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LOST & FOUND

Lost & found are series of photographs of urinals and male hairs which were found in them. Besides printed photographs exhibition installation contained also found hairs. Exhibition  was held in Galerija v izložbi in Kranj, 2007.

Naslov / Title: Lost & found I

Lokacija / Exhibition space: Galerija v izložbi

Datum / Date: 26. 2. – 14. 4. 2007

Produkcija / Production: KUD Modri krog (predhodnik Zavoda Gulag)

Producent / Producer: Jana Putrle Srdić

Pomoč in svetovanje / Support: Iztok Bobić

Foto / Photo: Simon Kuhar

 

Naslov / Title: Lost & found II

Lokacija / Exhibition space: Galerija zavoda za kiparstvo

Datum / Date: 7. 12. 2010. – 7. 1. 2011

Produkcija: Zavod za sodobne umetnosti in kulture Gulag

Koprodukcija / Co-production: Zavod za kiparstvo

Spremno besedilo / Text / Text: Petja Grafenauer

Producent / Producer: Jana Putrle Srdić, Petra Čučulovič

Izdelava medaljonov / Making of coins: Gio oblikovanje Klemen Jeraša s.p

Foto / Photo: Sunčan Stone, Zoran Srdić Janežič (medalions)

 

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As regards its contents the cycle Lost & found is indirectly linked to the urinals that have found their place in the history of art.[1] The cycle was conceived as an exhibition of photographs of urinals to which the body hair found on them was attached. The exhibition presented nine digitally manipulated photographs of urinals from 2006 and 2007, at the moment before I removed the body hair from them. This explains the title: Lost & found draws attention to the body hairs which used to be on a body, fell from it, were on the urinals until I found them, photographed them and placed them in Petri dishes that I placed on the individual photograph.[2] The photograph always shows two images – the chosen urinal and the broader view of the location which might include additional urinals. The photograph as a medium establishes a certain distance from the treated object, while its aestheticization (design) additionally erases the documentary view of it.[3] The photographs from the cycle Lost & found are not aesthetically neutral, they intend to function ‘pleasantly’ and attract the gaze; just like the inscriptions on them, the meaning of which is not truly important. The aesthetic photographs could be anything: an advert for ceramic tiles, interior fittings, it is hard to decipher from them that they are a document of a ‘performative’ statement or merely photographs of urinals in toilets where body hairs were captured.[4] The essence of the photograph in the Lost & found project is– apart from attracting the gaze – mainly to pass on the information as to where the body hair was found, with which they can be returned into the brutal existence.

With the advance in civilisation the need for organising the surroundings appeared. When this happened certain bodily functions ceased to exist in their primary meaning. If urinating used to, in the distant past, include the function of recognising the state of the body and marking the territory, this function disappeared with the development of mankind, it became alien and discomforting.[5] Urinating is linked to the body and cannot, while the body is secreting, be established as disgusting. The attitude to one’s own secretion is not the same as that to somebody else’s, for the latter also includes an unknown foreign body.[6] The secretion becomes disgusting once it is separated from the body and in a modern toilet it takes a mere moment for it to disappear from the visual field and from the consciousness.[7] Regardless of the fact that the photographs of the Lost & found urinals are aesthetical and distanced from the viewer, we cannot ignore the fact that the entire work is scatological. We need to pose the question as to whether a urinal as an object is scatological. The greatest controversy of Duchamp’s Fountain can be found in its level of scatology. The vulgarity connected to secretion is a sign of the difference between the orderliness of urban centres, which hide its secretion, and the non-orderliness and brutality of the peripheral locations, where the attitude towards secretion might be more revealed. However, secretion is a taboo in both cases, for it reaches into the intimate field of the male gender. Duchamp must have suspected that art was not merely a created work, but a certain historically defined social agreement. Thus, the Fountain as an object that dealt with social taboos marked the location or process of secretion (because of which it was made in the first place), however the question arises as to what does it denote once its function is taken away from it. With the exception of the photographs of Duchamp’s studio the Fountain was always positioned horizontally. If we look at Duchamp’s lithograph Four Readymades (1964), we can follow Duchamp’s poetical connection of four readymades to the cycle of our seasons; we can also notice the formal position of the outflow opening, which is in the graphic prints drawn at the bottom of the urinal, which could indicate the aforementioned scatology. However, if we combine the (non)functionality with the positioning in time, we can state that the lying down Fountain merely indicates the scatological position that it would assume if it did not become a work of art. Its function was not removed from it, for it did not achieve its function. It was not torn from the context, but placed before it, in its state of innocence. The Fountain is a product waiting to be bought by the consumer, at which the consumer product is always in a state of sterility. Gober’s Urinals are more scatological because they are, even though non-functional, placed into a functional position. If Duchamp’s Fountain still indicated its original use, it had lost its vulgarity through the transition into a work of art. On the contrary, this transition is no longer possible with Gober, even though his urinals were not functional from the very beginning and used merely in the field of a work of art. Their positioning gave them the feeling of functionality with which their use was emphasised. The scatological appearance of Duchamp’s Fountain can be ignored, needs to be taken into account in Gober’s Urinals, and is impossible to miss in the Lost & found. These are public urinals, dirty and with traces of urine. Due to this the formal connection with the urinals found in the world of art is shown merely as an empty signifier. If Duchamp and Gober would never have used or created urinals, they represent the most probable public site for body hair in the Lost & found project.

The body hair is not alien to the photographs of toilets, but the essence of the work of art, in which the photographs pass on the information as regards the location on which the body hair was found. This changes the hierarchy of importance – the body hair that has became visible due to the photographs, is exposed as the essential part. The body hair on the urinals is not more important than the location in which they were found, but they are an important part of the Lost & found. They are the object, while the scatological feature of the location in which they were found has the function of tactility, when the viewer realises that these body hairs are not merely traces of foreign bodies, but also dirty and possibly exhibited in Petri dishes so that diseases are not spread. The body hair itself is a trace of our and foreign bodies and is in the context of secretion more disgusting than merely body hair from a part of the body which indicates transience.[8] On the other hand the body hairs themselves are transient. Once they fall from the body, they start to dry out and reduce in size. The body hairs discovered on the urinals represent a trace of a recently present body. It is predictable to see body hair in public spaces, on urinals, but when body hair moves into the field of art they function as alien.[9] Today we can treat body hair in the field of dichotomy between nature and culture. We can assume that the natural function of the body hair was to protect the skin from the external influences such as cold and mechanical injuries. In the field of culture the demand for an artificially created body without body hair is linked mainly to the female, and consequentially also to the male body.[10] Smooth skin without body hair reminds us of beautiful young bodies: they are aesthetic and clean. By removing the body hair the body becomes denaturalised and loses one of its identities.[11] An unshaven body can appear neglected or brutal. In the case of male bodies the lost and found body hair testifies on the physicality that has become hidden due to our social conventions of dressing. A discovered body hair is implanted into the fields of taboo of the body and gender. Lost & found is not a subversive work merely due to its exchange of the view on body hair through a medium with the actual view of the body hair. It is also subversive in the fact that it reflectively contains violence – it places an intimate presence of unknown foreign bodies into a public space. Thus it is imposed upon the viewer who has to deal with his own prejudices.

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[1]Apart from the similar treatment of urinals the allusion on Duchamp’s Fountain can also be noticed in the texts in which the readymades were in the beginning called lost and found objects.

 

[2] The idea for the cycle Lost & found is linked to the fetishisation of the object. While visiting the Liebighaus museum in Frankfurt on Main I noticed a small bronze sculpture, a reliquary representing a priest. In his small hands he held a very small and narrow glass cylinder with a body hair. The fetishisation of the object is of an ideological nature and in its essence belongs to the field of cultural racism /orientalism – a body hair that belonged to someone else, is equated with the notion of the other, who became the object. In the field of the ideology of cultural racism/orientalism the body hair gains a positive or negative connotation, it becomes sublime or extimated. Or, to paraphrase it, the body hair of the priest or a celebrity becomes sublime through cultural orientalism, while the body hair from a foreign body becomes extimated through cultural racism or cultural xenophobia – in both cases we are dealing with the fetishisation of the object.

 

[3]The aestheticization can sometimes be pushed to the extent that it merely indicates certain recognisable symbols. I wish to show this with a personal example. In a pizza place at the foothills of Šmarna gora the toilets are extremely posh. The doors show two stylised shapes carved in metal: a circle and a trapezoid, which is once wider at the bottom, and once at the top. After seeing the first shape I decided that this is not the men’s toilet and continued to the next door. Taking the shape into account my decision opposed all other code – from the fact that the male restrooms are always closer, to the fact that there were no urinals in the other restroom, which I considered to be rather classy. As I was washing my hands a lady walked into the restroom, we looked at each other in surprise, and then she said that this was the woman’s toilet. I wanted to show her the sign on the door, which showed a slightly wider trapezoid at the bottom when I remembered why the trapezoid with a wider edge on the top seemed feminine (a symbol of the female genitalia).

 

[4]Even at the literal or documentary view it is hard to avoid that an entire cycle can border on fetish in numerous ways. There is even a field of urinal fetish, where people collect data on the usability of urinals through history and discuss and publish photographs of various forms, ages and geographical diversity on forums: e.g. http://www.urinal.net/

 

[5]At the notion of extimacy the thought notion is firstly attached to something close, which is alienated through the process of suppression and returned as something scary.

 

[6]This is why vulgarity is always ascribed to someone else. In the return of one’s own it would be for  instance disgusting if the urinal was blocked and the secretion remained on display.

 

[7]I doubt that secretion in the future will become conscious or will in any other way be recalled into the conscious mind. An important role is played by the individual’s body. If we take a look at an opposite example: environmental awareness is possible only because the body of the individual has been excluded, e.g. separating trash and other visible, but trivial influence of the individual can be applied as an ideology because the body is not present in this process. The body is becoming a burden of the contemporary society, which seeks ways in which it could mask the traces of its physicality and decay. In this context we can expand the statement that the art does not transcend language into art does not transcend the bodily experience – and this is not final, but changes with the development of meanings within societies.

 

[8]The contemporary society tries to avoid transience. The entire advertising imagery raises the desire for eternal youth and a long life.

 

[9]Fountain and Urinal can merely interpretationally be linked to the feeling of discomfort that they cause once the urinals are moved into the gallery, while Lost & found are photographs of urinals that are in public use – the discomfort in this concept always occurs with the move of a common practice into the gallery space, where it becomes unusual/controversial.

 

[10]At the Lost & found exhibition (2007, Galerija v izložbi, Kranj) the works of art encountered the unprepared passersby and turned them into visitors of the exhibition – as a response three photographs of a shaved naked male body were pushed into the shop window. The photographs were A4 format and if the date of production was to be believed they must have belonged to the intruder’s archive. In the second work from the Lost & found cycle (2010/11, Sculpture Association Gallery) the body hair, taken from the urinals, was placed onto gilded coins.

 

[11]Stopping shaving can represent an assertion of one’s identity, and only then a rebellion against the social norms.