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The Symptom and
the Body Event

Art after Lacan

The Political as a
Procedure of Truth

The Only Good Neighbor
is a Dead Neighbor!

In Your Dreams:
Serrano and Freud





Josefina Ayerza interviews Wim Delvoye

Josefina Ayerza: The shitting machine. The machine shits. The first question that comes to mind is where does the impulse come from? From the outside, or from the machine itself? You know, the initiator of the motion, where does it come from? Is it in perpetual motion, or do you start it, like a car, with a key?

Wim Delvoye: No, no, no. Once the machine is installed in a museum, it is a live thing. Even when the museum is closed the machine is fed everyday, because in the organs, there is real human stomach bacteria.

JA: This bacteria has to be fed every day, right?

WD: Yes. And if the machine doesn't eat, for example, when the museum is closed, then the organs get empty and the glass bulbs, the glass organs, they dry up and the bacteria dies, and then it takes three or four days to set it up again. Because the machine uses chemicals, mechanical things and also biological products like enzymes, and it uses bacteriological products.

JA: For how long do you make a contract with a museum?

WD: It's not that I make a contract. The deal is that the museums have to think in a different way than with another art piece. For example, they cannot turn the electricity off. They cannot close completely, because the machine needs to ingest food at the same hour twice a day.

JA: We were talking about starting the machine, is feeding it the way to start it?

WD: Well, we have to set it all up, to fill every container, like a washing machine, where you have to put softener, soap, and water. In this case it's enzymes, pancreatin, stomach salt, etc. And then the bacteria which is like a yogurt system... We have to put the bacteria into the organs, glass organs, you only have to put a bit of bacteria in, and then the bacteria breed themselves. So you never have to care about the bacteria. Once the bacteria are inside, it's fine. The bacteria reproduces themselves in the organ. Everything is controlled by a computer.

JA: So this system has but one hole which is an intestinal one. Now, I was reading this article, it says that there's no chance for any other thing with one hole. Still there's one animal which has one hole, which is the hen which does everything through this one hole.

WD: Every reptile, or bird has something called cloaca, which is actually one hole, and the vagina is included. My machine is only concentrated on the gastrointestinal system, we call it cloaca but we also call it only Cloaca because it refers to the trademark of a car. For example, the time that I started working on it, Renault had a new model called Laguna. So Cloaca sounds like a new model for a car. That's why I chose cloaca as a reference to the anus, but it doesn't say anus, cloaca is more poetic.

JA: Lets see. This is the stomach and the intestine, and there's no more than that?

WD: The pancreas, the small intestines and the big intestines. And the mouth and the anus.

JA: And the esophagus, that you have to have.

WD: This is for us not essential, because it is only a transport system. You make the gastrointestinal system as transparent as possible, but you also make other things transparent, for example the art object, the art world is also becoming transparent for this piece, but that's for later. So the food goes in there and this is a chewer. It eats the food in little bits and pieces.

JA: Shall we say that is the mouth... the rim?

WD: Yes. We actually have two chewers. Here it's for big pieces and there for a little bit smaller pieces. And then it goes into the first organ, the stomach. In the stomach, salts are coming. This for three hours, then HCl comes in. N2 is a gas, coming in here, into the stomach. The experts make sure that there's no oxidation in the food, just like a real body. And the gas is pushed through all the organs, this N2 changes into methane‹the farting system, you know, because of the fermentation, what's happening chemically slowly changes the gas, then pepsin comes in. Then NaH3 comes in and pancreatin and other salts come in and it stays two hours.

JA: This is the pancreas? Does the food go into the pancreas?

WD: The food doesn't go into the pancreas but it is where the pancreatin and food come together. We don't have to visually reproduce what the gastrointestinal system looks like, we just have to visually show the functions, not the forms. The shocking thing is that it doesn't look like a human being. The shocking thing is that it's like a wheel. The wheel isn't trying to look like your feet, but it does the same thing as all feet do.

JA: You're not making a robot, I can see that.

WD: It's a robot in a way, but it's not trying to look like the gastrointestinal system. It's not trying to be anthropomorphic. It doesn't try to look like a human being. It's a live thing... This you see here, gets transported into another container... Now, also, acids are coming in to break down the food.

JA: I see, very strong ones... ?

WD: Strong acids that we have in the stomach. Then, these are the small intestines. They take three hours. They get transported with a peristaltic pump. Don't worry. This is something I just buy in a pharmaceutical company, we didn't have to invent the peristaltic pump. The last three are the big intestines. And this is the real job. In these intestines are living bacteria. Without these bacteria, you cannot digest your food. A baby, for example, is born with no bacteria in his body because he comes from the placenta. But then immediately, once he is born, he receives these bacteria.

JA: From the mother's milk?

WD: From the mother's milk, from the air, from food and all that stuff. That's why he has liquid shit in the beginning. In these things there are PH checkups. There are electrodes that are measuring the acidity.

JA: And then what happens?

WD: And then it finally goes into a container which is called the separator, because to make poo poo, the body has to take all the liquids out, and the body has a very, very fine filtering system that takes water out and you could nearly drink that water. So we didn't achieve the same sophistication in the filtering system. It is just like this, that water has to be removed. But that's prenatal poo poo, prenatal kaka, you know, this shit ‹ this pre-shit, like shit before it becomes shit.

JA: And where does the water go?

WD: We will just flush the water away through the piping system. We don't use it again because we are not able to filter it sufficiently to use it again. By then, because of fermentation, the soup, this prenatal soup, is getting very hot.

JA: Why do you call it a soup?

WD: Yeah, uh, no, it looks like a soup. And you get the water out with a separator. What is left over is a kind of shit. The shit falls into this hole, and another pushing system pushes it out of this thing, and the shit falls down but this is not natural. The anus is actually different, the anus goes like this...

JA: Once this happens, what happens outside, does it smell?

WD: Yeah, it smells, like shit.

JA: What do the people do?

WD: Some people complain that it smells too much. A lot of people get disappointed that it doesn't smell more, you know, because it smells like the shit of one human being. Because it only shits like one human being.

JA: And so some people complain that it smells and other people say there's not enough smell. And you let the smell be there, for people to deal with it. And is it always the same, for instance, does the machine get diarrhea sometimes?

WD: Yeah, sometimes automatically, if the machine drinks too much fruit juice, or other acidic drinks, it gets diarrhea. It gets diarrhea quicker than with a human being. We cannot let the machine drink too much alcohol...

JA: Oh really? What does Cloaca do with the alcohol?

WD: Well, it fucks up the whole gastrointestinal system. It fucks it all up, because alcohol has a lot of acid. Or chili, a lot of curry is difficult for the machine. Our bodies are still better than Cloaca.

JA: This is a point?

WD: Well, it gives me an incentive to continue my research.

JA: You want to continue. You want to get as good as nature‹like a human body, of course. Is Cloaca better than animals?

WD: No, no. Animals are as good as human beings. Cloaca is better than a human being and worse than a human being. They are different. The machine is not as sophisticated as the body, but in that it is less sophisticated, there are benefits. It's always on time, like a train in the time of Mussolini, and it eats everything and never suffers from stress, or childhood traumas or PMS. And because the machine has one function, to digest the food and process it into shit. So it takes the food and processes it into shit.

JA: I see that in Adrian's interview with you you say that this is the aim, or goal, of being a human being‹eating and shitting in the world.

WD: And reproducing.

JA: You think this is the most important?

WD: For most people at least.

JA: For the most?

WD: Josefina! Not us!

JA: Not us that can make a machine.

WD: You would have to look up the exact number, but for some 40 billion years human beings have been eating and shitting. And what do most people do except reproduce, eat and shit‹not much more. What percentage of human beings do something more valuable than making shit?

JA: Yeah, that is true. They do a lot of shit.

WD: Yeah. But you also have to imagine that your shit is fine to publish lacanian ink‹yeah? That my shit is fine because I also produce art. But most people are not here with a drive to do something. They don't want to do anything.

JA: Having to do with creation.

WD: Yeah, they don't want to create anything else but shit.

JA: Is there a digestive system of the mind?

WD: What the Macintosh is for our brain, Cloaca is for our gastrointestinal system. The computer does a lot, but of course, the brain is still more sophisticated.

JA: I can think of the "uncanny" in reference to your work, with regard to shit as exposed. With Freud the uncanny addresses the familiar and the sinister, you know... Those two seem to go together.

WD: The uncanny has this contradiction in it. What you're telling all these people they want to look at, together and at the same time they reject... What they're missing will be there, then by the same token, when the machine shits they applaud.

JA: Even though there is rejection?

WD: Because the machine is the star. They're a bit shocked about the contrast of the professionalism, the machine is very expensive, the work is really, really labor intensive, hum, you know, things like this... All for nothing. You know, it's like golf. In order to hit the ball across the golf course, buildings are removed, money is raised, real estate deals are made, you know, to have this ball there, but it's so futile; the futility and the professionalism.

JA: In the case of a human being, there's some nurturing involved in getting the little ball in the hole, and to make a little baby that will be born, and shit in the world. The machine is more futile than the human being because it's...

WD: No, no, no, It's big, it's expensive, it's huge, it's complicated to make, you need academics to work with you, you need all these people with sophisticated jobs helping you to produce shit. All of these professionals and academics collaborating to produce nothing more than shit... Shit which is the most futile thing, you just throw it out.

JA: I can see one wondering about using all of this time and all of this money to make shit, but then when you consider all the time and money used to put a little ball in a hole...

WD: Or, look at all this time and all this money used to do this exhibition. And that's the second transparency that I mentioned in the beginning. Because we did everything to make the gastrointestinal system as transparent as possible, but we also make a second transparency‹and this concerns the art system, the art piece, since people say that it's immoral.

JA: All this human time involved, and people thinking about shit... It's only shit. But there is a product, even though it's a leftover that you're going to throw away‹still there's a product.

WD: The product is bottled in silicon and sold as posthuman cyber-shit ‹ as a "cybermanzoni."

JA: Somebody buys it?

Delvoye image WD: Oh yeah. We sold all the shit. The shit is famous because Cloaca is famous. And Cloaca is famous because all of the TV people, all the journalists, are all there pushing one another to have the place near the honors, with the anus near the camera. And what are they filming? The same shit as every individual human being flushed away in their own house. If you bring the shit to the university and have them test to see if this is a human shit, they will say yes madame hum, uh, yes sir! This is biochemically exact shit‹human shit.

JA: And so, people take a part with this shit, and if it stays there, offer it to them to buy it. And they take it home and they put it there.

WD: Yes sir! As an addition, as an art-piece. I've been working on it mentally for eight years, and I've been working on it technically for two years.

JA: For shit it's a lot of money... you know.

WD: There's an artist that used to sell his shit...

JA: Manzoni!

WD: Manzoni is about the nineteenth century idea of the signature and the handwriting of the artist. Also about the nineteenth century personal touch. His own hands, he's done it with his own hands. Yeah? But, this is a machine who does it.

JA: Somehow it's touching in a place where everybody is different from everybody else.

WD: Yes.

JA: More different than in the mind. Even the elements are the same, you eat together, you eat the same things, nevertheless, people think the shit will not be the same.

WD: It is not the same thing. Cloaca makes things even a bit more subjective, because Cloaca doesn't remember, has no tension, anxiety, you know, doesn't have any psychological problems, or psychological circumstances.

JA: There isn't the one shape. Two individuals, even if they don't go through the traumas, which are inevitably there, have intestines of different lengths, because you know intestines, and so if the food is there longer in the intestines, taking more acid... It would never be the same...

WD: It would never be the same.

JA: So Cloaca is the name, the Baptism name, the baptizing...

WD: Cloaca is the brand, the brand name. It's the title of the art piece but it's also the name of the machine. I named it like this.

JA: Shall we say Cloaca is the name of one of your art pieces?

WD: It's more than an art piece. It's performance, and it's sculpture and installation... It's smell‹a machine, and it's yeah, gastronomy. And the people discuss what the machine ate like if it was their baby. It's like a baby, you have to take care of it. You force the museum, or the collector, or the public to be a caretaker.

JA: But that's how there is a name, I would say, because it has the elements in drive, which is the thrust that starts it. Then, there is a source, it's like a man. Then there is the object, which is this shit and at the same time the goal, the aim, whatever you want, which is a piece of shit which is going to be looked at, it's going to be bottled, something's there, this is an objet a, this product that people are going to buy it, want it for themselves.

WD: Yes, but it's very funny because shit is the most democratic thing... Shit doesn't listen to any laws of races, classes, and sexes.

JA: You say in an interview we did a long time ago, about race, that if the race is different, the shit is nevertheless not different. It's always the same color shit.

WD: Yeah. I was saying shit is like showing the human being without races, classes, and sexes. You have an anus and I have an anus. Yeah? You know, bad and good people, rich and poor, white and black people, and male and female people, old and young people are all having an anus. The anus is a plebeian thing, it's universal.

JA: In a way, you're making people look into the shit, which establishes difference through consumption. Maybe there are class distinctions in shit, say people that eat the same food, but does it make for a better shit?

WD: No, not really. But maybe. Philosophically speaking, it's a minor detail‹shit is shit. But because it's so futile, and proletarian, and plebeian, and democratic, whichever word you prefer, it's so democratic you should treat the shit like every other shit. Because of this shiny machine, more value is given to the shit, so they are sinning against the democratic rule. The TV cameras and the public attention and the art critics make this shit different than other shits. Biochemically it's exact.

JA: But one of your products, the work of art, is to have gotten people to pay for the shit and take it home, and collect it.

WD: So I show that the shit is again on a pedestal, so again this democratic thing becomes aristocratic.

JA: Which no thing ever did. Nobody ever wanted to have the shit of a king... Is there in history a king who was such a king that his shit was sacred?

WD: Well, the Chinese emperor's shit was sacred. It was kept on a silver plate for one day. The Chinese emperor was so holy that the doctors couldn't touch him. But because he is so holy, they have to care for his medical condition. How could they check his medical condition without touching him? They had to check his shit. So his shit was the ambassador of his body. The shit was the messenger of the body.

JA: I hear that you call the machine a she.

WD: Did I say she? I maybe sometimes say she because cloaca ends with "a,... so grammatically you say she. Cloaca doesn't refer to the anus of a reptile or a hen. No. We use the word cloaca because it sounds very nice, it refers to Renault Laguna and all these kind of brands, Coca-Cola, Laguna, whatever, and my research says that it can be pronounced in every language, very important, and it refers to the Roman sewage system. Cloaca Maxima, the sewage system, cloacum means toilet in Latin. And it doesn't force you into one interpretation. It's just a name, like Wim, Cloaca, you know, because calling it gastrointestinal would be too descriptive, too academic.

JA: It's nice that it has a name for itself without saying too much.

WD: Yeah, Cloaca, Cloaca. It allows me to use the same letters as Coca-Cola... You know the machine is travelling to Vienna but we are adding a device through the Internet. I can control every little system with a touch screen on the computer. So it's all about control. Because you are asked as a baby to control yourself and then some people become control freaks and neurotic.

JA: The control of the gastrointestinal system goes through the Sympathetic Nervous System, whatever, and this system starts deep inside the brain, as it rules over the kind of control with which you do not intervene consciously. But paradoxically enough the system starting deep inside the brain is a-cephalic, comparable to drive, in human beings... How does the nervous system relate to Cloaca's motor? You control it from that computer, right? Let's say that Cloaca will not control itself, and you are going to control it. And you are behaving as what, as God?

WD: Yeah, you control, for example, in Vienna the shit from Belgium, or I'm here in New York, with an exhibition running in Vienna, and through the Internet, I control shit at the other side of the world.

JA: You control at the other side of the world through the nerves of the planet... I say it has to do with the nerves. We have President Schreber's case; he wrote his memoirs. At forty he had a schizophrenic breakdown, and so they put him in the hospital. One of his fantasies was that he had turned into a transvestite as to copulate with God. Thus he would dress as a woman and his nerves went travelling through the body out into the skies, raising through the clouds... God in control of the nerves of course.

WD: It's like the monster of Frankenstein, because Cloaca is a machine. Playing God. A shit-maker, beside God. God is our biggest shit-maker. He created all the shit making elements. And I'm a shit-maker beside Him.


Art: Wim Delvoye, CLOACA, preparatory drawing, pencil and ink on paper, 1999
CLOACA, (detail of installation at Muhka), 2000
courtesy of the artist


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