Toilet 1944,1965,1997, Toil et Loo
Performance Writing. Writing and Architecture @ BAS Oct 2014
A two-day workshop (by Fay Stevens and Jerome Fletcher) will interrogate the relationship between writing and architecture through discussion, presentation and practice. The enquiry will be wide-ranging, looking at writing on/about/over/in Architecture and using the rich heritage of Bath as a source of what architecture ‘says’. The writing that emerges from this will be multi-modal, i.e. page-based, performative, digital, sonic, sited, visual, or any combination of these. In this respect, the workshop will also be an investigation of the architecture of writing.
The draw of the workshop for me,was to look at writing and architecture in the city of Bath.
I arrived at 10am, linear in approach ,thinking of the smallest room in any habitation…the toilet and of what Beatrice Galilee,Architecture Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, said of Architecture…
“ It’s about architecture creating spaces for performances to happen.”
…and I left at 4pm, after being bombarded with images and concepts , words and non- words, …my mind in ecstatic turmoil.
How can the written word in itself be a performance ? Especially when it is deliberately divorced from the mode of writing for performance?
“Why does Bath have toilets hanging precariously off the back of buildings?”
What is PERFORMATIVE WRITING?
Writing is … EMBODIED (displayed makes it performative)
PERFORMED ( read,sung,whispered or shared or fractured)
SITED (located, ie doorway to pass thru or on the floor)
MATERIAL( Song Dong on water,flour or stone affects it CONTEXTUAL)
Modes of writing are PERFORMANCE, VISUAL ART, DIGITAL, INSTALLED-SITED,PAGE BASED or SONIC.
How is ARCHITECTURE related?
There are the structure of the words as found in PALINDROMES, the LEXICON OF PLACE (words with places in the background) and TAGGING( PIECING and SYMBOLIC EXCHANGE).
There is the INVERSE ARCHITECTURE that is DESCRIPTIVE METADATA/PRESCRIPTIVE,
the use of CONTROLLED VOCABULARIES (jargon) and STANDARDISED WAYS OF DESCRIBING.
And most important to the EVENT, is the Documentation of the event, to capture the moments.
With such thoughts and concepts swirling about, we set out the next day to put together work for an exhibition.
The Performance Writing & Architecture Exhibition @ The Roper Gallery
A group of young visitors to the exhibition posed the question to our curator, Fay :
“Why there are toilets in the exhibition and are they Art?”
The answer to the second part, “Are the toilets art ?” is left entirely to the viewer.
The ability to reach inside oneself to find artistic expression came perhaps a little too simply, with the self-imposed pressure to exhibit a thought process, to have a product and to be thought of, as productive.
I present , a group of thoughts/toilets as a process, not art .
Winston Churchill who was a life-long user stopped using his, in 1965.
He was rumoured to have been born in one, albeit in a palace(Blenheim Palace), was known in Parliament to not be interrupted when on one, but personal to me, to ruminate upon and arrive at this conclusion that,
“ We shaped our lives, then our toilets shapes us. ”
What is performative about this piece? I take a stab as i struggle to find the link.
The artist Suze Adams looked over at what i was doing, laughed out loud and said ,
“ I get it ! Wee… ”
or could it be this?…Choreographing the viewer to move in a sequence of steps to read the whole quote… We shaped our lives , then (stand to the right-side of commode facing the wall )…our toilets … (do a turn around the front…moving to the left of the commode facing front )shapes us.
My input in this piece is this thought…The boat, the banner “ MADE IN BRITAIN “ and the Crown pertain to economic ties that once held’ the colonies together; now clearly ‘going down the toilet ‘/ run aground.’
Rem Koolhaas , the great modernist, was born in 1944, in a time of worldwide turmoil . It turns out that i am not alone in standing up for the smallest and most overlooked room and space. That 2014 seems to have been a year for another more important voice to ruminate publicly on this seminal space.
Unbeknownst to me, just four months earlier, this architect of urbane coolness who turned 70 sometime this year , curated and devoted an entire gallery in the Giardini’s central pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, to the history and glory of the toilet.It is a space he believed where ,
“ One is left alone for private reflection – to develop and affirm identity. “
Playing with his words, over and over. The ‘One’ within the word ‘ A lone ‘ seems to reflect his isolation, of being a visionary of note; an arbiter of thought.
What is performative about this piece?
From a performative perspective; i am not sure if indicating ‘ motion ‘ by the falling and tumbling of words qualify. Or the cross-pollination of another’s work indicates that an event has happened in the making of the work. Something evidently has happened. A 2 minute discourse began with architect Willem de Bruijn and his cut-outs from his “The Writing on the Wall’ piece were trustingly handed over.
The writing on the wall message seems to be given to one man alone; a personal message. What if he read it wrong?
What if the truly important message got lost and ended up in the toilet?
It would be a loss unknown to any ,but it would result in a different reality for all.
Toilet 1944 is about Rem Koolhaas and the ‘What if “ scenario of if events following 1944 turned out differently and the Nazi occupation of Holland had resulted in it not being the year that saw the birth of this individual? What would our aesthetic reality be?
The on-going news of Hong Kong’s struggles fill us with dread. Exhibition piece Toilet 1997’s Chinese spittoon is filled with images of hope as well as images of fear. In there too is Churchill, once the image of the solidarity of being a part of Great Britain fighting the common enemy of 1944.
“ It has been 10 years since the handover, and Hong Kong sparkles. But can it find still greater success in a changing China – and a changing world? “- 2007
“ Celebrating Hong Kong’s Handover in Beijing” – 1997
Toil et Loo
Rem’s words, they seemed to challenge me…what is the affirmation of my identity. Who was i and what did i have to say? There is no visible toilet to be seen. There is no exhibition piece Toilet 2014 as a time capsule to be opened at a later date. I see the toilet as a metaphor for a filter. What comes in one end, ends up in the other.
Process and Product.
Of the three exhibition pieces, the fourth is me. My thoughts.
A second generation diaspora of Hong Kong Chinese who was born in 1967, brought up in the peaceful and prosperous ex-colony of Great Britain, known then to my family as a gentle and idyllic country of Sunday curry tiffins, tennis and teas, but increasingly now as, Malaysia, a country who has since known many internal struggles and an uncertain economic future.
Just recently,the news of yet another part of Great Britain threatened to break away. Why? I was baffled. Scotland and the referendum, kept us on the edge of our seats.
I sit by the television, vicariously watching those with hope,courage and a yen for independence, fight against the yoke. Wondering, why I in a similar position , do not struggle?
If there were to be an exhibition piece that depicted the fourth… It would be this, an incense coil…hopeful but filled with tension and upward motion as well as downward.
What is up and what is down. It is only the perspective.
We are all ,only human and isn’t there an agro-economy based on night soil ?