Artful Green Dot

Manufactured Feces

Posted in Uncategorized by Audrey Tran on April 10, 2009


You could go see this art piece, but it  provokes thought even without a visit to the gallery that houses this shit manufacturing machine.   I came across Cloaca No. 5  first from an entry on The World’s Fair of   They did a pretty good job of writing about this piece by Belgium artist, Wim Delvoye, especially with the use of Delvoye’s words:

“I wanted to make something that is absurdly unnecessary… I don’t think this biologically correct machine belongs in a science museum. I don’t have that ego. I’m not helping sick people. I’m practically useless in society.”

The quote works well because it addresses one of the questions I think a viewer would have right away: WHY WOULD ANYONE MAKE A SHITTING MACHINE?

For the artist, I believe it has something to do with pointing out  the obvious futility of the object. When I think of this piece and how food goes in one end as shit comes out the other, I keep on seeing a reflection of people and of all living things that create waste.

What a way to get to a conversation on existentialism….

Thomas Hirshmann’s article also filled in some great insight that I didn’t  get out of the World’s Fair post.  He brought attention to the kind of food that goes into the machine, and for me, new ideas arise out of considering just that.  “When it was up at the New Museum in New York, the machine was fed gourmet meals from the city’s celebrity chefs,” wrote Hirshmann in the article.  Reminds me of some of the thoughts I have had during meals sometimes (Jeez, that makes me sound like a nut).  At times, I can’t help but think that the food I just overpaid for will end up leaving me and become another nothing.  As the calories get used up and I just end up requiring more food, it somehow all ends up as useless as Cloaca No. 5 .

I don’t enjoy the signs posted behind the Cloaca machines, the ones that reference recognizable logos like Channel or Arm & Hammer.  To me, they point to consumerism in  such a deliberate, didactic move. To me, the viewer could have made those connections without the help of a sign to explain all.

The piece also has a way of reflecting back on art objects, as many fecal mattered art pieces tend to do.  Ever since Piero Manzoni canned his own feces and sold them for their weight in gold around 1961, the art world has been conscious of the an impractical  often bootless nature that accompanies art making.  For many, this is just a form of mockery.  For me, it’s that plus a way of getting to discussions on the metaphysics of communication through art.

4 Responses

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  1. thehanalog said, on April 10, 2009 at 3:13 PM

    great article! i’d love to see the machine at work!

    i agree with you on the signage criticism. interpreting this piece is so much more interesting than having it’s concept be spoonfed (shovel-fed?) to you. more importantly, i grapple with many more – and more extensive – readings of it without the signage!

    i guess the artist really wanted his piece to speak to consumerism, though. (after all, he titled it “Cloaca No. 5,” echoing Channel No. 5…) so i guess we’ll have to shelve the debate as a matter of personal preference.

    on another note, though, your article prompted me to think abotu andres serrano’s “shit” show again (at yvon lambert gallery last year). if you didn’t see it, the exhibition was of large scale, highly detailed close-up photographs of the artist’s (and his wife’s) shit… all set up against nauseatingly saccharine candy-colored backgrounds (like this, for example:

    it spoke to the art world, yes. but i felt that it also spoke to politics. before the show opened, serrano did some serious advertising/hype-raising work by plastering the city with mysterious stickers that read “SHIT IS COMING”—an act of poetic terrorism, in a way.

    for me personally, the “shit” show related as much to the state of the contemporary art world as it did to the presidential race, to war, to our downward-spiraling economy—and serrano achieved that without explicit signage.

  2. harrisonthethird said, on April 16, 2009 at 4:39 AM

    Great review, Audrey.
    I feel like Delvoye’s quotes are as much of a liability as the signage you mentioned. When artists feel anxious about their place in the world, it makes things interesting, and it makes interesting things, like shitting machines. But when he talks about how his life is meaningless, it’s like he’s given up–he’s complacently worthless. Without Delvoye’s words, the machine is elegant and cheeky.

    While Delvoye has a cleverly absurd machine to justify his existence (in spite of himself,) the audience isn’t so lucky–we don’t produce anything except the dollars that commodify the world around us and the demand that sustains a much larger shitting machine.

  3. Danny said, on April 19, 2009 at 10:40 PM

    SKI-BA-BOP-BA-DOP-BOP! (Two different kinds of “scat,” I know, but I couldn’t help myself.)

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