Toilets, Utopian Imaginings and finding the Potty of Gold

Changing Places Selfie Campaign

The design of toilets have been based on a historical model of the ‘ideal’ (hu)man, and continues to ignore the diversity of their users.

Travelling Toilet Tales …

 

political toilet roll!

You may have recently read about Italian creator, Maurizio Cattelan’s 18-carat solid gold toilet installation at the Guggenheim Museum, but he’s not the only artist using a toilet as an inspiration for their art.  I have been commissioned to make a soundscape about toilets and utopias, which I have recently finished working on.

Constructed from a collection of toilet themed audio stories, anecdotes and interviews from the Around the Toilet project – this slightly potty sound collage is currently being animated by graphic artist Sarah Smizz.

 

Our combined piece –Travelling Toilet Tales – will be presented as a film exploring toilets, place and utopian imaginings to be shown at events and exhibitions, and available online at aroundthetoilet.wordpress.com.

Sure, toilets don’t usually spring to mind when talking about utopias or sound-art, but the landscape of public toilets is far from ideal for many people. Using sound and animation, Travelling Toilet Tales illustrates how the design of toilets have been based on a historical model of the ‘ideal’ (hu)man, and continues to ignore the diversity of their users.

Finding U-toilet-opia…

My personal interest in toilets came from the complexities of accessing toilets as a parent with a physical impairment. Part M of the building regulations advocate that accessible toilets should not have a baby change table. This is primarily because the baby change table can impede access for wheelchair users if it is put in the wrong place, or left down. But like everything in life ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ and when my child was young I found the best ‘fit’ for me was accessible, private toilets with baby changing facilities – where I could take care of my child and also go to the toilet myself.

Interestingly, two of the storytellers spoke about difficulties they had accessing toilets with young children, commenting on the need for both an adult toilet and baby change unit in the same space. One storyteller described the joy of finding a baby change toilet that had a dropdown table, free baby wipes and a seat for breastfeeding.

“It really made me feel accepted whereas in other spaces you just think I’m not meant to be here.”

For her, coming across a baby change table felt like finding gold dust. And the idea of a suitable toilet being like ‘gold dust’ was common theme throughout the piece.   We all have our U-toilet-opias.

Storytellers described the indignity of being forced to lie on the dirty toilet floor due to a lack of adult changing facilities, restricting what they eat and drink and being harassed for using the wrong toilet. Organisations like Action for Trans Health and Changing Places are campaigning about these issues.  But for many accessing the toilet is such a tricky and unsafe endeavour they are essentially barred from public spaces.   There is, in its most literal sense ‘no place’ for them to go, making greater toilet access high on the utopian agenda.

Cartoon about the shortage of Changing Places Toilet for ddults who need a changing table. S.Smizz

Overlapping waters…

While the storytellers came from very diverse backgrounds, many stories overlapped with common considerations of embodiment flowing throughout the piece.   It’s interesting that widespread publicity around the “bathroom bills” in the USA focused on conflicts between religious freedom and equal rights for the trans community. Yet, Travelling Toilet Tales shows how gender-neutral toilets are not just a political issue for the trans community. They also benefit parents, particularly fathers, or disabled people who may have personal assistants of a different gender. A person with a learning difficulty, for example, talked about being told off for using the wrong toilet because he was struggling to read the signs on the toilet door.

“Society hasn’t grown up that much.”

The idea of gender starts at school.

Toilets, and toilet design are issues that impact upon us all. Pensioners describe feeling isolated and staying at home because they fear being “caught short”, whilst lorry drivers restrict what they drink during their working day. One of the most interesting narratives I edited was from a female truck driver, who regularly has to urinate between the load and the unit of her lorry because of public toilet closures. An issue I’d not really considered. Gillian Kemp, who runs Trucker’s Toilets UK and Public Toilets UK, explained that providing public toilets is not a statutory requirement.  As a consequence, many local authorities often close public toilets when faced with budget cuts.

 Making a bigger splash…

Toilets have traditionally been considered to be an abject ‘bog standard’ space, or a taboo topic – but this piece radically redefines the issue and blends the everyday with the fantastical. From the imaginary toilet of a child to the inventive use of wet tissues instead of a lota, Travelling Toilet Tales takes the audience on an interweaving journey embracing disability, age, faith, gender, class and labour.

Travelling Toilet Tales will be premiered at the Utopia Fair between 24 – 26 June. Somerset House, London – a partnership with the AHRC and the Connected Communities Programme


 

Thanks to the Around the Toilet team, with special thanks to the Principal Investigator, Dr Jenny Slater.

Images by Sarah Smizz

 

For many, accessing the toilet is such a tricky and unsafe endeavour they are essentially barred from public spaces.

changing norms

 

 

A Womb With A View – documentary sound installation

Womb image by Jennifer Byrant

In response to recent cases of growth attenuation and forced sterilisation of disabled people, I composed a unique documentary sound installation – ‘A Womb With A View’.  My installation is a journey into the complexities of ‘womanhood’ and our reproductive rights.

The documentary is both funny, hopeful and at times heart wrenching.  In 2016 I worked in collaboration with visual and textile artist Jennifer Bryant, to present the piece in a physical form.  Their installation piece was showcased at the Shoddy exhibition in Leeds, Spring 2016.

A Womb with a View

Quotes from ‘A Womb With A View‘:

“Fundamentally it means that I am female, it has dictated the shape of my body and the sound of my voice…. my hormones, so my emotions.”

“It’s holding a little baby.”

“I didn’t start my periods till i was 17 and what it did was heralded the beginning of puberty, and for me that meant I got a lot stronger.”

“Women with epilepsy were routinely sterilised  in this country until quite recently.”

“My sex education came from behind bomb shelters and walls and things.”

“It’s the one thing you can’t give a man who wants to become a woman, the essence of being a woman is having a womb.”

“One of society’s concepts is that to be a real woman you need to have a womb amongst other things like breasts,  and dress a certain way and behave a certain way,  but a womb is an important part of womanhood for a lot of people.”

“Womanhood is about the inner self and not the superficial exterior.”

“Protecting her from pain or distress by cutting into her body and slicing through skin and muscle and membrane and taking organs out, seems a really brutal overreaction.”

“Part of the notion that you should sterilise somebody with an intellectual impairment comes from a deeply discriminatory position tied to a kind of sense of gothic horror that some people might be sexual.”

“I certainly don’t think that people who don’t have wombs, I don’t think they’re not women because they don’t have that, I don’t think you need breasts to be a woman, I fundamentally don’t believe in that tie.”