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Toilets (Unprojected Habits)

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REVIEW: Kyong Park, Storefront Report (February 1992)
REVIEW: Patricia C. Phillips, ARTFORUM (May 1992)
REVIEW: Rebecca Ross, Yedioth America, (May 1992)

Honourable Discharge


Over the last four years, James Keydon Cathcart, Frank Fantauzzi, and Terence Van Elslander have worked, together or separately, on a number of projects that can be best viewed as urban, social and environmental experiments. Since their meeting at the Cranbrook Academy of Arts, they have looked at architecture as a medium to explore culture rather than aesthetics. For them, built forms are introductions to social structures and cultural agendas, hidden or overt, and not just spaces and forms to be occupied. They have violated walls, floors, ceilings and columns of the traditional and conventional measure of architecture, to seek what's really within the material, what is really occupying the space beside our body, and what do the columns hold up beside weights. Architecture to them is the vehicle to measure and weigh the strength and the weakness of culture, and treat it no higher than consumer products and popular entertainment, to gain critical perceptions of culture at large. Thus, architecture is not the building of buildings, but it is a record of cultural dynamics, and physical documents of social success, failure.

Exactly what they would do at STOREFRONT was left completely open until a week before the exhibition. It was expected that STOREFRONT would be subject to some kind of physical deformation, but the exact nature of their intervention could not be determined until they began to work at STOREFRONT.

The day after Fantauzzi (from Columbus, Ohio) and Van Elslander (from Toronto) arrived, Cathcart (lives in New York) extended the converging wall of STOREFRONT by placing duct-tape on the sidewalk and the street to complete the triangular plan of the building, a gesture of welcome to begin their dialogue with STOREFRONT as a subject and site for an urban experiment. And in two days, they came up with the idea of inserting portable toilets in the façade of STOREFRONT.

The insertion of portable toilets, which were open for public use during gallery hours of the exhibition, is more than a one-line statement about the absence of public toilets in the city. Since five toilets alone does not constitute relief for the whole city, the installation in effect is a critical statement to the society that is losing the grip of its civility, as it slowly forfeits the commitment to basic human affairs. Social inability to retain even the most basic biological performance of human, honourable discharges, would surely mean that other rights of more difficult and complex degrees can also become absent in the near future. The absence of public toilets thus becomes an issue of the decay of social infrastructure, analogous to the present decay of urban infrastructure that is has already alarmed the economic interest of the city. Thus the insertion of these public toilets could mean the beginning of concern about the fraying of social structures that will degenerate the human fabric of the city.

In the context of aesthetics, I consider this installation as a form of para-architecture. At the time of birth of ecology, and the fear of eventual disappearance of earthly resources to support our social and environmental appetites, we can neither continue to think in terms of new or whole. Our environment can only be sustained in the context of reacquired and partial application of the resources. Para-architecture thus means we can no longer destroy the old completely, and there will never be things that are completely new again. Social and physical evolution will be made of acute and strategic intervention upon existing conditions, which are now so expanded and too complex to be managed as a complete whole, nor can be built fresh again. We are bound by our own creation, which has surpassed our capacity to produce, making us only capable to mend or alter it in fragments, as this installation does.

The question of whether these toilets are art or architecture is totally irrelevant. They are neither vehicles of representation nor forms of human expression. Instead, they are documents and statements about reality, which art and architecture rarely aspires to be today. It is the reality that is in need of experiments, more than art and architecture, and STOREFRONT continues to present works that leave people bewildered about what really is art and architecture, a condition that foreplays the coming of next art and architecture.

Kyong Park, 1992