Difficult territory is a cornerstone of the visual arts – so artist Mikala Dwyer knew it would be confronting last night when she invited Balletlab dancers to empty their bowels as part of a performance at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
The two-hour act saw the six dancers, masked but naked beneath sheer garments, move around a room in the gallery before sitting on transparent stools and performing – only if they were moved to do so – what is usually one of our most private and rarely discussed daily acts.
I spent half an hour this morning searching for the annual reports of the organisations involved - Balletlab and the ACCA. I gave up trying to untangle the spaghetti-like tangle of funding sources - the way that our money is funneled to these organisations via state and federal bodies is unbelievable.
Let's just ignore the funding for a while. We know that tax dollars get poured into all sorts of weird art every year that seems to be viewed largely only by a small elite. I could rant all day about that.
Instead, let's talk about the fixation of this artist on crap - and what that says about the world today.
I have dealt with a lot of crap in my life, so I'm not squeamish about it. I've shoveled large amounts just about every sort of domesticated animal crap you can think of - horse, cow, sheep, chicken and pig. I've spent time around large flocks of chooks, ducks and geese, and believe me, they can produce a lot of crap. Remember when cars didn't have air con and you left the windows down in summer? I learned quickly not do to that if chooks etc were around - it was a quick way to end up with eggs and crap all through your car.
I've crapped in the bush more times than I want to think about. You don't wander off into the bush alone when on a patrol or in a fighting position - you crap where someone can see you and watch over you. If you don't like crapping in front of other people, stay away from the army. The video below is not a bad depiction of how things can be. The army made me an expert at digging, constructing and filling in 4 hole crappers. I always managed to do something stupid that resulted in me getting the crap jobs.
Crap is something that has to be dealt with - if you don't deal with it properly, you end up with Cholera outbreaks in Haiti that kill thousands of people.
We forget how awful most cities were until proper sewers were installed. The annual death rates from crap related diseases were incredible. If you've got some time to kill, I strongly recommend having a look through Sewer History. It's fascinating.
We don't have to deal with crap anymore. When we need to crap, we don't need to go outside, dig a hole, crap, and then have a look at the crap as we shovel some dirt onto it. The largest domesticated dogs don't produce anything like the amount of crap that you get from the horses that a farm of 70 years ago would have had. We no longer see horses in our cities - cars having seen to that. Disposable nappies have largely removed the need to deal with the crap our kids produce. Thanks to the flush toilet and a host of other advances, crap is largely removed from our lives. The only time crap gets reintroduced is when we travel to the third world and find out how the poor deal with crap. Or more likely, fail to deal with it.
Which is probably why artists are fascinated by it - they no longer have to deal with it. Our modern life has removed us from farms, farm animals and long drop toilets. Shoveling crap, or stepping in it, is no longer a daily problem. Hey - that's an invention I forgot - those little plastic bags you use to pick up dog crap. Even dog crap has largely (but not entirely) disappeared from the urban landscape.
I have only one thing to say to everyone involved in this arts project - go spend some time on a proper working farm - preferably a dairy perhaps. You'll be over this crap before you know it.