Arts & Entertainment

THE NAKED CITY – GILDING THE THUNDER BOX!

It was the sort of ostentatious item that would not be out of place in Donald Trump’s Trump tower apartment where just about everything is gilded in gold. It was in fact once offered to Trump to purchase, but maybe the $5 million price tag was even a tad too much for the self proclaimed billionaire. So what are we talking about – a toilet in fact! But not just any old dunny. Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s celebrated installation piece, titled America, is supposedly a comment on modern day excess. Duchamp had to settle for plain old porcelain but Cattelan had nothing but pure gold.

‘Had’ of course is the operative because it’s now worldwide news that thieves recently broke into the UK’s Blenheim Palace and whisked the elegant crapper away, causing considerable flood damage in the process. Whilst a number of arrests have been made at the time of writing the celebrated bowl has yet to be recovered. Whether it’s been melted down for scrap or flogged off to some Russian mafia boss remains to be seen. Patrons of the arts will surely be disappointed because the ‘active’ installation actually allowed punters a three-minute use of the facility, regardless of their urgency at the time.

Here in Australia, it’s hard to separate what many see as an act of criminal theft from our own innate sense of toilet humour. Whilst all countries probably have their unique brand of scatological mirth, we pride ourselves on a robust tradition of poo and dunny jokes. The iconic Australian outside toilet, affectionately known as the ‘thunder box’ has been immortalised in numerous books, bush balladry, films and songs such as Slim Newtown’s Red Back On The Toilet Seat.

Euphemisms abound such as “sinking the sausage”, “flashing the nasty” and “pointing Percy at the Porcelain” – all made famous in the Barry McKenzie movies. More recently the 2006 mockumentary Kenny, about a plumber who maintains portable loos, added even more to this lexicon of (forgive the expression), ‘shithouse frivolity”. Complimenting these idiomatic gems is an equally creative school of Australian rhyming slang such as “Going For An Edgar” (you work it out) – a reference to the late jockey Edgar Britt, who was quite happy to acknowledge the irreverent and rather cheeky use of his name.

From Duchamp’s urinal, through Catellan’s now missing toilet bowl, to the much-loved Cloaca Poop Machine at Hobart’s MONA, scatology and art are a potent and popular combination. If this leads to a demystification of what is very much a natural body function, and more people mailing in their bowel cancer test kits, then all the better.

There is perhaps an argument to suggest that the theft of the solid gold toilet in the UK was an act of conceptual art in itself and perhaps the whole thing will turn out to be a kind of Banksy style hoax. Maybe the missing toot will take on a Lord Lucan persona, with sightings reported all over the world. A can of gold spray paint and you could turn any porcelain model into an 18 karat beauty. This could easily become an Instagram sensation with thousands of photos posted online. And even though he was declared dead in 2016, come up with a pic of the elusive Lord, sitting on a spray-painted loo, and you will have really struck gold!

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