Wim Delvoye , Daniel Richter and Republic Of Love at the Power Plant (231 Queens Quay West), opening Saturday (March 27), to May 23. $4, stu/srs $2, free Wednesday 5-8 pm. Wim Delvoye lecture today (Thursday, March 25), 7 pm, in the Brigantine Room (235 Queens Quay West). $15. 416-973-4949. Rating: NNNNN
Artist lectures are, in general, not all that interesting. In fact, they tend to dish out a lot of shit. Then there's Belgian artist Wim Delvoye , who talks a lot about shit and is a very interesting fellow.
Delvoye is in town for the opening of the Toronto installation of his poop machine, Cloaca, New & Improved. Cloaca uses enzymes and bacteria to replicate the human digestive system, accepting food at one end, breaking it down in the middle and excreting dung at the other end.
This machine, the second of three (there's an Original and a Turbo version), can produce the equivalent feces of five people every day.
When it was up at the New Museum in New York, the machine was fed gourmet meals from the city's celebrity chefs. At the Power Plant , Cloaca will be fed scraps from local restaurants. Pray you don't visit the installation on a day that sees it digest a lot of leftover meat. Cloaca makes real shit, in every way.
Delvoye's fascination with shit is less about fixation than about frustration.
"I'm a frustrated da Vinci artist," he says over the phone from Belgium. "Sometimes I'm a frustrated advertising executive, and sometimes I wish I were a doctor."
But instead of treating irritable bowel syndrome, Delvoye invented Cloaca.
"It's shit but it's clean," he says of the sterile-looking metal machine. "That way I get away without offending anybody."
His body of work includes tattooed pigs, "marble" floors made out of cold cuts, prints of his anus, and sexual acts captured on X-ray. His work is accessible because it deals with basic human functions. In many cases, the person on the street can relate to tattooing more than fine art. Delvoye relishes the fact that his work has a sort of street credibility, and he exhibits a healthy skepticism toward exhibiting in museums.
"Museums remind me of clinics," he says, speaking again like a frustrated doctor. "It's somewhere art goes when it's sick, not when it's young and fresh."
Cloaca, indeed, is like a sick patient, reliant upon the gallery staff to feed it the nutrients it needs to continue to function.
"For Cloaca, the gallery is like a nurse. In fact, the word 'curate' means 'to nurse' in Latin."
But as an art piece, Cloaca is very, very healthy. In fact, it has been a worldwide touring success. The ad man in Delvoye has turned Cloaca into a marketing machine, appropriating the images of Mr. Clean and elements of the logos of Ford and Coca-Cola to help sell his crap (www. cloaca.be), and he's currently creating a personal version of Cloaca so that everyone can have a poop machine at home.
Why would anyone want a poop machine?
"The only thing that all art objects have in common is uselessness," he says, noting that there is nothing more useless than a machine that makes shit when we make it ourselves and then flush it away as quickly as we can.
"As a machine, I would not recommend purchasing Cloaca, but as a piece of art...."
Delvoye is selling convertible debentures on the Belgian stock exchange so that investors can get a piece of his action. Originally, he was going to approach the Toronto Stock Exchange, because it was recommended as a market that's doesn't mind listing shit.
Cloaca's likely failure as a business enterprise doesn't bother Delvoye. "When you're trying to sell people shit, there will be a tragic ending. Shit guarantees that.
"In everything I do, I fail. But a degree of failure makes you more interesting. And failure generates the ultimate art piece. Cloaca would cease to be art if it saved lives. If someone called me and said, 'We think your machine would help save this child's life,' then that would be the moment it would be useful and it would cease to be art."
He thinks for a moment and laughs. "And then my frustration would be over." Wim Delvoye meditates on the issue of waste and the uselessness of art