Dresden, December 2000

R.Y. Sirb

The desk was commanded by a large woman in uniform with pale blue eyes and thick wavy blond hair who immediately thrust her attention towards the only client in sight- me. I knew this scenario by heart. I bought a ticket for the exhibition and she told me as she had been trained to do, that the cloakroom was down the stairs to her left, and indicated the entrance to the exhibition by waving her hand vaguely to the right.
The interior of the building was a little bruised here and there. It needed some attention, touching up a bit. The museum was the epitome of modesty emanating from a notion of sobriety which I instantly recognised. I handed over my overcoat and knapsack, received a token and went into the public toilet marked 'Herrn' to urinate before seeing the exhibition. I washed my hands with the line “Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap!” in my head. It didn't rythme. I hummed another tune.
This might be a significant visit, marking my presence here again but on this occasion in the terms of the curation of ordure. Were these conditions compatible or complementary or dialectically juxtaposed. It was a provocative thought.
As the Curator of Ordure I'm not locked up with the artist. I reminded myself that we are lightly attached by among other things the purpose of working for financial reward. Bread comes first. Our common interest is the association of self interest lightly larded over by the casual interaction of our prospective activities. I am intrigued by the enjoining of vocation to self interest. It seems fundamental as neither can be easily developed in isolation. Each requires the other to complete itself. Of course when considering one's own attributes, it is advisable to recognise the presence of self interest. Yes and no. No and yes. I think.

Thinking I had understood the instructions of the official behind the desk I climbed the stairs at the opposite end of the entrance hall to the stairs leading down to the cloakroom and found myself in a similar space to the entrance hall below. There were a few steps stretching the width of the building leading up to a set of wooden doors at regular intervals accross the whole width of the building apart from the stair wells and the corridors at either end.. I tried the first door. It was locked as were the others. At the opposite end from where I had entered was a glass wall made up of several panels bounded by wooden frames and two glass doors, which were locked. I turned back and climbed to the next floor which was also more or less identical with the exception that one of the doors was ajar and offered a view into a large conference or lecture room. I went to the other end to an identical glass wall and tried the two glass doors which were locked. Then one of the wooden doors was opened from the inside and a woman emerged carrying a sheaf of papers. She locked the door behind her, walked to the glass door in the glass wall at the end of the foyer unlocked it, passed through, locked it from the other side and disappeared through a door to the left. I watched intently wishing to see it as an act of theatre, one of those transforming moments, but no it wasn't. She had paid no particular attention to me, purposefully carrying out her task, or otherwise giving the impression that she was intent on attending to matters at hand. I was free to examine the scene as it unfolded and then complete itself as she disappeared into the maw of the corridor behind the glass wall. I went up the glass door. It was locked. She may have been using that age old ruse of walking purposefully to or from a private hiding place carrying a piece of paper as though in the throes of important work. Where had I learnt of this ploy?, actually in face of the boredom of disenchanting labour. Perhaps she was a believer, working for love. She gave the impression that there was purpose to her actions. Not so me, loitering by the windows. There was no one else there to give me the confidence that I was in a publicly accessable part of the building, and there by right, which must have been the case, otherwise how had I arrived there without having overcome any official obstructions. What ever the case she hadn't taken much notice of me, although we had looked each other in the eye.

It was clean but dry I couldn't explain to myself why it seemed so dry. I felt that it was an arid place, and connected it to the aging paint on the walls and the spartan nature of the architecture. I had wanted to ask her where the exhibition was, but she was so intent on what she was doing the moment passed and I became engrossed in her performance.

This really was the Hygiene Museum. There was no need to fill it with anything. I didn't need to visit the exhibition. There was I had noticed a slight urinic and faecal smell mixed with disinfectant in the toilets. It already contained most if not all of the elements which would be required for it to become a Museum of Hygiene. All that was needed was the appropriate concept, policy and programme. The rest was already there. The measurement of its success would evidently be the extent to which it failed to fulfill its purpose according to the modes and fashions of the time. There would always be a target to aim for, an ultimate state of hygiene, in an ordered world.

It was bright, cold and fresh that tuesday morning, the day the artist had contracted me to make a presentation at the Kunst Haus that evening. The tension he created around himself in the days building up to the work was now so palpable that I left him to get on with it. And so I walked out in the sunlight and cold air, along carefully mantained streets gardens and houses, somewhere south of the city centre in a, some might say repressed suburb, with not a sign of the sin of strewn rubbish anywhere. The day before we had been in the Saxische Schweiss where a bitterly cold wind was blowing up the valley of the Elbe from the south blowing into foggy low cloud.

We were staying in the top floor apartment of a now largely out of work Russian translater, Gertrude. The house was built in the jugendstil style, solid, but delicately ornate with it's hommage to organic form and pattern. It lay back a short distance from the road in a long line of what must have been merchants houses, an hours walk south from the city centre. Gertrude lived on the fifth floor and said it was difficult to heat the rooms with such high ceilings. She was now learning English without great enthusiasm, old habits are hard to break, it being the imperative language of the global market. She was intellectually active and wanted to talk, although at first she was more keen to converse with a polish guest, partially on account of her professional capacity to speak the language. We were from further in the west and therefore the harbingers of what she was determined to resist. She thought that the society was being systematically adulterated by the application of global capitalism which in her view acted like a virus infecting the land, and straining social conditions to breaking point. However she wasn't nostalgic and reflected only briefly on the characteristics of the previous period under the Soviet Bloc which was now truly a thing of the past to her, and on the absence of an alternative model to both systems, which had left the people vulnerable to whatever might fill the vacuum after its collapse. She said that she was reassured by her association with others who shared the same experience and had similar views. They were in it together. She was sometimes depressed, though always in a state of resistance.

As I was returning to the front desk I paused to look at a huge model of a house fly suspended at the turn of the stairs approaching the ground floor. It was about one and three quarters metres long and suspended about a metre above head height. It seemed to have been constructed as a teaching aid. It might have surprised or moved me. but was inert, an objectified representation presented for public education. It had no sensual or bodily sculptural substance. The surface alone provided whatever information there was. I might have been regarded in the same fashion, when the woman with the sheaf of papers passing from room to room registered my presence in the periphery. As a three dimensional diagram the fly was utterly sterile hung up in the margins of the museum which acted as a morgue. It contributed to the sterility, the 'dryness', which is often experienced in institutional spaces, waiting rooms, and perhaps most acutely in the 'waiting room', where the purpose for it's use lies elsewhere in some other space and some other time. It reeks of a mixture of boredom and anxiety. It is often unloved because it doesn't contain the central purpose for its use, being merely a subsiduary vehicle for activities taking place elsewhere. I was begining to feel the approach of boredom, and could see that it would require a strong act of will or some externally driven pressure to dissipate. Whatever else the museum offered, I had come to a place of consummate banality. I could feel the weight of an uninspired rationality, devoid of human sensibility. However a museum devoted to hygiene should rightly privilege the rational and live with the production of information structured by convention. How else can it be done? The curatorial staff would ideally be the masters and mistresses of convention, and presumably sensitive to its changes. The history of the museum is in part a history of the modes of established convention applied to the subjects in question. It operates in accordance with recognised codes which are sensitive to and reflective upon material changes in society. The dryness I surmised was an echo from the previous era. It saturated the building. The building had not yet passed into the present through the articulation of it's contents and therefore of those changing conventions which would mark it's transformation from the period of the Warsaw Pact to the present globalisation of Capitalism, the effects of which could be seen in the streets outside. The building and its contents didn't represent resistance to change, but perhaps more pertinently a drifting degeneration, involuntary transformation, unlike Gertrude herself who had seen the necessity for change, but was overwhelmed by the tidal force of the collapse when it eventually came, and resisted the intrusions of the global market as far as she could while agonising over what alternative there might have been. It was as she knew, too late. The museum did not yet appear to have fully effected ideological 'de-contamination' which nonetheless would surely come. Its response to the new ideology wasn't clear. I could see the dilemma. There is a certain abdication of the idea of the 'musem' as it succumbs to mammonite expansion.

It had been suggested by the Collector of Ordure that I might consider the question of the establishment of a Museum of Shit. My visit was a response to his suggestion. It reflected a number of issues which were specific to the geographic location of the Deutsches Hygiene Museum in terms of the history of Europe in the last century. It has given me the impetus to consider what a Museum of Shit might consist of.  The predominating view of the museum is well known, as an institution, a repository, devoted to the aquisition, presentation, and study of manifestations (objects and processes) of diverse kinds, containing artistic, historic and educational significance. And I think it is a reasonable model from which to begin to imagine the Museum of Shit.
I wasn't able to translate the texts into a semblance of english, but eventually came to the conclusion that Aids was the subject of the exhibition. I couldn't tell how the visual models related to the text. Among the three demonstrational diagrams were four african sculptures which were refreshingly direct. One was of a male figure contemplating his own enormous erect penis painted white, with his hands dislayed around it. I thought it was a demonstration model of how to prepare oneself for sexual intercourse in order to avoid sexually transmitted diseases by wearing a condom. It had that extraordinary sense of hallucinogenic power which some highly charged african sculptures express directly out of the unconcious. There were three other scuptures , one of an acrobatic figure examining his or her own anus and pubic parts. Another was of a person examining the anal and pubic region of another figure of ambiguous sexuality. This was extraordinary, where the observed figure appeared to be almost split in half, expressing a sense of the unknowness of that dark region of the unconcious which also eludes the observations by the self, like approaching an engulfing cavern. The one in the seat of power looking in, was contrasted by the seemingly unknowing gaze of the other looking outwards seeing nothing, since what was happening at the rear would have taken up all that person's attention, as though the inner self was being exposed. What to see there? It suggested that sense on the part of the subject of not wanting to know what was happening, not wanting to be there, and yet riveted to the process, under the sway of that awful question where the future would be revealed. It was a public action in which the very psychic core of the peron was exposed. I came back again and again to those images which were supposedly simple demonstration models. The scientifically determined three dimensional diagrams whose visual literalness was negatively expressed, contrasted with the visual power displayed by the African models.
I arrived at a circular tower with two entrances.which marked the halfway point, the end culmimating at the entrance. Inside elevated on a podium was a larger than life size model of a solidly built human female. Somewhere back there I had passed a similarly treated male figure. Their dimensions were those of recent historical heroic proportions. Was this accidental? Apart from the anatomical lessons inscribed in the body, the size, implied weight and power was suggestive of utopian heroes. The outer surfaces were glistening transparent plastic casks which revealed sections of the internal organs of the bodies which had been sliced open to show the interiors in sharp detail. in these characteristics they diverged sharply from the heroic model. They were painted in bright flat colours simulating the colour of the outer skin, and internal organs veins etc wich jarred against the attempt to create a scientifically exact literal model. They had become a fascinating parody of the heroic.

Is this the ... in the... or the ..... in the ...... Is this ... for the.... or ... in the ...or...

Fly ointment snake grass genie bottle jack trades master none

I gave in the token and my overcoat and knapsack were passed over while the attendant continued to read the newspaper in between reaching for the items and laying them on the table . I went into the room marked Herrn and was struck by the image of a large swastika with accompanying text which was scrawled accross two mirrors. I looked through the tangle of black lines, behind the darkly energetic inscription which lay all over my image in the mirror. It was as though something refused to lie down. It had been in the back of my mind. The museum had been built in the twenties was opened in nineteen thirty. It would presumably have been in operation throughout the period of National Socialism and the socialist era of the Deutsche Democratische Republic since then. There would naturally be echoes from the past somewhere, somehow or other. That re-awakened power had reached up and grasped the building by its balls. It was expressed with shocking intensity, so unlike the provocative entries of the swastika into the periphery of popular culture since the nineteen seventies. Here it resonated with baleful force.

Driving in from the airport from the north on the previous saturday evening, there had been a line of twenty or so police vehicles parked on the side of a dual carriage way in the direction leading away from the centre of the city. I said to Mathieu that it looked as though the police might have been having crowd trouble after a football match. He said “If only that was the reason”, and mentioned that a number of neo-nazis had been arrested the previous week in the Saxische Schweiss.

The event in the evening attracted an audience of about two hundred people in the largest exhibition room of the Kunst Haus resplendent with brand new parquet flooring. The artist had been invited to make a performance with a number of others, and as is his practice of late contracted me as the Curator of Ordure to make a presentation of the Collection of Ordure under his name. Of course I introduced myself at the begining and explained what my relationship is to the collector and the artist. The artist is involved with the Collector of Ordure and has followed his activities for some years, although he didn't meet me until the opening of the exhibition of the photographs at the Golden Heart in Spitalfields late in ninety nine, and hadn't known of my association with the Collector. It was because of my association with him that we found we had interests in common, and he contracted me to work at The Whitechapel Gallery in 'Legs' 2000.

I arrived at the Kunst Haus in the afternoon to find that the artist was very tense. He had expected me to be there in the late morning. I explained that I had other matters to concern myself with, a part of which was connected to what I intended to present later, but he wasn't at all sympathetic. I wasn't happy either, far from it. Mathieu who had concieved of the evening programme was making himself generally useful, and asked me if I would be interested in something he had found in the back of the workshop of the Kunst Haus. We went into a storage section where a glass jar with a section of wooden board laid over the top, had been placed on a desk. I took off the board and looked down into it. It was half full of shining dark brown sleek cockroaches of varying sizes. They were lying all over each other quite still, their antennae delicately vibrating. The glittering light flashing on their shiny bodies gave the scene a thoroughly malific countenance. They were silent, no noise. The bottom layers were composed of dead mostly large corpses, the outer shell casings being all that remained. I shook the jar a little and there was an instant surge of energy as they ran over each other in their attempts to escape, but couldn't climb the circular wall of glass. He thought it might interest me and it did. How long had they been there? Had they reproduced? What had they eaten if anything? How long could they survive without food? ? Had they eaten each other? They are known to be able to survive in extreme conditions. If left to their own devices would they have reproduced sufficiently to raise the level of their collective dead and living bodies until those at the top could escape? It was a feasible if unappetising vision. He said that the wood placed on top was only a precaution because they couldn't climb up the glass walls. It made us feel less vulnerable as we regard them as being filthy creatures. They are the carriers of infection, and augury of of filth, corruption and disease. Is that why they so are panic stricken in our presence? They must have learned that we have been profoundly conditioned to recoil with horror when we come accross them, and to eradicate them on sight. He said he had found them in the jar inside a cupboard which had at sometime been used as a bar at the back of the workshop.

The artist had selected some off cuts of wood, a wooden chair, four trestles, a large table sized board, and some string which he suggested I use. The items he had chosen were roughly similar to the materials I had used in the previous presentation at the University of Regina, in Regina Saskatchewan Canada. I suppose that as I had told him how how useful they had been he had assumed that similar objects might be effective in the Kunst Haus. In fact apart from the volumn of space the two rooms didn't compare. In Regina there was a black box for theatre with appropriate lighting, and flexible seating, which bore no resemblance to the gallery space with no seating and its lighting permanently focussed on the walls. The only similarity lay in the amount of space and the emptiness all around. I accepted what he had selected. I didn't know what I might need apart from the examples of shit I had brought with me. The jar of cockroaches presented a new challenge, something I hadn't foreseen. I left them in the storage room and put them to the back of my mind. I was focussed on not concentrating on the presentation to come.

The audience was milling around, not knowing where or from whom the next presentation would be coming from. I had decided to use the end of the gallery close to the door. The materials had been moved to a room just a few steps from the door. I took the large board, and struggled to get in through the crowd around the door. I dragged it into the room and threw it on the floor. It didn't make a huge noise behaving like a sail in the wind, the air cushioning it's fall.. The audience moved back, and then began to push forward again. I threw in the rest piece by piece on to the board with some force. The audience retreated as I had intended and began to settle into a form which would become increasingly difficult to shift again without being alienated. The introduction was complete, setting the tone for what would follow.

I began to push the wood and trestles further out into the room, walked round the edges of the audience and showed the jar of cockroaches to those at the front. It was a scene of organised chaos, so many there. Some could see from behind those at the front but others could only catch a glimpse now and then. I tied some string to the trestles and began to drag them around more or less in a circle bumping into each other. Gradually they formed into a configuration, and suddenly fixed into a log jam, making scraping, dragging and scratching sounds as they were brought into conflict with each other and were forced to negotiate suddenly breaking free under the pressure only to be caught again and again until it was over. The grinding and screeching rose and fell slithering and sliding until caught once more in a morass of wood and board and chairs and strings. It spoke it's language of indifference, and contest as surfaces harmonised and then clashed from moment to moment. Finally I brought it to a close. Stop. It was musical peroration , a prelude.
I brought two of the trestles together and struggled to get the huge board up and over on top of them to make a temporary table. Nobody spoke. I heard the sound of feet Shuffling, coughs. I brought out the filthy pair of underpants and laid them on the table with the stained shirt and undershirt which bore the slogan 'Shut the fuck up' printed on it. I put the chair on the table, the long johns on the chair, and placed the jar of cockroaches on the table towards the front end.. I have no memory of the audience at this stage .

What happened? How did I eventually find myself high in the air.

I introduced myself. R.Y.Sirb Curator of Ordure, and then the subject: