Tag Archives: Wim Delvoye

A Tasmanian Toilet Tale

(Dear Readers.  Rather than take the six-week hiatus I had planned I have decided to share some experiences from my Pacific Rim odyssey.  While not related to the theme of this blog–working vacations–I hope you find them fun to read.  Enjoy.)
The Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, capital of the Australian state of Tasmania, is an architectural gem–a glass and granite structure hanging over the Derwent River just a few miles from downtown. It has been called a “must-see” by Lonely Planet and is a top-rated attraction on Trip Advisor.  Based on this lofty praise, we just had to give it a go.
The collection is, to say the least, uber-experimental, and the museum’s goal is to  challenge and upend your comfortable notion of exactly what constitutes art.  I was okay with the tattooed pigs and the cement mixer made of stained glass, but I have to say I started to lose it when I entered a room containing the jewel of the show, an installation called Cloaca (Latin for sewer or toilet) by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye.
Cloaca is a giant Rube Goldberg contraption built to model the human digestive system. Museum staff shove junk food, such as burgers and fries, into the end of the machine that looks like a garbage disposal.  The food is chopped into small bits and is gravity fed into a washing machine-like component filled with stomach acid that spins and churns the pulp.  From there it travels through a set of curved PVC pipes containing digestive bacteria that break down the particles  even further. Finally, about one hour after “eating,” Cloaca exudes big piles of shit onto the floor through a round hole in its bottom–real, honest-to-god, lifelike brown turds that are for sale in the gift shop right next to rolls of toilet paper emblazoned  with the artist’s name on each sheet.
About now you may be scratching your head saying “Huh!”  But Delvoye has anticipated this and is ready for you. The show contains a 30-minute video entitled, appropriately enough, “Is This Shit Art?”   There is a serious analysis by Christie staff on why Cloaca’s shit is a smart artistic purchase and should increase in value–after all, unless the machine gets diarrhea there is only a limited amount of product.  The video also includes a group of New York/London art cognoscenti explaining to bewildered museum attendees, in lofty language, the visionary nature of Delvoye’s work.
Count me among the bewildered.