Restop: The Proposal

Bates College Museum of Art, January 18 – March 4, 2008

A Proposal for the American Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Bienalle, William Pope.L, Artist; Mark H.C. Bessire and Roger Conover, Custodians.


Western culture proceeds with such speed that there is hardly time for digestion anymore. We consume and we discharge. Whatever we ingest into our systems one moment (food, art, information), we eliminate the next. At biennials, the rate at which visual consumption takes place induces a special kind of art-sickness.

We propose a rest stop.

A rest stop where the experience of getting in line, going to the lavatory, and taking some refreshment afterwards offers relief. As you enter la zone de la merde, shit is not what it seems to be. In RESTSTOP, it becomes a matière à penser. This is not to say that the act of elimination hasn’t already been recognized by philosophers as a kind of thinking, or that the toilet, as Slavoj Zizek reminds us, has not been considered an ideological site. But in RESTSTOP, the act of disposal on the part of art-wasted visitors will be given its own time, and the potty its own place—not marginalized between pavilions or exiled to service sites. As such, RESTSTOP will be more than an art stop. It will encourage those who come to the American Pavilion to do so with a sense of purpose—reminding them why they are there, and why, in 2009, the act of relieving oneself in a national art pavilion is a critical act.

The 42 sanitary and private units forming the nucleus of RESTSTOP will not only offer a sanctuary for thoughtful voiding, but their accumulations will be connected (by visual and acoustic semiotics) to a faux plumbing system culminating in one of William Pope.L’s special recipes—a post-potty “tea” or after-deposit “sweet” meant to fortify spent visitors before they return to the Giardini. (We ask jurors to protect the secret; the liquid issuing from the faucets will actually be quite innocent—hot chocolate).

RESTSTOP represents the long-overdue return of excrement to the field of cultural production, reminding visitors that voiding is a critical as well as a biological ritual, a quotidian as well as Biennial act. And, furthermore, that pissing is not only a byproduct of liquid consumption, but that it also relates to the flow of foreign policy, immigration quotas, and global politics. Taking a page from Lacanian psychoanalyst Dominique Laporte’s treatise, History of Shit, we think RESTSTOP’s aims can be best stated in quasi-Nietzschean terms: “All we hope to do is remove a few masks with the roar of our laughter, laugh some masks off the figures of power.” But RESTSTOP is by no means a joke. Not only does the project provide something that is completely unexpected and necessary for visitors, it also affirms the role of the art spectator as the real Producer in 21st century art exhibitions and biennials.

Remember Luis Bunuel’s Phantom of Liberty, where the roles of eating and excreting are inverted—where people sit at toilets around a table, casually conversing, until they want to eat, then sneak off to a small room to do so?  In RESTSTOP, it is the roles of art consumption and elimination that are reversed.  People avail themselves of the Biennale sights, then go to the American Pavilion relieve themselves of some substantial artistic burdens. Even in the midst of great art, we still have to shit. Is that what this project wants to say?  Is this an art service project, or is there some septic political agenda? RESTSTOP encourages speculations, sputterings, and emissions of all kinds.  To this end, and leveraging the editorial and literary experience of the custodial team, toilet paper will not be the only ply in evidence.  A book and other discursive materials will further develop the project’s political, philosophical, and artistic dimensions.

Further Note on Project Realization and Maintenance:

The pavilion will be installed with simple materials, the basic elements being 42 portable lavatories, speakers, amps, serving table, ceramic mugs, and concessionary castle.  Commodities will be dispensed to visitors by servers at the opening, and later self-served.  As with his previous projects, most of the resources the artist needs will be collected from the vicinity of the venue, in this case Venice.  The installation will be labor intensive on-site, but not fussy or precious. Sound will be one of the vectors giving the space its character and affect.  This will involve speakers and amps, but neither the audio loop nor the other “playback” system [hot chocolate] will require elaborate engineering.  Simplicity is at the forefront of WPL’s design work–simplicity that creates meaning and ambiguity.  Achieving simplicity-of-system in projects’ hardware is a hallmark of WPL installations; human beings are the software that make the projects complex.  High priority will be given to identifying a portable lavatory supply company which can both provide the units we want and fulfill the full service contract (waste removal, sanitizing, restocking) we need.  The custodial team underscores its awareness of the importance of maintaining the compartments’ and the Pavilion’s sanitation at all times; therefore a substantial portion of the budget will be allocated to the project’s environmental engineering and service aspects.


Everything you have read up until now is an attempt to demonstrate that this would be a radically appropriate exhibition to represent the U.S. in Venice at this time–on many levels.  Here we offer some further thoughts on this question, but we hope your own imaginations will be sufficiently stimulated by what you read here to imagine still other reasons, for that is part of this metabolizing project’s function.

Despite differences that may separate people in terms of nationality, political affiliation or religious persuasion, when it comes to defecation, all people tend to migrate to certain socially recognized sites, and take care of business in more or less the same way. RESTSTOP will be housed within the American Pavilion, but it will attract an international audience.  It will solidify their common mission. Different poetries and politics will be read into the fact that the American Pavilion not only offers comfort and relief, but places its own offering in critical relief.   Will it surprise anyone that RESTSTOP entails no surveillance, imposes no restrictions on those who visit, and requires no I.D. to enter the booths? Or that it imposes no limits—except perhaps in the case of extreme emergencies–on the length of lavatory stays?  Will critics speculate that once inside the privacy of the (identical injection- molded plastic) booths, users will perform according to different cultural attitudes toward time and materials?  Washroom business marketing experts at Kimberly-Clark have reported  that Asians tend to accomplish the # 2 operation more quickly than Americans, and that Americans typically use twice as many toilet paper squares per sitting as Europeans.  A fuller accounting of these and other cultural considerations will be made at press conferences and in the publication.

Five hundred years ago, Michelangelo recognized the sculpting virtues of dung—a material that was plastic when fresh but hard when dry.  At about the same time, Leonardo da Vinci designed the first folding toilet seats in Rome.  Now, America brings to Italy a new installation designed specifically for the American Pavilion in Venice, one that shows how the ethical and aesthetic transformations of history can be understood as precipitates of waste.  We think one of the best ways to demonstrate this is to bring a bunch of very small plastic rooms to a big art show in Venice, and let people sit down and think about art with their pants down.

In a line, RESTSTOP brings to Venice an updated model of what the world has always known America to be–the great melting pot.