“Pissing Figures, 1280–2014,” by Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, a French critic (published by David Zwirner Books & translated by Jeff Nagy)
First - As LinkedIn is notorious for not allowing adult discussions which "take up too much space" the following is a response to a post entitled : A Secret History of the Pissing Figure in Art - (written by Dan Piepenbring September 20, 2017 & published in the New Yorker Magazine.)
So why not write a book entitled “Pissing Figures, 1280–2014,”? As much as it will arouse (no pun intended) tut-tutting throughout the land, the author will make a killing - at least more money than he would on a full fledged research on the topic of “virgin” in the title Virgin Mary.
More to the point. It was once normal to urinate wherever it was possible and needed. Today “we hold it in” until we find a toilet - which in our times is a prim and proper thing to do. But when we discover someone “openly” urinating (pissing, to the more crude) we titter or groan or point or stare - or all of these. Such is the lot of the populist ignorant. So titillated and frightened by what we are and what we do, we can only react through infantilized giggling and nervous twitching rather than render a casual “Yeah! So?”
As for the high interest in putti and urinating, this has more to do with a contemporary obsession with sexual overtones - real or imagined - than on the fact that in times gone by boys were allowed much greater freedom than were allowed little and not so little girls. Boys with too much freedom could also be (and were) undisciplined brats who taunted and annoyed the populace with their brazen “freedoms” - including pissing on where, on what and on whom they damned well pleased - and this, at any time they saw fit. Left to their own devices that freedom often included a more innocent activity : swimming naked in local rivers and streams - with no one really paying much attention since families as a whole, at times, also bathed in those self same streams and rivers - and this without the benefit of Nike, Speedo or Lululemon. Basically, the body and its everyday functions have only, since the past 2 centuries, become naughty-naughty.
Nudity was not of particular concern in the mores section of a medieval and even later life. Based on established historical knowledge, it is possible to assume that the body unclothed was not of general interest or shame as it is today. The body revealed in those far off days often symbolically and religiously celebrated the greatness that humanity could be along with recording its evolving state of being - whether good or bad, young or old.
And so, the idea of writing a book about a specific activity through the microscope of a much more evolved (?) - or should I say more restrictive time is always intriguing if not proof that such a visual essay can be questioned from the start as to the veracity of its “observations” made & the reportage researched.
Today, there is less balance in our perceptions and assumptions. We impose views and feelings rather than logically and objectively debate in order to reassure our anxieties. Today we seem to fear and even loath, whilst being attracted to, “that revealed body” - ours and anyone else’s. We tend to be rendered “senseless” by the touching of it, the being touched, the seeing of it and most especially the good or bad perceived in it. . . cause. . . let’s face it. . . It is sinful. . . .
But what we hate the most about our bodies is what they do : they defecate and “pee”! (How dare they (we) be so crass as to do such things). We find such “obligatory” (rather than necessary) things so disgusting - so much so - a whole area of products is marketed to make it all “fun”, “easy” and “enjoyable” for us poor souls. That being said, it is rather odd that the illusions, titillation and fears of the 21st century have the gall to promote themselves as enlightened revisionist considerations in regards to the pre and 19th century times.
Artists have always played a major role in the elucidation of "what is". Why? Through their creative output, life and how we live it (the details of "it") are often presented (to make things clear) in the most vivid of terms. And yet, whatever it is that artists tell us about ourselves, about our lives, there are always those who come along in later centuries to distort, to criticize (rather than critique) based on their "more enlightened times" wonderings. But undeniably, and despite the narcissisms of later times, great painters and sculptors were and continue to be extraordinary observers of “what was and is”.
As fantasmagorical as some artistic works are considered to be many of the greatest, most poignant subjects and themes portrayed, have been nothing more than the ordinary everyday activities of the everyday lives of ordinary peoples. In essence, artists have always wanted to portray what makes men, women, children and oldsters tick - even if that means scrutinizing the "hidden features" and essence of our physical as well as psychological existence.
So observant were artists of the past, they rarely needed or wished to sacharinize their subjects - i.e. : make them superficial and virtual rather than real. Instead, they chose truth - they elevated the who and what of the individuals they studied - seeking to discover the universal from the unique - rendering that which was generic symbolic of humanity. In those recordings they integrated what made humans human - accentuating, at times, both their and their subjects’ sense of humour which, in turn, gave both gravitas and thigh slapping power to an existence which was trying (still tries) at the best of times to be worthy of us all.
Artists have always seen wondrousness in the struggles and accomplishments of those who “lived until they died”. To this day, they observe and sketch the onerous weights people carry on their shoulders - those self-same weights which temper the innate asceticism of their existence. Basically, artists were and are here to see and feel the extraordinariness of the ordinary in what and who we really are - i.e.: frightened children of a parental universe, and this since the beginning of time. For that is the job of painters and sculptors - to record all of this for posterity - no matter how erroneously later generations revise what was in the past.
And though we more often than not sneer rather than try to understand, the artist’s job will always remain the same - to record a time, to present us with both “the holiest we can be” and the banal and at times brutal ordinary that we are”. In essence the arts have always been a link - one which connects the wondrous and the absurd of one time with the wondrousness and absurdity of a so-called more modern time staring at the past and, sadly, judging it.
But today, our self-righteouness and political correctness trips us up. These pretend to protect us from ourselves for fear that we will be seen to be odd and inconsequential and. . . the fools that we are in the grand scheme of things. But they fail. Our foibles and habits and necessities - whether seen to be normal or weird are never hidden from tomorrow’s scrutiny.
Our times have uncluttered the closets of our minds only to reveal that, often, there is nothing there when there is nothing there. And because there is nothing there in our revisionist views of the past, we tend look back on history and our ancestors and gloat. Being so much more enlightened and greater at thinking and being than our shallower predecessors, we look down and criticize.
Basically, if there is anything risible about a book on pissing in the 21st century, it is “us”. What else is there to do in a time which can’t make up its mind (over the latest latté concoction) about whether we should accept world destruction as a detractor from our smart phones and ear plugs or simply say “whatever”?
Rwanda - Oil/huile - 24" 72" ( 61cm x 182.9cm) - 2011-2016 Collection of the Canadian War Museum /Le musée de guerre du Canada
In 1994, the commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire anticipated a disaster - a disaster that no world authority wished to acknowledge let alone get involved in. And because none did, the Lt General’s pleas for assistance were ignored. No one came to rescue the people of Rwanda. And because no one did, 800,000 people died.
On his watch, Lt General Dallaire witnessed the largest slaughter of human beings since the Holocaust - all because the rest of us on this planet had better things to do.
During 100 days no one bothered to “know” what was happening. . .
“The genocide was brutal, criminal and disgusting and continued for 100 days under the eyes of the international community.” - Roméo Dallaire
To this day Lt General and retired Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire continues to suffer the endless onslaught of PTSD associated nightmares. The horrors which were allowed to happen to the people of Rwanda do not leave his soul.
After a silent yet heavy deliberation, “my” Lt General accepted that I could speak, in my visual way, to his suffering and to his ongoing quest to save as many child soldiers as he possibly can. The painting : “Portrait of Roméo Dallaire - Rwanda”, begun in 2011, was finally completed in 2016 and is now unveiled and delivered.
I am no longer of any use to it. If it can, this work must now speak on its own - a reminder of what we do not want to remember - a symbol of the world once again at its weakest. If there is art in artwork, the story from within will emerge, will reach out, will touch and move us. If not, it will simply sit there, festering as the forgotten infected scars of “not wanting to remember” do .
I would hope by looking at and taking in this story we can see - see and hear the images speak; speak to us in order that “next time” we will listen; that next time we will be reminded once again that we should not forget and that next time we will be encouraged to do better in our tomorrows than we have in our yesterdays’ flawed bests. For there should never again be a next time - lest we end up having to not only hear of them but suffer the consequence of having to also smell and taste and feel what our ignoring of reality causes.
And yet, despite the bleakness portrayed in the horror at the beginning of this story, this painting wishes to also be a blessing. Though this imagery recalls a horrendous eating away of Lt Gen Dallaire’s soul by the demon eyes he still encounters in nightmares, it is also a story of redemption of all of our souls. Despite the ensuing PTSD which assails him daily, Lt General and retired Canadian Senator Dallaire remains the courageous man that he is - as he remonds us of the best we can all be if given a chance.
Through his “Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, the Lt General fights on - to take away the stolen from their families children, to steal them away from captors who impose upon them a “life of death” - a life which which eats away at their childhoods.
And so, in the heart and soul of Romé Dallaire their remains hope and better tomorrows despite his never-ending pain. And it is up to us to, once again, not forget.
“I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there is a God.” - Roméo Dallaire
Dévoilé, un tableau qui depuis 5 ans m’accapare, se rend "chez lui : au Musée de la guerre à Ottawa. Ce résultat de mes coups de pinceau parle non pas de fleurs et d’arcs-en-ciel, mais plutôt d’horreurs et d’espoirs - des horreurs à ne pas oublier et des espoirs nous rappelant que la quête de l’excellence permet toujours, d’améliorer nos demains, malgré les piètres efforts de nos hiers.
Débuté en 2011, je la signe enfin en 2016. Elle se veut portrait d’un moment historique, d’un moment horrifique tout en demeurant le portrait d’un homme qui s’est débattu, de peine et de misère, pour sauver la vie de tout un peuple. Le tableau se veut donc un rappel - un “n’oublions pas”. . . C’est une toile qui cherche à nous rappeler qu’au Rwanda en 1994, comme en Europe en 1933, le monde avait d’autres chats à fouetter. . .
Malgré le fait qu’il a supplié la terre entière d’intervenir, le Lieutenant général Roméo Dallaire en est resté quasi seul à faire face à un massacre imminent. Et. . . trop vite, le possible impossible s’est dévoilé. 800,000 hommes, femmes et enfants rwandais sont morts. Et aujourd’hui, ce même Lieutenant général affronte toujours les “démons du vrai”; ces démons qui crachent sur sa vie de témoin - sur cette vie qui a osé voir, ressentir, toucher, goûter et entendre les cris d’effrois et le désespoir final d’un peuple en son entier.
“Le génocide était brutal, criminel et dégoûtant et s’est éternisé pendant 100 jours aux yeux de la communauté internationale.” - Roméo Dallaire
Depuis, le corps, le coeur et l’âme de Roméo Dallaire souffrent des conséquences de l’obscénité de cette pièce de théâtre morbide qui continue à se rejouer en lui - et ça, durant ses jours et pendant le sommeil de ses nuits bouleversées. Comment se fait-il qu’un homme doive toujours porter sur ses épaules et dans son âme un poids dévastateur qui, en toute conscience, se veut le nôtre?
Et nous. . . comment pouvons-nous refuser de reconnaître, de souligner, de nous rappeler. . . Comment peut-on continuer à effacer de nos esprits les horreurs d’un mal “vrai” qui se veut le pire depuis l’Holocauste de la 2e guerre?
Malgré tout. Autant qu’elle est réflexion d’horreurs vécues, autant cette toile se veut positive - en soulignant aussi les démarches héroïques de cet homme qu’est Roméo Dallaire - celui qui pendant tous ses aujourd’huis et ses demains n’oublie pas - celui qui cherche toujours à rendre meilleur ce monde qui a ignoré une tuerie de 800,000 personnes.
Par son “Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative” il cherche maintenant à sauver l’âme des enfants volés par les diables qui sont nôtres - même si les sauver veut dire le faire “un à la fois”.
C’est tout de même mieux que d’oublier qu’on oublie trop vite - et trop souvent - et que le monde n’est pas tout simplement une belle boule bleue romantique. Mais, de dire Roméo Dallaire :
"Je sais que Dieu existe parce qu’au Rwanda, j'ai serré la main du diable. Je l'ai vu, je l'ai senti et je l'ai touché. Je sais que le diable existe et donc je sais qu'il y a un dieu." - Roméo Dallaire
Bernard Poulin. . . I paint, I draw, I write