“CASE 83. W., aged forty-five, predisposed, was given to masturbation at the age of eight. From his sixteenth year, he gave himself sexual satisfaction by drinking recent female urine. So great was his pleasure when he drank the urine that he could neither taste nor smell anything in doing so. After drinking, he always experienced disgust and ill-feeling, and made firm resolutions to do it no more in the future.”
-from Richard Von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis
“He is not an artist; he is a jerk.”
-Spoken by Senator Jesse Helms in reference to Andres Serrano, creator of Piss Christ
“[Humor] is the only reason for living, in fact.”
One morning, in the mid 90s, I sat in a tiered auditorium, listening to Professor Richard Wollheim explain what makes art Art. (I love it when people are named Art. My dad worked with a guy named Art. I would fantasize about framing him. I also love when people have the last name Arreola. They’re so close to being boobs.)
Wollheim was teaching a seminar on the philosophy of aesthetics, he was renowned for having coined the term minimalism, and in his British accent, he was stressing the role of context in art’s creation. Dressed in scholarly khaki, he paced the tile.
I took notes.
Context matters so much when it comes/cums to meaning. Sex symbol and comic Chris Rock often emphasizes this importance in his standup. In his show Kill the Messenger, he employs confessional joke-telling to argue that non-faggots may appropriate the word faggot based on contextual faggotry. While I think Rock’s rhetoric fails in this particular bit, his almost evangelical reminder that context manufactures meaning, “It’s not the word! It’s the context in which the word is being said!” is a thing of beauty. It’s art. It’s evangelicalism. Let’s keep Rock’s message in mind, heart, body, and bladder.
Back to Wollheim.
He was still pacing and grunting. Gesturing. Describing a watershed moment in art history. He was explaining artist Marcel Duchamp’s game-changing ready-made, which was displayed in a recumbent position at the 291, an art gallery, in 1917. How Wollheim described the ready-made confused me. I’d never heard the word he was using so I didn’t know how to spell it. In my notes, I wrote the word phonetically. Wollheim explained that the piece was titled Fountain but that it was made up of a yer eye null. He emphasized the italicized syllable. Duchamp signed his yer eye null with the pseudonym R. Mutt.
“What the hell is a yer eye null?” I wondered to myself. “It must be something really exotic. I mean, it’s something I’ve never heard of before. I’ve never heard that word.”
Then, the splash that is epiphany…
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh,” I thought to myself. “Urinal! His stupid British accent totally pissed all over the word and turned it into something new!
The exoticization of whiteness through urine. Through gold. Through liquid.
That’s alchemy. Linguistic alchemy.
Just as Wollheim had made me experience the word urinal from a fresh, new, and moist perspective, Duchamp recreated art as something new: not art. Wollheim explained that by taking an everyday object, a ready-made, and placing it in a hyper legit art context, 291, Duchamp revolutionized art practice for the twentieth century. He provoked questions of how context manufactures, squirts, and/or leaks, meaning. From whence does art’s identity come/cum? From the heart, the brain, or the bladder?
Yer eye null. Yer eye null. Yer eye null.
About the yer eye null and its attendant aesthetic and intellectual revolution, philosopher Stephen Hicks writes, “The artist is not a great creator. Duchamp went shopping at a plumbing store. The artwork is not a special object. It was mass-produced in a factory. The experience of art is not exciting and ennobling. At best it is puzzling and mostly leaves one with a sense of distaste. But over and above that, Duchamp did not select just any ready-made object to display. In selecting the urinal, his message was clear: Art is something you piss on.”
Apparently, so is my face.
In my explorations of the male gaze, I’ve involved myself in an extended internet performance art piece wherein I submit images of myself to various online platforms frequented by male gazers. Of course, I collect the comments that these images spawn, provoke, and leak. Some of these comments have puzzled me, others have made me smile, and a few have wounded me to my yellow core: my bladder.
The comment that rendered me golden was written in Italian.
About a photo of my face, a self-described 19-year-old Argentine typed: “Ma le hanno pisciato in faccia.”
This directly translates to, “They pissed in the face of it.”
I’ve been pondering this comment and its meaning.
Did the gentleman mean that I looked pissed as in angry? Probably not. Pissed as in drunk? I don’t think so. What I think he meant is an actual reference to urine. My face looked, to him, as if someone had peed on it. In essence, he saw my face as a urinal.
Vile liquids gleam on my face. My face is where one goes to lighten oneself, to find relief.
This is perfect.
As a woman, I’m a member of a marked category which means people feel free to discuss me not as a human being but as a thing. In the normative imagination, which constructs marked and unmarked categories, I get thinged. When one gets thinged, those who thingify feel free to unburden cruelty upon the thing. They heap assorted cruelties upon one’s thingness. Members of marked categories experience this over and over and over and over and over till we die. We experience life as receptacles. Vessels. Urinals. Toilets. Dumpsters. Landfills. Garbage scows. This is what happens when a woman is told her face holds piss, when a black person is asked, “Can I feel your hair?” when a trans person is interrogated about the very personal universe between their legs. We become thingified. We become face. We become hair. We become genitals. Thingification nullifies the rest of our being and, thusly, opens us up to the receipt of cruelty and hatred. Thingification contrasts with objectification in that objectification is too kind a word. Thing captures the appropriate measure of cruelty that accompanies this process.
Since reading the Argentinian’s comment, I’ve been pondering my face, and the piss in it, and I acknowledge that I’m reluctant to smile in photos. Smiling at the camera doesn’t come naturally to me. Glaring at it does. Glaring is more fun. Glaring feels natural. Glaring protects me. I don’t deflect the evil eye. I am the evil eye. While I don’t necessarily have a resting bitch face, I have a resting mean face. My face is meaningful. Its expression is neither sweet nor inviting. My face communicates aggression and weirdness. It doesn’t exist to brighten anyone’s day.
Urine is so bright.
Urine is sunshine.
I may have piss in my face but if the world would like me to smile, it would be nice for patriarchy to slip its metaphorical phallus back into its pants, jockstrap, speedo, whatever, and stop pissing in everybody’s face.
Yes, patriarchy pisses in everybody’s face.
And let’s be clear. Some of my best friends pee standing up.
Some of my best friends can yellow the snow with impeccable cursive.
That said, I turn to Duchamp, a male artist, for vindication. According to his fountain, if art is something you piss on, then my face is, indeed, a work of art.
Andres Serrano’s (Immersion) Piss Christ is a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s own beautiful pee. Haters argue that it’s sacrilegous bullshit but how can you desecrate something that’s already so severely desecrated? Isn’t it a desecration of the the most sacred thing ever, the human body, to hammer it to a cross? Can we desecrate the desecrated?
To further exorcise the male gaze from my images, I borrow again from male work, Serrano’s.
I give you Piss Myriam.
It begins with a picture of me in a casserole dish being submerged in a cleansing bath of Gatorade/Haterade.
Through this baptism, my image is reborn free from the male gaze!
A la Ana Mendieta, I return my face to mother earth, the greatest lesbian of all.