Cloaca, by Wim Delvoye

Filed under: Art Pranks, Satire

Submitted by Peter Moosgard:

Cloaca, named after the ancient Roman sewer Cloaca maximarom, is the work of artist Wim Delvoye, who also tatoos pigs.

Cloaca, by Wim Delvoye

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Excerpted from “As You Live and Breathe, with, Um, a Couple of Adjustments,” by Roberta Smith, The New York Times, February 8th 2002:

This mind-bogglingly elaborate sculpture, which resembles a supersophisticated high school science project, is the work of the maverick Belgian artist Wim Delvoye. It replicates the human digestive system from beginning to end — that is, from French fries to excrement — in a straightforward manner that is surprisingly civilized and relatively odor-free.

”Cloaca” is fed twice a day — at 11 a.m., before the museum opens, and again at 4:30 p.m. — with food prepared by high-end New York restaurants. Over the course of 22 hours each meal progresses through a series of tubes and six stockpot-size glass cylinders strictly managed by a computer. Temperatures are monitored on digital gauges; acid enters the system from smaller containers at the proper intervals; the process produces a sequence of thickening, darkening butterscotch-toned liquids. At 2:30 each day something that resembles (but isn’t) human waste emerges at the opposite end of the sculpture, onto a small bright green conveyor belt that, thankfully, is sealed in a Plexiglas vitrine.

Excerpted from “Down the Hatch: Art for Digestion’s Sake,” by William Grimes, The New York Times, January 30th 2002:

At the New Museum of Contemporary Art in SoHo last Thursday, a Belgian artist named Wim Delvoye walked up five steps to reach a steel platform. As television cameras rolled and reporters scribbled notes, he leaned over and picked up a cloth napkin enclosing a knife and fork. Then he lifted a plate of seared monkfish with fines herbes, and, very deliberately, began cutting the food into little bites and feeding it to a room-size machine named Cloaca, from the Latin word for sewer. From time to time he would reach down for a bowl of Belgian frites, dip a stick of crisp brown fried potato in mayonnaise, and throw it into the clear glass bowl that serves as Cloaca’s mouth. Cloaca washed down its dinner with a big glass of Duvel, a Belgian beer. In a matter of five minutes, the meal was over and Cloaca settled down to do what it does best: digest.

For the next three months, someone at the museum will feed Cloaca lunch and dinner. When a blue light goes on, signaling that the machine is ready to eat, food will be introduced into the glass mouth and chewed in a garbage disposal unit and a meat grinder. Moved along by pumps, the food will make its way through six glass jars neatly lined up on two steel carts linked like the cars of a train. The jars, filled with acids, bases, pancreatin, bilirubin and bile, mimic the human digestive system. The journey lasts 22 hours and covers a distance of 33 feet.

Mr. Delvoye is a conceptual artist. The concept, as he explained it to the news media, is something like this:

Everything in modern life is essentially pointless. The most pointless thing he could think of was a machine that serves no useful function at all. The most useless function he could think of was the reduction of food to waste. (He never got around to explaining the point of making a point about pointlessness.) Cloaca, he said, was not a scientific experiment. Science implies usefulness or purpose. “I like the beauty of doing all this work for nothing,” he said.

Read more reviews of this piece here.