The aversion to faeces is an existential condition. The sapient civilized being rejects, or hardly accepts, the idea that the same organism which produces the beautiful things of the extensive historical arch of human endeavours happens to be the very same organism that regurgitates, defecates, urinates. The excrescencies establish the bond between an individual and a chthonic truth which the former hardly accepts. For every apollonian achievement, there is a Dionysian, pungent counterpart, which dissolves us in the debauchery of what is gross and execrable. For each Rousseau, there is a Sade lurking in the asshole – invariable, ineluctably.
When Rousseau purified himself in feminine apparatus (since the woman was good – he barely knew the treachery of the Greek harpies; and that a woman is pure and does not evacuate – like many men like to believe), away from the perfidious city because nature is pure (poor man…), emerged a brusque and sweetly diabolic Madame Duclos de Sade, wallowing in the shit that nature (the human and the divine) subjected us to. It is that nature is not as pleasant as portrayed by Rousseau: nature kills, corrodes, dilacerates, consumes, in a broad and boundless cycle – the Dionysian sparagmos, as brilliantly put by Camille Paglia. Nature = Shit; Shit = Nature.
Indeed, faeces have always been the confirmation of a reality with which one deals through blatant shyness. Whilst trying to hide, to conceal oneself from a life that regards the whole scope of organic alterity as something that needs to be consigned to the plane of occult things. Entrenched in a bathroom, with candles and incense burning, we expel with sacrifice that repulsive and pestilent truth. (The stench?) The inorganic is always the preferable option. The silica and the transistors have become part of the shit’s satanic ritual: in order to dismiss the task we are doing, we take smartphones and tablets to the toilet. The smoothness and the brightness of the electronic device give it a pleasant light which drives us away from the opaque and abject surface of faeces.
However, Marquis de Sade was not the only one who wrote so clearly about this condition. Freud conceived, in his psychanalytic lessons and theories, the so-called anal stage. This encompassed all the things of the adult life which demanded from us an uninspiring routine: the money, the bureaucracies and even collecting. One had to properly educate the child in regard to the matters of the pot in order to avoid anal issues in the future.
This wide-ranging prologue serves as an introduction for the exhibition Shit-Baby and the Crumpled Giraffe, of Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa. The tiny space of the project Kunsthalle Lissabon works as a rehearsal for this Guatemalan artist on a childhood idyllic setting that consubstantiates itself on an installation that occupies the whole room, conceived specifically for the gallery. The child sitting on the ground and knees raised, the great and dented giraffe and the stork promptly situate the visitor in a place of rather remote memories, in a time where the construction of each individual was starting to be established. But this remembrance, often flocked with a romantic and tender nostalgia, acquires sarcastic contours when we are confronted with flying logs, placed on the bottom of potties, dropped on the ground, on the corners of the room, a serpent of faecal matter that contorts itself in the air, etc. And, however, a question emerges: what is this one child doing, in an isolated cave, without natural light, left with his unreal imagination, without having control over the organism, nor notions of anal behaviour? Because, even if feces acquire a statute of preciousness, like colored crystals in several colors, suggesting a laughter that is as moving as it is capable of hiding a discomfort in those who see them, it is also true that the image of a child left to his own fate, without parental supervision, is regarded as dramatic. The organic nature, the primal nature, does not allow a social identity to be formed in an abandoned baby; instead, it shapes it beyond any convention and preconception.
Other interpretations are feasible: for instance, knowing if the whole paraphernalia of nuggets of painted faeces, like tiny vitreous bright spots, is actually a hypothesis to infantilize a raw truth which is hard to admit. The laughter that shit prompts – the others’ shit, never ours and never in front of our senses – is, indeed, the sublimation of a sublevel horror. That act of infantilizing then appears as a lenitive for this discomfort.
This ambiguity of interpretations – between the scatological, the humoristic, the identity and the dramatic – have been, as a matter of fact, constant quests for the artist. As a curatorial text, he explains that “the artist often works as a director who shapes traumatic echoes, hence creating impressive images which evoke feelings that are distinct and irreconcilable, speaking at the same time of a violent past and a truculent present, always with a certain portion of humour”.
Shit-Baby and the Crumpled Giraffe, at Kunsthalle Lissabon, with curatorship of João Mourão and Luís Silva, can be seen until December 2.