ISSN : 2266-6060

Toilet graffiti revisited

Our guests: Morten Nissen et Kristian H. Kofod

Copenhagen, march 2020.

Toilet writing is not what is used to be: anonymous messages to the world – political, humorous, sexual, philosophical food for thought. Now, tags carry only names as their message. And even these are encrypted, for a very few to read. The ultimate in bubble communication, a chamber of mirrors reflecting only private symbols of identity. Still, one wonders how comparable is this to our own academic writing, reflecting a need to be seen and acknowledged within a safely secluded community.
The space of the toilet keeps it ugly. This is the punk of graffiti, reduced to its shadow. With their public beauty, graffiti signatures would boast the courage of outlaw street art. Enigmatic ‘pieces’ suggested mythic utopian communities, rumors of heroes rejecting the commercial art scene they would have otherwise easily ruled. But here, the privacy of transgression seems to affirm itself as a regression. The involuntary cry for help, or for the bare right to be seen, materializes as a childish mess. Grow up, clean up!
Yet, perhaps this is a work of art after all, only of a different genre: A more total experience. The experience of the toilet visitor is one of being engulfed. Why do I find myself in this crowd of ugly, impenetrable private enclosures, doing my own private thing? Self-sufficient identity reeks of shit and threatens to overwhelm us all – and I am taking part in it. My repulsion is directed at my own identity mirrored as alien, metaphorically and materially ejected from my body. The crafting of this experience, this reflection, this urge to escape from my self, is a provocative, even violent work of art. It imposes a timely Verfremdung (exotization) to counter the Entfremdung (alienation) of being just another Kilroy who was nothing but simply here.
At least, the cataloguing we are suggesting here reframes it as a “ready-made” artwork. Marcel Duchamp’s (or was it Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s) “Fountain” elevated a pissoir to art by placing it at an exhibition space. Here, in these words, the artwork of the space itself is recognized, displaced to the odorless meta-space whose publics are made of countless private screens.
That is, if anyone reads it beyond the tags we hereby urinate onto the territory of Scriptopolis.