Vol. 1, Ep. 3 "Dirty Genius" (2007)


Feces As Art: A Brief History  (Episode 3)

America got a notorious glimpse of poop-as-art when Chris Ofili's "Holy Virgin Mary" was displayed in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, in New York in 1999. Do you remember the Virgin Mary slung with elephant dung? At first glance Ofili's work seemed like an abstraction of a pre-Renaissance, stylized black Madonna, set off against a golden background. But a closer inspection revealed a clump of elephant dung at her right breast. Two more clumps, labeled "virgin" and "Mary," served as supports for the painting. (Yes, it smelled.) The highly controversial piece and exhibition stirred up a lot of discussion about modern art, the validity of the medium itself and the desecration of the Virgin Mary.

This was not his only work incorporating huge clumps of dung. The titles of some of Ofili's other pieces speak for themselves, such as "Bag of Shit" and "Shithead." In fact, he often uses elephant dung to prop up his paintings in shows. Ofili is quoted on Salon.com as saying, "Somehow it makes the painting feel more relaxed, instead of being pinned upon the wall like it's being crucified... [The painting can] stand in its own shit and watch the other paintings being crucified on the wall."

Another artist maintains a small photography gallery, The Fecal Art Gallery: Cody's Patio Art. This creative young man takes pride in molding his canine Cody's fecal matter. He admits that his artwork lacks maturity and dynamism but maintains that their forms are undeniably eye-catching. Imagine the conversation that ensues when fellow artists ask, "What medium are you working?" The response: "Oh, you know, dog poop." 

In 2003, American artist Mark Caywood created a mixed media sculpture entitled "Poop Christ." He wedged a crucifix into a pile of hardened elephant dung and pasted it there with Elmer's glue. Luckily he included a Glade Indoor Air freshener to suppress the odor.

Mexico natives Steven Ball and Daniel Quist use monkey feces to compose clients' portraits. They take a picture, make a mold and then apply the raw materials into it while it is still warm and fresh. It is then allowed to cool for several days to ensure rigidity required to make it last for a lifetime. To guarantee the high quality of their fecal portraits, they feed their monkeys only the finest foods so as to produce immaculate results.

There have been rare uses of feces, blood and urine in art for quite some time, andMarcel Duchamp used semen decades ago. Some examples include:

  • The controversial Piss Christ (1987), by Andres Serrano, which is a photograph of acrucifix submerged in urine;
  • Self (1991, recast 1996) by Marc Quinn, a frozen cast of the artist's head made entirely of his own blood;
  • Piss Flowers, by Helen Chadwick (1991-92), are twelve white-enameled bronzes cast from cavities made by urinating in snow (though this might not be characterized as the use of bodily fluids in art, just their use in preparation);
  • performances by G.G. Allen & Lennie Lee involving feces, blood & vomit
  • Gilbert and George's “The Naked Shit Pictures” (1995)
  • Hermann Nitsch and Das Orgien Mysterien Theatre use urine, feces, blood and more in their ritual performances.
  • Dash Snow (RIP)