Cloaca: Shit That Is Art

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The grand irony of PoopReport.com is that it conceals genuine intellectual thought in
the guise of stories about crap. For this reason, I was very excited by the recent
Cloaca exhibit at The New Museum of Contemporary Art in NYC -- it used the guise of
intellectual thought to get people to spend time looking at crap.

Cloaca is a giant machine that makes shit. At one end of the machine, they pour 2.6
gallons of water and a meal from a fancy SoHo restaurant. 27 hours and 33 feet later,
a nozzle squirts out a well-formed piece of crap.













Images of Cloaca, borrowed from Wired Online..





Cloaca is a computerized mechanical system designed to mimic the human digestive
process. The machine, which eats better than the majority of us, chews the food using
a meat grinder and a garbage disposal, then passes it through six reactor chambers that
use various chemicals to do the job of a digestive system.

At 2:30 PM every day a crowd gathers, and the machine dutifully drops a shit onto a
conveyor belt. The crowd cheers. Hooray for shit.

Created by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, Cloaca harks back past Piero Manzoni's Merda
d'Artista
to Marcel Duchamp's 1917 Fountain -- a urinal placed on a pedestal, considered
to be art only because it was in the museum's gallery and not its bathroom. Duchamp
got us to question the meaning of "art" -- was something art because it was beautiful or
meaningful, or was something art simply because a museum said so?

Or, to put it another way -- why is it art when this machine shits on a conveyor belt in
a museum? And why don't the cops think its art when I take a shit on the sidewalk
outside the museum?

As Duchamp teaches us, there are two ways to look at Cloaca: Cloaca is shit that is
art, or Cloaca is shit that is shit.

As shit art, Cloaca has engendered some important thinking. But as shit shit, Cloaca
has played another role: making fools of the literati. From the outsider's
perspective, it's pretty funny to watch a bunch of book-learnin' types waiting
breathlessly for shit, and then applauding when it arrives. Cloaca makes the wildest
stereotypes of intellectual snobs a complete reality.

Once I stopped laughing at the museum patrons bending down to look closer at artistic
dookie, I started listening to what they were saying. And they're saying some
interesting things. For instance:


  • "By replicating one of our most crucial biological functions, Delvoye forces viewers
    both to consider our social discomfort with such functions and to question the
    elaborate cultural mechanisms that we have constructed to keep them from view."









Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, 1917.





  • "Cloaca also deliberately challenges our notions of what constitutes a meaningful or
    educational display. Just as society is unable to recognize that anxieties and
    discomfort about feces are connected to broader cultural taboos concerning the body and
    its imperatives, so we cannot yet imagine an educational mindset that would treat feces
    objectively, as if one were studying insects or cloud patterns."
  • "In its most essential reading, Cloaca directly confronts the contemporary state of
    confusion regarding when or where human life begins and ends. Through a monumental
    simulacrum tracing the path made by what we eat from the mouth to the anus, Cloaca
    forces us to see this process as something more than simply mechanical and catch
    ourselves in the act of self-identification."
  • "Cloaca brings together trends in contemporary art that are usually considered
    separately. At one extreme is a growing interest in how art and technology intersect,
    particularly with regard to where life begins and ends, and the impact of artificial
    intelligence, robotics, software, and bioengineering on cultural production. At the
    opposite end of the critical spectrum is the investigation of abjection as a
    fundamental part of the human condition."

  • All these thoughts are valid. Whenever my parents wonder why they put me through
    college just so I could start a poop site, I try to convince them what these thoughts
    show: that poop plays a significant role in our culture. And anything that contributes
    to the deeper understanding of poop in our society is positive from the PoopReport
    perspective.

    It's fun to laugh at the idea of people sipping wine and discussing the cultural
    ramifications of diarrhea. But beyond that, the questions Cloaca raises lend
    credibility to what we're doing here at PoopReport: if you accept Cloaca as a
    thought-provoking exhibit, then you accept the intellectual merit of this site.

    But while Cloaca has no further value if you think it's just a meritless waste of
    resources, at least PoopReport still gives you funny stories about dudes who shit their
    pants.

    -- Dave

    Like Dave? He's featured in The Journal of Ass Production!


    46 Comments on "Cloaca: Shit That Is Art"

    Thunder From Down Under's picture
    m 1+ points - Newb

    I must not be one of the highly intellectual, since I just thought it was a funny invention.

    Artful Dodger's picture
    Comment Quality Moderatorl 100+ points

    When it comes to art, I usually judge it in several ways, the foremost being "Do I like it?" Completely subjective, but I don't give a damn. I'm a layman in the art world and subtle nuance is lost on me. What emotions does it invoke? Even the ignorant and uninitiated can feel the terror and despair in Picasso's Guernica.

    Cloaca fascinates me for a couple of reasons. I read up on the mechanical aspect. The process that it goes through to produce its end result interests me more than anything. The only emotion it inspires for me is amusement. I'm laughing myself silly about the cheese and wine set prattling endlessly on about a machine that shits.

    Dakota's picture
    k 500+ points

    It's real funny to think of those rich folks getting all artsy about a machine taking a dump. Dave, as you say, why is this art and a dude being seen on the crapper is regarded by some as real disgusting? It all just points out the stupidity of being shameful about taking a shit.

    Chris's picture
    m 1+ points - Newb

    I want to see this.

    I wonder where they will display it next?

    Trashcanman's picture
    l 100+ points

    It makes you wonder how many people have tried to buy the fire extinguisher at art auctions.

    Che's picture

    This isn't art: it's a science fair project.

    Dave's picture
    PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooperb 9000+ pointsc 8000+ pointsd 7000+ pointse 6000+ pointsf 5000+ pointsg 4000+ pointsh 3000+ pointsi 2000+ pointsj 1000+ pointsk 500+ pointsl 100+ pointsm 1+ points - Newb

    When I was there, it actually produced two really nice, impressive logs. They were about 4 inches each, and a good inch-and-a-half in diameter. I would have been proud to call them my own.

    The guard told me surreptitiously that they had to close Cloaca down a few days before I came because he got diarrhea. Like any human, the bacterial balance in Cloaca's stomach can get a little screwy, which will cause the good ol' squirts.

    Brown Seymour's picture

    Does it always produce diarrhea? Because what I'm seeing in that picture is not particularly well-formed. In other words, that shit is total shit. It would be nice if it could squeeze out some solid turds as well.

    Mastercrapper's picture
    PoopReport of the Year Awardl 100+ points

    Omigod. I wonder if I can get one for my home!

    Hershey Squirts's picture
    k 500+ points

    Hey, I like Cloaca. I have the full-size book.

    Its interesting, asexual, quiet, alien-yet-familiar result

    It is a better stab at being called art than some of the crap I've seen

    louie's picture

    This is the coolest machine ever...

    KingTT's picture

    I swear to god, not two days ago I thought to myself, "What if they built a robot that mimicked the human digestive system? Its poo would be... like... PERFECT." And here it is. I am clairvoyant. Now if only I could predict things other than pooping robots.

    Ben's picture

    What does it smell like?

    Belinda's picture

    art!! it beggars belief i am disgusted the world has gone mad!

    charmingcharlie's picture

    does this mean the UN will be looking for Iraq's weapons of mass defacation :-D

    zap's picture

    you forgot to mention whether or not this machine can talk - and if so, from which end

    Really Disgusting's picture

    Wonder if it tastes like the real thing

    Josh's picture

    ummmm instead of making a crapping machine why didnt they just get some guy to take a dump on the sidewalk its alot quicker! why would a michine be better?

    Poop Detective's picture

    Can we get a closup of this mechanically produced poop?

    Poop Detective's picture

    whoops, I mean close-up

    The Shit Volcano's picture
    Comment Quality Moderatorh 3000+ points

    I hate that word "cloaca". It's almost as bad as "pleasant", which my mom spoiled for me by using it to describe sex.

    I found Jesus! He was behind the sofa the whole time!

    Uncle Boheeka's picture

    speaking of shitty art :rimshot: in a pittsburgh art museum (the name of which, I can't remember) there a painting called "The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Black Stars" which features pieces of elephant shit.

    Pink Pucker's picture

    One of my college art teachers (also Belgian)is a huge fan. He has a book of Delvoye's art and has gotten it autographed. Cloaca was in Toronto and at least one or two of us drove 3+ hours to see it. Shrink-wrapped poop from it is for sale. Delvoye also does some lovely extreme close-up photos of squeezed blackheads. I like that the Cloaca logo looks like the Ford logo, as both are crap.

    funshits's picture

    LOL WTF urinal art? poo simulator? obviously these r not art. maybe if the urinal was painted or the poo machine made multicolored poo, they would b art. monet is art, cloaca is shit

    Anonymous Coward's picture

    wouldnt it be nice if you could win energy out of this procces in stead of wasting it.? i dont think its impossible with a few tweaks on the design.

    PooperGal's picture
    k 500+ points

    I'm not sure Cloaca really represents human digestion. There's no mention of absorption of nutrients (which would happen in the small intenstine) or of water (in the bowel), meaning that entire steps are missing in the digestion process.

    This means that the so-called "poop" that is deposited at the end of the machine is just dissolved, processed food, not true excrement. Feces are the undigestible remains and excess salts and minerals, and a small amount of moisture (except when diarrhea causes partially digested food and unabsorbed water to be ejected).

    So, sorry to be a party pooper, but unless "Cloaca's" inventors add a nutrient absorption phase, my biology background and skepticism force me to give "Cloaca" a big Thumbs Down the anal sphincter.

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    Dave's picture
    PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooperb 9000+ pointsc 8000+ pointsd 7000+ pointse 6000+ pointsf 5000+ pointsg 4000+ pointsh 3000+ pointsi 2000+ pointsj 1000+ pointsk 500+ pointsl 100+ pointsm 1+ points - Newb

    I've actually spoken to Delvoye as part of the research for my book. He says Cloaca is not meant to be a science lesson. So you're right. My interpretation of his thoughts is that Cloaca is more about the interplay of poop and art than it is about science.

    MUCH more about this in my book. Coming to a book store of the future near you!

    Di Uhreea's picture
    Comment Quality Moderatorl 100+ points

    And the next JOAP is when?

    Dave's picture
    PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooperb 9000+ pointsc 8000+ pointsd 7000+ pointse 6000+ pointsf 5000+ pointsg 4000+ pointsh 3000+ pointsi 2000+ pointsj 1000+ pointsk 500+ pointsl 100+ pointsm 1+ points - Newb

    The last JOAP was a product of free time due to unemployment. I really need to get laid off again.

    Di Uhreea's picture
    Comment Quality Moderatorl 100+ points

    It's a matter of giving a few hardcores a task.
    I see it as delegating.
    I'm sorry Dave, I know you're busy.
    I'm just impatient!!

    Dave's picture
    PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooperb 9000+ pointsc 8000+ pointsd 7000+ pointse 6000+ pointsf 5000+ pointsg 4000+ pointsh 3000+ pointsi 2000+ pointsj 1000+ pointsk 500+ pointsl 100+ pointsm 1+ points - Newb

    Well, you know how I feel about delegating. I bring a dual meaning to the phrase "anal-retentive."

    I do have some ideas for JOAP #2. Let's take this to the forums to discuss it before we get slapped with a couple dozen -1's.

    PooperGal's picture
    k 500+ points

    Thanks for the inside scoop, Dave. As I said, I don't mean to be a party pooper on this, but the biology major in me just has to say that "It's NOT poop!"

    Actually, I think "Cloaca" is pretty cool, even if what it's making is more like pre-digested pablum, sort of a little like what pigeons feed their babies (Google "pigeon milk") or what seagulls regurgitate for their kids.

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    Dave's picture
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    In spite of my earlier comment, I don't think you're giving Cloaca enough credit. I've read from numerous sources that Cloaca poop is chemically indistinguishable from human poop. While the process is different than human digestion, it does still use chemicals and symbiotic bacteria in much the same way as we do. The science isn't the *point* of Cloaca, but it is nevertheless quite advanced.

    PooperGal's picture
    k 500+ points

    Guess I'd have to have a firsthand "Cloaca" experience to make an accurate assessment. I still contend that real poop would show a minimum of food nutrient matter due to adsorption in the small and large intestines. However, I'd allow some leeway for diarrhea, which can contain a considerable amount of unadsorbed nutrient material and water.

    I'd like to know, however... does the ersatz poop actually smell like poop (and, particularly, diarrhea)? Enquiring minds want to know, as this would also lend legitimacy to the "Cloaca" product -- the chemical byproducts of digestion should parallel the actual biological process in an ideal world.

    And, I do give the artist credit for rigging up this processing plant, and for his artistic vision in the way people would respond.

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    Dave's picture
    PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooperb 9000+ pointsc 8000+ pointsd 7000+ pointse 6000+ pointsf 5000+ pointsg 4000+ pointsh 3000+ pointsi 2000+ pointsj 1000+ pointsk 500+ pointsl 100+ pointsm 1+ points - Newb

    I'd like to know, however... does the ersatz poop actually smell like poop (and, particularly, diarrhea)?

    My understanding is that it does. I believe that the first version of Cloaca created an open air poop, and it stunk up the place. Since then, the poop has been deposited within a glass enclosure so the smell couldn't get out. Museum goers, I guess, have no problem looking at poop but they don't want to smell it.

    PooperGal's picture
    k 500+ points

    That settles it for me, then.
    If it looks like shit,
    feels like shit,
    AND
    smells like shit,

    In my book, it's shit.

    Done deal.

    I mean, real shit has bacteria and intestinal epithelial cells and other stuff in it too, but I won't split more hairs. "Cloaca" comes close enough to creating a santized, pristine form of poop. Would that we could create a similarly perfect human being that all of us could only dream of emulating.

    As for folks having no problem looking at poop, but not smelling it, I can understand that. The sense of smell is one that can trigger powerful involuntary physical responses such as wretching and gagging, in ways that visual stimuli don't quite reach. Also, the olfactory nerve goes directly into the memory part of the brain, which means that future stimuli can evoke powerful memories of having suffered mightily at the "Cloaca" exhibit. Okay, that's not such a big likelihood, but smell is a much more powerful involuntary trigger than sight in this instance. You can always avert your eyes to end the visual stimulus, but the nose is unstoppable. So to speak.

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    Di Uhreea's picture
    Comment Quality Moderatorl 100+ points

    Jesus God.
    I forgot to credit this site for the proper usage of "adsorption".
    Thank you for reminding me, PG.
    Love my biology.

    Bunga Din's picture
    j 1000+ points

    Pooper Gal, what happens is on the right hand side of the screen it shows stories with the most recent comments. As people comment on different stories the top one moves down the list until it is no longer being commented on. What you need to do if you want to find it again is use the search function on the left hand side of the screen and you can pull it up again, just like I did here. Enjoy

    PooperGal's picture
    k 500+ points

    Thanks, Bunga. I didn't think it would drop off the list so quickly since there were lots of posts yesterday, and I forgot about the search function. I thought the story had been removed for some nefarious reason!

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    PooperGal
    "Searching for the Origin of the Feces"

    Bunga Din's picture
    j 1000+ points

    Any time PooperGal.

    I think this is a piece of art. There are lot of criticisms about how art should be presented these days. I've read that all art is shit. It is consumed no differently than a Big Mac and then excreted until the next morsel comes along to fill the void, much like our digestive tract.

    This reminds me of a section of a book I read called "The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play" which is a scholarly tome analyzing the merits of Frank Zappa as either a serious artist or a buffoon.

    Much of Zappas oevre consists of music which is terrifyingly difficult to play and transcribe by even the best orchestras and conductors, yet intertwined through all his works are pieces best described as scatological, obscene and stupid. He was asked many times why he did this, was this the route to commercial acceptance (hardly). He felt no particular piece was better than the next, it was all designed to be consumed (listened to) some would find merit where others didn't but this didn't mean one was better than the next they were still consumed.

    He believed because no artist is particularly free to create anything without some form of sponsorship or economic support all art becomes consummable and is destined to become waste at some point.

    Wim Delvoye's piece creates what it one day shall become...Waste, through a different organic process, oxidation etc. I find it pretty entertaining in a lot of ways, and usually that's all the artist is trying to do...entertain.

    Dr Stacey Berdou's picture

    danke

    Latus Rectum's picture
    m 1+ points - Newb

    Brown Seymour said:
    "Does it always produce diarrhea? Because what I'm seeing in that picture is not particularly well-formed. In other words, that shit is total shit. It would be nice if it could squeeze out some solid turds as well."

    I found another picture of it where it definitely looks like real poop. It's too bad they don't let people smell it any more. I might regret deciding to smell it, but my curiosity wouldn't let me rest until I could confirm that it actually smells like shit.

    Anon Brave's picture

    Just thought you might like to know, the artist (Wim Delvoye) offers genuine Cloaca "shit" for sale as a valuable art investment. He even sells Cloaca bonds, which are redeemable for a pot of artshit after three years time.
    Now, in case you are thinking how ridiculous or stupid this is, of course it is, that's the idea behind the piece. The art consists of not just the machine and the shit it makes, but the bond forms that the artist designed, the Cloaca logos that are spoofs of Ford/CocaCola/Mr. Clean, and the act of offering shit for sale.
    As biologist PooperGal pointed out, it would fail as a science project because it doesn't make real shit. Even if nutrients were extracted in the process, it would still be 100% fake shit -- it's a machine. It represents shit, though, just as Monet's blobs of paint represent water lilies when you look at them right.
    Going back to Artful Dodger's comment of four years ago (top of the list), and others that cropped of from time to time, of course it's art. Whether you like it or not, Duchamp's urinal "Fountain" is art, Manzoni's canned "Artist Shit" is art, and this is too -- which isn't exactly revolutionary, it's been art for almost 100 years in Duchamp's case. (So: props to Bunga Din, you're right.)
    There are many different reasons for making a piece of art; expressing an emotion (which the Dodger makes his/her sole criterion for assessing art) is only one. There is also intellectual content, visual content, physical content, etc, which affect us rationally, aesthetically, or viscerally, just to name a few alternatives to emotional reaction. And even though (s)he says that the piece provoked no emotional reaction whatever, I see that it made him/her feel strongly enough to write a few paragraphs about it. Perhaps the frustrated pointlessness of a machine that manufactures shit is right on the mark as the feeling of our times, just as "Guernica" was fifty years ago.

    John Crapper's picture

    I would like to know if this machine gets Consitpated ?

    Anonymous Coward's picture

    Lame comment! -1 pointDave (11088) -- 02.27.2006
    Well, you know how I feel about delegating. I bring a dual meaning to the phrase "anal-retentive."

    I do have some ideas for JOAP #2. Let's take this to the forums to discuss it before we get slapped with a couple dozen -1's.

    Holy fuck, I can't believe the mods lamed you Dave. Proof that consipated mods r nothing to laugh at.

    He Haw

    Anonymous Coward's picture

    You can just check out a soft-serve ice cream machine dispensing chocolate flavor for a roughly similar experience.

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