[Dixielandjazz] Yes, but is it art? - Redux

Mike Durham mikedurham_jazz at hotmail.com
Tue Dec 23 16:44:06 PST 2003

Well, at least we don't call them restrooms or bathrooms!!

A Merry British Christmas to one and all from Mike Durham.

>From: Stephen Barbone <barbonestreet at earthlink.net>
>Reply-To: barbonestreet at earthlink.net
>To: Dixieland Jazz Mailing List <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
>Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Yes, but is it art? - Redux
>Date: Tue, 23 Dec 2003 10:02:59 -0500
>NOT OKOM, but a funny read with MANY parallels. If you get through it,
>you mind will be changed about that traditional British reserve, Suggest
>John Farrell, Dingo, Pat Ladd, Andy Ling, et al check this out and give
>us a report on this artistic experience. ;-)
>Steve Barbone
>December 23, 2003 - Reprinted in The NY Times
>LONDON JOURNAL  Blushing While You're Flushing, and All for Art's Sake
>      LONDON, Dec. 22 ? "Is this the toilet? I've been hearing about it,"
>the young man with the half-smoked cigarette said eagerly, bounding down
>the street. But when he got to the actual bathroom ? encased in a
>one-way mirror, so that the people inside can see out, but the people
>outside cannot see in ? he had a sudden, crippling attack of nerves.
>"Not me!" he announced with unexpected vehemence, as if an invisible
>force was preparing to lasso him and drag him through the bathroom door.
>A deep red blush began to crawl across his face. "I'm not embarrassed,"
>he said. "It's just not my sort of thing." Then he scurried away.
>It has been in place for only a few weeks, but "Don't Miss a Sec.," a
>contemporary art installation that is in essence a mirrored outhouse on
>a construction site near the Thames, has been raising heated, even
>violent emotions. While it may provide a fine opportunity to indulge in
>voyeurism and exhibitionism at the same time ? like going to the
>bathroom in the bushes, if the bushes were in the middle of the street ?
>in reality the experience is proving prohibitively unnerving to some.
>"I'd worry that there's an act of subterfuge," said Martin Dukes, who
>found that he was, frankly, too scared to go into the bathroom. "You
>flush the loo and suddenly the mirror is reversed, and everyone can see
>in." He decided against it.
>Matthew Southwell, another passer-by, called the toilet "disturbing."
>Trying to explain the public's squeamishness, he suggested that it had
>to do with what he called "British reticence about toilet behavior," a
>trait that is neatly undercut, he added, by the country's robust
>attitude toward the humorous implications of the bathroom.
>"Well, it's a weird split personality thing," Mr. Southwell said. "You
>don't want anyone to know you are going to the toilet, but you crack
>jokes about it all the time."
>As conceived by the artist, Monica Bonvicini, the piece was not meant to
>be a Rorschach test for people's attitudes toward toilets, but a comment
>on the contemporary art scene as well as a way "to subvert the
>hierarchical nature of modernist architecture," said Matt Watkins, the
>creative director of Broadway Projects, the sponsor of "Don't Miss a
>The title refers to the chattering and gossiping that goes on at art
>openings. Ms. Bonvicini imagined what it would be like to be able to use
>the bathroom during an opening, while not having to miss out on
>anything. To further her vision, she constructed a rectangular box whose
>walls are the sort of thick mirrored glass used on limousines or in
>police interview rooms.
>Inside, Ms. Bonvicini's piece has a simple prison-issue toilet and sink
>that, when used, inspire a strangely peaceful notion that you are
>separate from the world, but part of it, too. With your pants off.
>"When you use it, it seems like you're sitting in the open air," said
>Vicky Thornton, the project architect for the huge construction site at
>the Chelsea College of Art, where the bathroom has been placed. She
>found the experience unexpectedly liberating. "I didn't feel like I was
>exhibiting myself, but I felt like that's what it would be like if you
>didn't have to wear any clothes," she said.
>In the realm of the weird, the toilet is at the normal end of the
>spectrum in this racy city.
>The Turner Prize, given to a contemporary artist each year by the Tate
>Britain (the gallery is around the corner from the toilet), was earlier
>this month awarded to Grayson Perry, a transvestite sculptor whose vases
>depict bestiality and child abuse and whose photograph while accepting
>the award ? in a frilly, Raggedy-Ann style dress and thick makeup,
>standing next to his proud wife and son ? appeared on most front pages
>the next day. Last week, The Times published a long article about two
>performance artists who put on various costumes (businessman, commando)
>and crawl along the street in central London.
>In this context, there is nothing radical about the one-way-mirrored
>toilet, except for the roiling emotions it provokes.
>Toilets are unquestionably a complicated issue for the British, starting
>with how to describe them. Though such distinctions are falling away,
>the word "toilet" traditionally had lower-class connotations and was
>avoided by others at all costs. Aristocrats preferred the blasé "loo,"
>while the nervous middle classes were instructed that the
>euphemistically elaborate "lavatory" was correct.
>"It's a very personal issue, which is why this glass cubicle, from a
>toileting perspective, is a little bit inhibiting," said Richard
>Chisness, director of the British Toilet Association, which lobbies for
>more and better public bathrooms. Any obvious bathroom on the street has
>the same problem, whether its walls are see-through or not, he said.
>"People don't like to be seen going in and out of a telephone-booth-like
>cubicle," Mr. Chisness said, "because then people know they're going to
>the loo."
>Mr. Chisness is not the world's biggest fan of "Don't Miss a Sec." "I
>didn't see any baby-change facilities there, or facilities for those
>with special needs," he said sternly. But it is better than nothing.
>"Anything that encourages more toilets in more locations ? obviously,
>the B.T.A. welcomes it," he said.
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