Gavin Turk provides some toilet humour as shit hits the fan

The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

If there’s one image that epitomizes the UK’s pre-Covid lockdown paranoia it is the humble toilet roll. In a matter of days, panic stockpiling rapidly transformed this lowly item into the nation’s most sought after rarity. Perfect timing then, for the Gavin Turk to introduce a glimmer of levity amid all the gloom, by posting on Instagram and via email his 2005 sculpture of a cardboard toilet roll tube meticulously cast in bronze. Set against multiple current images of empty supermarket shelves, all stripped bare of their stocks of loo paper, these trompe l’oeil works now seem especially relevant and ridiculous

“Roll up, Roll up…The End of Rolls,” reads the message heading, spoofingly suggesting that the rush has been not for paper but for the artist’s bronze replicas—an idea not much more absurd than the panic stampede for this most substitutable of sanitary products. As Turk puts it, his work “challenges ideologies through re-cycling, re-appropriation, re-contextualisation and waste” and he suggests that his tube might also “take on a new life as telescope—an object that reveals the viewer’s perspective. Or perhaps something else”. There’s no doubt that in recent days perspectives have been decidedly skewed as each new development unfolds with an increasing sense of unreality.

Then of course Turk’s work also references Manzoni’s Merda D’Artista (artist's shit) (1961), when the artist presented cans of his own shit as art. It is worth pointing out that currently Manzoni’s own countrymen and women, who are faring so much worse than us in the current crisis, have not stooped to such unseemly panic purchases. As a nation of bidet owners it seems they are infinitely more civilised and environmentally circumspect in their personal hygiene than us febrile, feral Brits.