Puis-je utiliser voter toilette
I once read that we spend a year and a half of our lives on the toilet. The figure seemed remarkable, so I tried to unpick the equation.
Average time spent in toilets
20 minutes (approximate daily toilet usage), x 365 days (in a year), x 81 years (average life span in New Zealand)
= 591,300 minutes
or 9,855 hours
or 411 days
or 1.2 years
Obviously, toilets are important.
Puis-je utiliser voter toilette – French for “may I use your bathroom?” – is a presentation of lavatory-based artworks on Auckland’s Karangahape Road. This move to the loos isn’t without precedence. Since the early 20th century, artists have been fascinated with feces, toilets, and bathroom architecture. There’s Marcel Duchamp’s epoch-defining urinal The Fountain, Yoko Ono’s fluxus orchestra Flushing Toilets, and closer to home Huntawaser’s Kawakawa lavatory. It seems that Puis-je utiliser voter toilette is just the latest incarnation of a potty-orientated art steeped in pedigree.
At the opening, a crowd of a hundred or so gathered. Each of us were offered a map of the participating venues, and evicted from the FUZZYVIBES headquarters: what followed was more of a pub-crawl than an exhibition opening. Word got out that FUZZYVIBES had spent their entire CNZ budget on bar-tabs at participating venues, a generous – and intoxicating – provision for the Street’s small businesses. The crowd began to hold court at an incongruous set of bars: Saloon, Bar Katdamoon (read bark at the moon), Peach Pit and Vegas Girls. All except for liberal arts den Peach Pit, the crowd from FUZZYVIBES represented an imported species, an albeit jolly distortion on the bar’s usual clientele. Though the bar staff seemed happy enough, business was business, and at least for the moment art in the toilet was good business.
One of the night’s standout works (as-well as the shortest-lived), was Liam Pram’s response to Saloon Bar’s Western themed facilities. Past the barrels and stenciled cowboys were two sheets of wall-mounted perspex, in which a fresh hundred-dollar bill was incased. The work was a predestined act of destruction, bait waiting for a sufficiently motivated patron. The Artist had recast patrons as scoundrels and bandits, creating a sense of Western opportunism. Rumor spread later in the evening that someone had punched through the perspex and removed the reward. No surprise. Saloon’s barkeep had claimed that his regular clientele would gouge an eye out for a pint.
The exhibition featured nine artists, and spread over four blocks (almost too-large for this writers patience). Though each of the artists contributions should be noted, albeit briefly.
Dan Nash was first on the trail at Alleluya Cafe. An employee of the cafe, Nash represented the most literal relationship between artist and site. The Artist’s toilet intervention remained faithful to the eclectic, almost haphazard method of displaying objects in Alleluya. Nash mounted a miniature retrospective of sorts, with objects from the last few years culminating in an odd cabinet of curiosity. The highlight: a watercolour of a seal-humanoid in a Mad-Max style arena, a wishy-washy paint-job that leant the Artist’s dystopian grit a quaint edge.
Across the road, and Bella Nina Horlor made an incongruously ‘wholesome’ addition to Lim Chourr’s public bathroom. Horlor’s opening night poetry reading set the scene for an odd mix of manners and debauchery:
“She shat out her entire bowel in a delirious state of total natural artistic enlightenment. The emptiness was fulfilling, nourishing, and cleansing. Yet sweetly painful.”
Horlor’s textual response created a poetic casting of the architecture – and biological function – of Lim Chourr’s facilities.
At the neighboring Mercury Plaza, Eli Orzessek (food court aficionado and writer of Food Alley comparative reviews) had a thoroughly un-archival experience in the bathroom – the work was stolen and returned twice. The addition of scented candles to the schizophrenic illustration of rugby stars Sonny Bill, Victor Vito and Ma’a Nonou was a welcome touch to the otherwise dilapidated surroundings.
Back up to the Pitt Street public bathroom and Mordo Barkley was contending with the City’s cleaners. Last year a car drove straight into this bathroom, giving a sense of the archaic – thoroughly un-archival – state of things. Working in handcrafted multiples, Barkely disavowed the culture of connoisseurship attached to painting, and diligently replaced his canvases as quickly as the City’s cleaners could remove them.
Back across the road at Bar Katdamoon, and Nick Pound had extrapolated the bar’s lunar theme into the adjoining bathrooms. Pound had left a cipher amongst the cheap canvases in the form of a SkyCity employee induction pack. The Artist’s day-job provided a series of lack-luster proverbs (“Smile like you mean it”), lending a surly edge to the geometric abstraction. Nick’s prowess stretched off the canvas as he delivered the evening’s best Karaoke performance, a rendition of Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou.
A couple of doors down at Peach Pit, and those on the trail discovered wall-bound arrangements by Heidi Brickell. Peach Pit’s comparatively emasculate loos were given a beguiling delicacy – who knew a trunk of wood could look so good with a bit of drapery? Brickell’s sparse material assemblages were an oddly serene moment on the trail, a timely reminder that toilets aren’t simply abrupt sites of digestion, but also private enclosures where a patron can gather their thoughts before returning to the table.
The opening night’s climax was Las Vegas. The strip-club was perhaps the toughest ask on the trail… the culture of misogyny representing a tricky-pickle for Imogen Taylor, resident artist in the bathroom. The painter, who makes no illusion of her lesbianism – Express Interview – produced a delicate adornment to the club’s bathroom sink. The reflective canvas stood-in for bathroom mirrors, and provided the largely male clientele with their own cubist vignettes.
I heard that the club’s owner wanted to keep the paintings, he thought they were good for business. I hope so. Taylor’s canvases felt effortlessly molded to New Zealand’s longest running strip-club; a should-be heritage building whose Vegas Time has been ticking since 1972.
And finally, Owen Connors’ ode-to-cruising on a West Street lamp-post – naturally the Street’s inhabitants don’t always wait for private facilities. The wrap-around vinyl bore a racy pattern, midnight cowboys exchanging blow-jobs beneath the lamp light. The Artists homage to cruising culture mounted a phallic opposition to a loo, the long pole providing a set of inverse relationships to the rest of the exhibition.
At the end of the night we all gathered at Connor’s pole and pissed. Our collective down-trow attested to the poles place amongst the toilets. After all, pissing is a way of defining space. Stumbling home at the end of the night, we left a big wet patch beneath the West Street lamp-post, a soggy-spot of overlapping claims.
The exhibition would have been a fairly plain-Jane display of art objects – mostly painting – were it not for the exhibitions dialogue with local-lavatories. Karangahape Road was the essential character of the story. How many other places have evicted both a McDonalds and a Starbucks?
And it turns out that art looks pretty good in the bathroom. Going to the toilet is one of our few moments to sit and think. We even have time to contemplate the few objects in view. No wonder that we spend nearly a year and half of our lives on the toilet.
– Sally Moffat