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October 17 2015 / 865 Saint Marks Ave




History of Shit / Dominique Laporte


In Praise of Shadows / Junichiro Tanizaki / 1977

Impressions of Japanese Architecture / Charles Moore

Do Android Crows Fly Over the Skies of an Electric Tokyo? / Akira Suzuki / 2004


Knee Deep / Slavoj Žižek Reviews ‘Free World’ by Timothy Garton Ash


TOILET/BATH Triumph of the Apparatus / Kurt Nieminen

Outside / George Michael

Potty Talk / Paulina Reso / NYT / Nov 2010


Three stories of cleanliness, immodesty, and indecent exposure.


1. Cleanliness

Junichiro Tanizaki's 'In Praise of Shadows' has a lingering obsession with the toilet - with hiding the seen and the obscene. What is abject (And what is abject to Tanizaki: electric lights, the female body..) can be transformed into the beautiful through an adherence to traditional ideals and a cheeky, self-aware critique of free expression. Smart, dangerous philosophies. 


2. Immodesty

Can a pair of underwear save lives? In 1932, the Shiroki-ya, a high-rise department store in Tokyo, burnt down when its Christmas decorations tragically caught on fire. Fourteen were dead and twenty-one were left injured. The tragedy, as writer Akira Suzuki notes in, 'Do Android Crows Fly Over the Skies of an Electronic Tokyo', is that “many of the deaths could have been prevented if female customers and employees had not hesitated to use escape ladders for fear of exposing themselves.” Pre-World War II, Japanese women did not wear underwear. As opposed to a kimono which wraps, conceals, and thus, hides form, underwear gives power to form - becoming a socially acceptable means to display one’s body.


3. Indecent Exposure

Every tradition can become cliche - and cliches risk being taken for granted. Luckily, people like Kazuyo Sejima can upend both tradition and cliche. Her Gifu apartments position the toilet at the public face - giving the washbasin prime real-estate, nullifying the Japanese coming of age ritual: the seijinshiki. And in exposing the body, she both empowers and engages taboo with society. When there is nothing left to hide, we can finally confront that which we are seeing.


In 1913 Fritz Haber introduced a process to render ammonia from air, and allowed for a limitless supply of nitrogen fertilizer to replace the redistribution of human and animal waste that had previously limited agricultural production. With this technological turn, biological waste became an object strictly for disposal, and apparatuses for managing the body developed to realize an urban aspiration to completely remove human waste along with food production from public consciousness. As the site for reproduction of the normalized bathroom space, architecture occupies a charged position from which to criticize the culture and technologies of toilet and their sustainability in the future



Standardized pictograms to represent men and women were first introduced at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, globalizing the western standard of bathrooms segregated by sex, term which at that time was recognized as being the same as gender. This universal segregation, still used today, enforces distinctions and outdated gender dynamics.


There are parallel anxieties taking effect on either side of the wall that divides ‘ladies’ from ‘gents’. These anxieties are manifested in behavioral codes that we all subscribe to. Our performance as public citizens in these public spaces has been molded by certain relationships between our bodies, architecture, and our cultural understanding of gender throughout time.


The western modern public bathroom is charged with projections and imagination. It is a site of full interiority, rarely affording a view, and providing mirrors than infinitely reflect the actions and shapes of the bodies within it. The public bathroom is at once very real architectural space where our most basic functions happen, and an imagined space of gender identity and perception of oneself and ‘the other’.


In addition to the anxiety produced by the codes of behavior we must enact in the public toilet, the recognition of a non-normative public is a cause of anxiety: to one group, the presence of transgender people in ‘their designated space’ transgresses an expectation of behavior, and their mere presence –let alone their public performance- raises anxiety about gender and sexuality. To ‘the other’, the knowledge of these expectations and the recognition that they won’t be met raises anxiety about identity and policing.


The issue is not that of discomfort, but of safety, and the anxiety produced by acceptance of the in-between gender spectrum is rooted in fear of violence.


Fear of ‘the other’ through segregation asserts the cultural inferiority of minority groups (as when bathrooms were segregated by race), whether the other’s behavior is threatening or the performance of their bodies is dangerous and contaminant.


Bathrooms are spaces of cultural and social representation. The way in which we arrange and organize spaces, and assign them meaning in relation to one another, represent an idealization of our environment. In what way would we have to re-arrange our public space to reflect changing attitudes regarding gender?

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