “Dear Leader” might have appreciated an effort like this, being as it may be the most American blood ever spilled as a direct result of his time in power.
You can watch him making the thing here:
And so we’ve come to this. Don’t act surprised; you know there had to be someone out there cranking one off onto a canvas and calling it a landscape. Marcel Duchamp, the French icon of the Dada movement, is best remembered for his “Fountain” sculpture from 1917, which was an upside-down urinal. But after having established himself as one of the most influential avant-garde figures of the 20th century, Duchamp was looking for new ways to be disgusting.
So in 1946, at age 59, Duchamp unveiled an abstract landscape he titled “Paysage Fautif.” That’s “faulty landscape” in French, but he probably should have called it the “salty” landscape, seeing as how it was made entirely from his own splooge. And best of all, that’s exactly how it looks.
When Duchamp choked out a rope of mangurt and declared it a masterpiece, it was believed to be the first time that anyone had ever done something like that outside of a federal penitentiary. It was thought to be “unique within the history of art.” Some might even say it was… wait for it… seminal.
It’s been said that the works of Marcel Duchamp were instrumental in shaping the tastes of 20th century Western art. His iconoclastic approach undoubtedly paved the way for other art styles such as Minimalism, Conceptualism and Pop. And if you’re looking to blame anyone, you can probably point your finger at Duchamp for the existence of Two Girls, One Cup.
E. Reid Ross loves the ladies, and by “ladies” we mean “microwaveable burritos purchased in bulk.” Feel free to friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and check out his supple body of work over on Cracked.com. He and a few pals also blaspheme old comics at RealToyGun.com.