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Italian Toilet Art Flushes On


Take a deep, satisfied breath. Artistic license has been preserved even if it offends the motherland. A modern “art” installation with a toilet sound whooshing away over the Italian national anthem has been reinstated in the Tyrol museum hosting the exhibit.

After protests had it suspended, a judge decided it wasn’t an offense to an emblem of the nation.

I was visiting Bolzano (home of the bathroom brouhaha) and felt compelled to make a trip to the talked-about toilet.

There was one problem: The controversial work of art doesn’t actually involve a toilet. No loo, lav or even a lone bidet. It’s just a tape-recording.

Half flush: the “toilet” installation (speakers in corner)

The untitled installation, part of an exhibit called “Group Therapy,” consists of four speakers and a motion sensor. When you open the main door of Museion (Bolzano’s modern art museum), it triggers a full flush. Over the gurgling, it sounds like someone taps an empty plastic paint can more or less to Mameli’s Hymn, Italy’s national anthem.

News reports of the installation and the two-bit controversy imitated a particularly bad game of “telephone” claiming a toilet had been sequestered. That sounds funny (imagine the carabinieri ordered to remove it) and serious (so offensive it warranted removal) at the same time.

Such a let-down! There’s no toilet, no tricolor toilet paper, no mafia boss notes handy. No real statement. Just some, er, flushing. At the ticket counter, a young woman barely looked up from a book when I asked what it was like to work under that lavatory lullaby. She barely notices, now.

Entering the museum, you walk across an unadorned white foyer and while the privy tune continues for a few minutes. That’s it. Instead of a smack in the face, it’s produces a short-lived snicker and then a “whatever.” And if you’re thinking that your teenage kid could do this and yeah, we could call it art and make a million, well, I don’t blame you.

While the gurgling, swooshing water comes across for exactly what it is, the tune itself is barely recognizable. (Like all anthems, this one is usually played in a full orchestral bloom, here are a few versions).

The work is by 30-something artists Eleonora Chiari and Sara Goldschmied, who feel compelled to go by cutsie combo name “goldiechiari.” According to the museum info sheet, the installation is about the “concept of nation” and substitutes a “trivial, everyday sound for the sanctity and pomp that usually accompany this rite.” (translation mine.)

While the number of flags and subsequent flag-waving type patriotism has certainly grown exponentially in Italy over the last couple of years – boosted by this summer’s World Cup triumph, too – I still give the installation a C-minus – they need to articulate the theme more.

But judge for yourself. Standing on tip-toe, I recorded the installation with my cell phone. You can listen to it here. A few caveats: the audio quality is about what you’d expect from a phone and the nature of the sound (that murky bit is the water, periodic dips are the flushing) does not improve it much. It will give you an idea, though.

Put on your headphones, turn up the volume and let me know what you think.

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 5:05 PM | Permalink

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