This is an addendum to my last post and is just a light riff on the Duchamp theme. Although I don’t particularly enjoy Fountain, both within and apart from this course, it always provokes an emotional response and is no doubt a fair jumping-off point for thinking about art’s evolution over time.
It’s 2017, and if Duchamp wanted to “put art back in the service of the mind”, I’d say he more than accomplished his mission. One hundred years after his urinal debut, contemporary art can be beautiful, but more often it’s something—anything—else entirely.
I’m not the first to say it, but we live in an image-saturated age of over-information. We are being bombarded with text (all kinds) from all sides at all times, and it’s probably for expediency’s sake that many of us have reverted to basic, occasionally vulgar, modes of communication. In a fairly short time, handwritten letters became emails became personal text messages became group threads became micro-blogging (aka Twitter or Instagram) for an expanded audience. “Readymades” in their own right, emojis and emoticons are an extension of this quest for speed and convenience in our communication, but they also lend themselves to new kinds of irony and clever metaphorical wordplay. Contemporary art has a lot to say about these cultural trends and, ultimately, so do I, although I rarely do anything with that impulse.
But Fountain got me thinking, naturally or not, about human waste, and how a ballsy, self-assuming artiste version of myself might respond to that work. A big lump of excrement appeared in my mind’s eye, as if to say: Here’s what I really think about Duchamp’s most iconic “readymade.”
You’re a student of art now, a deeper, more mature voice in my head reminded me, and that comes with some responsibility. Take that pile of crap and think it through. I was in the shower, my mind was wandering, and I saw the black shadow of my iPhone in a steamy corner of the bathroom. Then it hit me: the “pile of poo” emoji!
If, as the title suggests, Duchamp’s urinal is a metaphor for a fountain, then a piece composed of three “piles of poo” and entitled “Three Wishes” (see sketch above)— seems a fitting, or at least viable, response.
Then again, an artist’s job is to be authentic, and I’ve never liked toilet humour or excrement art, or art that seems to prioritise shock value over, well, actual value. I do, however, like the “pile of poo” emoji partly because it has a two eyes and a toothy grin, partly because having a baby gave me my first opportunities to actually use this emoji in WhatsApp conversations with distant mother friends and so I have a sentimental relationship with it, but mostly because it’s the most inoffensive poo I’ve ever known. (I respect Duchamp and wouldn’t want to offend him.) I think he might even appreciate a little tongue-in-cheek, 2017-style dialogue with his most famous work on the occasion of its centennial anniversary.
#funwithfountain #threewishes #pileofcrap #fountaincentennial #thisisart #waitisthisart
(A purely parenthetical detail: I live in Paris, a city where some folks express their contempt for the current president by sticking his printed image in real, undisposed-of piles of dog poo in the streets. I mention this anecdotally as it shocks and makes me “LOL” every time I come across it—provided I haven’t stepped into it—and repeated exposure to this specific form of creative resistance has deeply influenced the rebel in me.)