Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Duchamp and me.


I know how Duchamp felt.

100 years ago, his urinal 'Fountain' was submitted for an art exhibition in New York and was rejected. My offering - created in Duchamp's honour - was also deemed unworthy ... of a plinth at this year's Bradford Open Art show.

Not for a minute would I even begin to liken my work, entitled Toilet with Stool, with Marcel's minimalist marvel. He got there first, I'll grant him that. And I very much doubt that my creation will ever be recognised as iconic. Duchamp started it all, back in 1917, by selecting a quotidian item, repositioning it and calling it 'Readymade Art'. 

 As artist Ryan Gander says: Art is like a mountain without a summit: an artist can climb up and find the 'corpse of an art', take its adrenalin, water, food etc and then carry on.  
I simply took inspiration from the grandmaster.

How could my offering possibly be refused? When I submitted my random assemblage, I thought it could not be rejected, given the importance of the anniversary of the beginning of conceptual art. The irony is not lost, however, that it was shunned.

2017 marks the century since Marcel Duchamp submitted his urinal 'Fountain' to an art exhibition. He bought the urinal from a sanitary ware firm and presented it on its back rather than upright, signed and dated it ‘R. Mutt 1917’. He then submitted it as an artwork to the newly established Society of Independent Artists that he himself had helped found.

The society’s board of directors, who were obliged by their constitution to accept all submissions from its members, rejected it, saying that a piece of sanitary ware - something associated with bodily waste - could not be considered a work of art and was ‘indecent’. Duchamp resigned in protest against the board taking it upon itself to veto and effectively censor an artist’s work.

I spotted my rather sad looking toilet in a skip outside the college building where I was studying for a BA in Fine Art. The little voice in my head told me to walk away, which I actually managed to do. But it was still there some days later and I couldn't resist, so I arranged for it to be collected by the college porter who insisted I cleaned it thoroughly first before he trolleyed it into the art department. I set about considering what to do with the knackered - and heavy - loo; playing with puns (bog standard, toilet humour) and adding mannequin heads, arms and oddments to the bowl. Eventually, for the end of year show, I scrawled M. Rutt 2106 on the side and placed it on a stool. The object could only be viewed through a peephole (pee - geddit?) 'toilet' eye sign (see pictures) in the installation room, lit by a small bulb. In this way I was cleverly (in my mind, anyway) mimicking both Duchamp's iconic work and his final piece Étant donnés  which could only be seen by peering through an aperture.
I do not know why my artwork was rejected by whomever at the Bradford Open. The curator says they do not give feedback. 

On collecting my toilet and stool from Cartwright Hall, I was however honoured to find that they had been stored in the print room, sharing space with a Lichtenstein and a Hamilton, among other greats.

The original Fountain was both vandalised and then lost, but a few replicas are still in existence, including one at the Tate Modern in London.

My toilet is going back in the skip.