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Nanna Friis

When you don’t get enough sleep, it feels like your gaze becomes whiter. Surroundings and beings, they look slightly bleached as if more flat light just makes its way into the crusty eyes. Such crusty, bleaching eyes are the eyes I walked around with when I walked into Jacob Ott’s bathroom in a not that small apartment in Manhattan’s Alphabet City. Technically it’s the Swiss Institute’s bathroom because it’s their apartment, granted to shifting residents in time slots that probably rarely allows for the bathroom, kitchen, bedroom to leave their states of generic functionality.

At this 3rd floor somewhere on East 4th Street, interior is regular, décor almost non-existing. In this black kitchen you can chop things on a plastic board and sit down on a plastic chair at a laminated table. And so, the bathroom is nothing but the obvious white. Gleaming tiles from floor to ceiling, a spotless sink, hotel-spongy white towels, some glass constituting a showering corner which surely not diminish the overall whiteness. This bathroom is around 40 square feet, seemingly three people can fit in here when they stand closer to each other than most strangers usually prefer to do. A clean white cabinet and my gaze was already white to begin with.

Inside this glazed cabinet is an exhibition. An actually extensive group show, it’s called Water Closet Courtesy Flush. a bathroom. The intentionality of lower case. I count ten artworks and an inclination for fluxus-like wryness: Yoko Ono’s Toilet Piece is performed/flushed by, I guess, whoever flushes the toilet. The very standard sink has been casted as (a part of) Robert Whitman’s installation Bathroom Piece and the very standard glass shelf has been equipped with a glass of water so that it effectively becomes a version of Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree.

Exhibition view of Jacob Ott, Potato Lamp (2024) at Water Closet Courtesy Flush: a bathroom. Hotel Simplon (Jacob Ott’s) second WC at the Swiss Institute residency apartment, New York, 2024. Photo by Katherine Goguen.

But new works have also been made, two freshly produced sculptures by Jacob Ott, almost in the shape of breakfast. There’s a stack of pancakes and towels drizzled with syrup in the shower, and a hollowed-out potato is covering a lightbulb, Shower Pancakes and Potato Lamp. Few other things say American daybreak like pancakes and potatoes and suddenly a whole morning routine is contained within this little white closet. A shower, a meal and a shit.

Exhibition view of Joana Carro, Poetic Reversal of Pearl Hunting (2024) at Water Closet Courtesy Flush: a bathroom. Hotel Simplon (Jacob Ott’s) second WC at the Swiss Institute residency apartment, New York, 2024. Photo by Katherine Goguen.

The show, curated by Marco Bene, is short-lived. Accessible for a few days, by appointment indeed, perhaps a week, perhaps until the pancakes start rotting. It’s easy to appreciate this kind of pun-like conceptuality, especially because it isn’t a joke, and it’s easy to appreciate any alternative to institutional graveness. We’re long past the point of exhibitions taking place in people’s homes being a sensational showcase of institutional critique, but the bathroom somehow suggests another kind of dedication to the pun. The pun as a quintessential branch of avantgarde thinking (probably not but let’s just say so).

Being confronted with toilets usually make people giggle. Perhaps blush or lower their gazes in sincere shyness. The undeniable intimacy of the toilet, indeed of everything bathroom-y, surely makes it well-suited for provocation or fun or slightly unpleasant situations. The undeniable intimacy of wearing a bathrobe and perhaps nothing else underneath. The definitely deniable and all the more surprising intimacy of a hole in sock exposing the entire big toe. A string of pun stretched out between the curator’s big toe and the artist’s potato-clad bulb.

EastVillage_Jacob_-11 Exhibition view of Marco Bene, the curator’s big toe (2024) at Water Closet Courtesy Flush: a bathroom. Hotel Simplon (Jacob Ott’s) second WC at the Swiss Institute residency apartment, New York, 2024. Photo by Katherine Goguen.

And then there’s the more or less timeless artistic urge shared by an array of avant-gardists – and eventually also just your average fresh contemporary artist – to challenge or piss off shifting establishments by employing bathroom vocabulary or interior or downright excrements. There’s something almost touching about these intensely obvious modes of criticality. A can of shit, really? Flushing a toilet? Just lovely. The urinal as an absent yet welcome elephant in the room and my eyes still feels milky from the non-rest and everything is white or glass or chromatic except the yellow food and everything has its designated snug fit placement within the conceptual tightness. Pleasant like those cleaning agent ads where dirty tiles and sinks sparkle after the swift stroke of a cloth.

Isn’t WC also short for white cube.