Jueves 11 de Abril de 2002, Ip nš 12

The art of the meal
Por Heather Sparks

Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has created what could be the most universal human portrait ever made: an assembly line simulacrum of the human digestive system, an endless conveyor belt of food sucking and expulsion.

Sound like anyone you know?

To create this perfect representation of humanity, Delvoye says he thought long and hard, until it dawned on him. "I thought, 'Shit!' That's it!" he said.

Delvoye has created Cloaca, more human than some might like to admit, and named it after the ancient Roman sewer, Cloaca maxima.

The machine is about the length of tractor-trailer bed. It eats, digests and expels two meals every day. From a bulbous glass funnel, food is dropped down into a meat grinder. From there, snake green tubes, which slowly suck and pump food through six glass jugs. Every digestive enzyme and juice that humans carry is contained in the system, from pancreatine to bile. Waste is expelled onto a conveyor belt, clinically identical to human turds.

Cloaca is at the New Museum in New York through April 28. Area restaurants feed Cloaca at 11:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The previous day's meals are expelled at 2:30 p.m.

The idea is that although people make their living in a million different ways and have musical preferences just as varied as their political beliefs, at least our plumbing is the same. If there's one thing that bonds us, he said, it's that food goes in and crap comes out.

"I chose shit, because it is not only useless, it's also cosmopolitan, so universal," Delvoye said. "You could go anywhere, and it speaks to everyone."

The universality of the muse provides a wide-range of views on Cloaca.

Shawn Brixey, chair of the department of art's digital media program at the University of California at Berkeley, said that Cloaca is like the Don Rickles of art: Its punch line is not only uncomfortable, it's almost unbearably true.

But Brixey and Marvin Heiferman, who co-curated the touring art show based on genetics, Paradise Now, sees the glass and metal beast as not just an unflinching look at ourselves but a commentary on today's era of biotech.

"This is extremely relevant in the context that today people are very curious about the human body," Heiferman said. "With the ideas of cloning and advances in medicine, Cloaca demonstrates who humans are in the sense of our strengths and our fragility."

Cloaca does come across as a monument to far-out advances in science, just as its messy, organic contents serve as a reminder of our thin grasp on life.

While Cloaca makes concessions to the future of medicine and biotech for some, Delvoye insists Cloaca is not a commentary on either.

"I am very aware that there could be confusion that comes with a machine that works like a human," he said. "So I want to keep scientists a little bit away, because I don't need them anymore."

To prove it, Delvoye has turned down inquiries from a science museum in Tokyo, as well as a diaper R&D firm in Belgium.

The New Museum's senior curator, Dan Cameron, said of this confusion, "there's a tendency, because of the technology and the amount of scientific knowledge that went into making the piece, to rush ahead and say that this work is about science or it is science, and it most categorically isn't."

This flies in the face of other artists who use technology in their work, artists in America such as Brixey and transgenic artist Eduardo Kac, who use such science as information technology and genetic manipulation as both their media and their message.

Brixey suggests that there may be cultural differences between Europeans and Americans. After all, he said, the pioneering spirit of America has given us the Wild West, the Moon and the Internet, which translates into a pie-eyed embrace of the latest technology. Europeans on the other hand, may be more skeptical.

In the end, said Brixey, what's left is that Cloaca is an in-your-face portrait of every last one of us. But within that jumbled assembly line, the different ways people embrace or reject technology is also revealed.

After a European appearance in 2000, the $200,000 eating machine was remodeled to satisfy the U.S. department of Health. A glass case now surrounds the odoriferous end mechanism.


  26/01/2002. Wired Magazine.