Monday, April 05, 2004

An Anthropologist From Sedna

I am a square.
The squarest square who ever came out of Squaresville. The Mayor of Squaresville, as it turns out - at least until the next election, where so far, I am still the only candidate. But early days, constituents; early days.
So it is from the perspective of a square that I bring you the latest news from the world of capital 'A' Art; a world that has so far bypassed our little community, with the possible exception of the gaily decorated refrigerator you'll find in Hizzoner's personal quarters. (Which would be a heck of a lot funnier if there hadn't been actual shows depicting just that: refrigerator art. But I digress. As usual.)
This bulletin however, concerns it self with a report from Frankfurt Germany; to whit: Artist Marie Krebs has created a kinetic installation that goes beyond your average artist's attempt to evoke feeling and memory through the medium of paint or sculpture; she's built a machine that allows expectant parents to actually experience what life in the womb would really feel like. (Fill in your own joke about men trying to get back in ever since etc, etc and so on...)
The faux uterus is designed so that art-loving enthusiasts can crawl into the igloo-shaped structure, and be tightly caressed and enfolded by layers of blobby and squidgey materials - rubber, cotton batting and waterballoons - that go far to accurately mimic the real thing. The dimly lit structure is also equipped with a sound system that plays a constant loop of a heartbeat, the gurgling of amniotic fluid, bowel noises and a faraway woman's voice.
Sounds good to me: Mama - I'm home! (I'd crawl into the Frankfurt womb in a New York minute - it'd be hauling me out, or coming up with a damn good reason to encourage my Toronto-based butt to exit that might pose a problem.)
And back here in Squaresville, the only even remotely comparable experience I can relate is going to the Science Centre with the other 6th graders to caress a big metal electrified ball until your hair stands on end; or doing what I did last Friday - visiting the Royal Ontario Museum to view an exhibit that blew the lid off the history of... felt. (I kid you not.)
And that's about it - the beginning and end of art-related excitement in the Big Smoke.
Or so I thought...
But that was before I received the advertising bumph from the Harbourfront Centre - an area in downtown T.O. occupied by a variety of forums for: The Arts, Enjoyment Of.
Within the brochure listing the current plays, dance recitals, various readings and enforced listenings, was the announcement for artist Wim Devoye's Cloaca - New and Improved.
Now this is art!
Cloaca - New and Improved, which you'll be forgiven for confusing with his old Cloaca 2000, are described as 'functional kinetic installations' Delvoye has been working on since the mid-1990's.
For those of you to whom this comes as a complete surprise, or those unemburdened with a dictionary, Cloaca - New and Improved is nothing so much as the human digestive system (mouth-stomach-pancreas-intestines-anus) as represented by a biotechnical series of machines and components that together depict that most human of acts - eating, digesting, then going to the bathroom.
(Just as a point of clarity, Cloaca doesn't actually go to the bathroom; Cloaca just stays right there and performs. No toilet paper, running water, crossword puzzles, or year old copies of The National Enquirer.)
The guiding principle of the machine (or so the backgrounder goes) is to "...duplicate the human digestive system without calling on human characteristcs." The exhibit-accompanying material admonishes us to recognise the "... proletarian aspect of his work [that] cannot be ignored." (Wha...?)
The machine is fed real food and gallery goers will observe Cloaca going through the motions (or movements) as they file past its shiny metal self.
(The scientifically-minded will bepleased to know that all the appropriate enzymes and microbacterial flora have been reproduced to such an exacting extent that everything from indigestion to an acute case of diarrhea has been documented during the... run... of the show.)
Personally, I'd be fascinated to see Cloaca in action... and not just from some sort of pre-school poo poo, pee pee, giggling immaturity - my immaturity knows no bounds - but honestly, where and when else the heck are you ever going to see the like? Empirically the thing is interesting... but to the artist and the artistically-minded, for different reasons than those of your imaginary municipal manager. Talk about taking all the fun out of spending a penny!
From the Powerplant website:
"Cloaca can thus be seen as a cyborg, a hybrid form between man and machine that symbolises the essential, biological human condition: eating and being eaten."
"In this laboratory, nature is simulated and life created: thus the machine acquires godly qualities, the feeding is an offering, and Cloaca (as can be gauged arrestingly from the stairway that must be climbed to feed its mouth) becomes a kind of altar. Despite all its technological properties, Cloaca perhaps belongs to the tradition of still life painting, where food serves to remind us of our own mortality. As a memento mori, Cloaca incorporates life and death, because without care, the machine will die. Delvoye puts food next to shit, life next to death. Cloaca evokes humans in all their biological aspects; it is, however, a living being without purpose, a work of art with 'human needs.'"
"Cloaca is pure materialism and consumerism and, as an art object, embodies capitalism in its purest form. Cloaca symbolises contemporary corporate power; the logo becomes a contemporary escutcheon. Cloaca therefore invites us to contemplate not only what life is about, where it begins and where it ends, but also draws, in one line, a parallel between the contemplation of the somatic, the abject, and the artistic. On the other hand, Cloaca does not compel us to anything: the machine has no purpose, no sex, no opinion; Cloaca is a post-human icon, a sculpture onto which everyone can project his or her convictions: the Medium is the Message. Cloaca is a metaphor for our industrialised society. The artist is not really interested in the work of art 'in itself,' but in its development, evolution, and function. So the work of art becomes a business and vice versa."
Blah, blah, blah. I get it.
Sometimes life is shitty in Squaresville too.

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