1917: Marcel Duchamp signs a urinal with the name R. MUTT and calls it “Fountain”. According to the artist, any ordinary object with a signature, a title and its placement in an exhibition can be transformed into a work of art. Even though it was rejected by the jury of the Society of Independent Artists, it is considered one of the most important ready-made works of art of the twentieth century.

1961: Piero Manzoni sealed 90 tin cans, identical to those for canned meat. He attached a signed label on them, translated into different languages. On it was written: “Artist’s shit. Net content 30 grams. Preserved in a natural way. Produced May 1961”. Packing his own feces and transforming them into a work of art was for him a protest and provocation against the dynamics and contradictions of the contemporary art system. In this perspective, the work becomes a relic, sacred rest of the artist’s body, revered as a saint.

2020: The Street Art work of Eme Free-thinker in the Mauerpark of Berlin, one of the main characters from the fantasy novel “Lord of the Rings” grabs a roll of toilet paper and says: “My treasure!” Gollum is obsessed with the ring, which he captured with effort and defended with all his energy, for 500 years in the underworld. This work denounces the anti-social collecting and hoarding of toilet paper, a normally worthless object that has been transformed into a kind of treasure, by the current panic.

From the USA to Australia, from Northern Europe to Hong Kong, a recent gold rush has been triggered, in the purchase of tons of toilet paper. The trigger is the Corona panic. A current Internet meme on this subject is freely inspired by the tablet “The Peddler”, a woodcut designed by Holbein the Younger for the “Dance of Death” series. The basket on the Peddler’s shoulders is filled with rolls of toilet paper, while this character runs away from the symbol of death that follows him. The current run on toilet paper is a protection against the fear and death.

Objects like the urinal, feces, toilet paper, are detached from their usual function and in contemporary art are symbolically elevated to the status of artwork, highlighting in these works the out of meaning in connection with the death drive.

In Seminar X, Lacan makes the anal object the paradigm of the object a, the partial object in the form of the remainder and waste. As a body part that separates from the subject, as an organ that detaches and falls, it embodies the lost object.

Circumcision is Lacan’s example that points to the economy of desire, where the object is founded on the object of desire, as an object that has fallen from the body. Desire is conceived as a fallen, cut up, object from which the subject has separated. What is desired is always in relation to what is missing. Desire is the only vital way available to the “speaking being” to deal with the real. It is a matter of responding to the real, each time in a new way, without handrails and without reference to anything else, only to the discourse as it is realized each time, as far as we can only reach “a bit of Real”, as Lacan says in Seminar XXIII.



Image @clairemueller