The phrase “smelling his or her own farts” is used to describe someone who is overindulgent with their own concept, to the detriment of their work as a whole. As I sit down to write about the use of excrement in design for the second week in a row, I’m struck with the horrifying possibility that people have embraced that idea in the most literal way possible. At the Salone Del Mobile last week a design studio introduced a brick wall adorned with toilet paper, an homage to the practice of pooping outside. At that same exhibition students with Design Academy Eindhoven showcased Eat Shit, the inaugural program of the Academy’s Food Non Food department.
Marijie Vogelzand Eats Shit
They fed people shit-shaped food. They put mummified shit on display. There was a toilet adorned with flowers. They swabbed people’s cell phones and cultured them so one could learn how many feces-related life forms were living there (this stunt is a cliche in the journalism field; you can find hundreds of news reports about people who took similar swabbings in local restaurants). There’s a picture of a guy squatting on a toilet. There were a few thousand words of critical essays about feces. I linked a few articles above that go into greater detail, but you can learn everything you need to know about the program by looking at the smirking expressions of people wearing shit-shaped backpacks. They’re being precious, trying to get a rise out of people in the most base way imaginable.
I have to admit that the essays are inspiring to me as a writer because I feel that with enough practice I can justify anything I put my mind to. From an essay by Thomas Widdershoven:
But ‘Eat Shit’ also embraces subjects like resources and waste. Shit – technically speaking – is a valuable resource that sits at the beginning and end of the food chain. But shit can also be the discards created by a contemporary fast and consumer lifestyle – discards that have a devastating effect on the natural environment.
There was a scent diffuser which had the following concept behind it:
The students claimed that there are elements of the scent of faeces that are appealing once the initial feelings of disgust are swept aside.
To test out this theory before embarking on the Milan project, they surveyed the favourite foods of the school’s tutors and presented them with platefuls of excrement from a producer who had recently eaten the cuisine, with positive results.
There were a few projects there that critics tried shoehorning into the shit narrative. Olivier van Herpt’s 3D ceramic printer made an appearance. We wrote about van Herpt before; his brilliant techy works look austere and clean. Widdershoven is fascinated by van Herpt’s work with clay from an entirely different angle, saying that shaping clay is an intensely personal relationship, much like the relationship between a human being and their poo. Both are a creative process, he says (reaching). This leaves me with the wonderful mental image of someone fondling a pile of excrement on a potter’s wheel. And now you have that mental image, too. I refuse to suffer alone.
The association between the concept and the objects showcased is unfortunate. There are outliers here that are interesting on their own, but are changed, tainted or overshadowed by the theme. Popcorn Monsoon by Jolene Carlier is a lot of fun to watch, but I wish it didn’t make me think of a large intestine. Laura Van Os came up with a clever and eco-friendly way to use dried rhubarb to attack parasites that feed on bees. It looked powdery and colorful in slender test tubes, but when the rest of the show is sniggering like a six-year-old at recess over putting mummified shit on display, I assumed Van Os’ project was a picture of that and not the engaging idea it actually was.
For people who don’t think the Design Academy’s concept is overly-precious and juvenile, I’d direct them to this important piece of literature. Give it a few years and maybe the prurient aristocratic excesses of the art and design world will manifest in a stage performance of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
Bill Rodgers is a Contributing Writer at CFile.
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