Toilet humour

Sarah Lucas, Cnut, 2004

Sarah Lucas, Cnut, 2004

I guess the leap from thinking about a woman artist making a sculpture of a cock to Sarah Lucas’s work is a distinctly literal one, but as I saw Lucas’s exhibition at the Whitechapel shortly before it ended last month, her work’s been on my mind.

There is of course a long history of toilets in the gallery space but it’s a form few have used with such determined consistency as Sarah Lucas. And while Duchamp’s Fountain – like the works that reference it very directly, such as Sherrie Levine’s Fountain (Buddha) – seems somehow more about the form than the function of the artefact and Claes Oldenberg’s Soft Toilet can be enjoyed for the strange disjunction between the form and materials used in the work and the function of the object on which it is based, Lucas’s toilet works are often grubby and unpleasant to look at.

Sarah Lucas, The Old In Out, 1998

The Old In Out, 1998

The Old In Out – originally part of a bigger installation of toilets cast in resin with different levels of yellowishness – has clean lines and curves that give it a certain beauty but with its distinctly urine-like tinge, it’s not just the form of the toilet that is brought to mind but also its function.

Sarah Lucas, Is Suicide Genetic?, 1996

Is Suicide Genetic?, 1996

Whether with images on the wall or objects in the space – and in some cases things exist as both sculptures and photographs – Lucas doesn’t shy from confronting her audience and challenging our sensibilities. But this is work that goes beyond shock value. The characteristically grungy aesthetic and the immediacy of Lucas’s work is such that there is often a moment of laughter or disgust that kicks in before we have a chance to ponder things further.

Sarah Lucas, Nature Abhors a Vacuum, 1998Nature Abhors a Vacuum, 1998

But there is usually much more to think about than the immediate response might suggest. Whether with works that test our acceptance of the way language denigrates and demeans or with pieces that explore our potential for self-detrsuctiveness – including numerous works referencing smoking – Lucas’s works warrant attention and series contemplation.

Sarah Lucas, Human Toilet II, 1996

Human Toilet II, 1996

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