It is commonly believed that the sitting toilet was invented by the English plumber Thomas Crapper in the 1860s. But the modern chair-like water closet is correctly attributed to English plumber John Harrington, who built one for himself and his godmother, Elizabeth I.
Inside throne a queen could call her own.
not everybody sits
The Swedish-born Pop artist Claes Oldenburg created “Soft Toilet” in 1966, a hand-sewn and stuffed vinyl iteration of his artistic manifesto: “I am for an art that is political-erotic-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.”* “Soft Toilet” couldn’t sit on its ass if it tried. When originally displayed, it hung from a metal support, sagging and sighing into the floor.
*This was considered radical at the time
Releasing & sagging: What we wish we could do or wish we didn’t do, in private.
Yes or No Question: Can there be an architecture more intimate than a toilet?
Essay Question: Is there a chair in which the human is more prone?
Answer: Yes, but define prone.
In the late 1960s, around the time she entered into a relationship with Claes Oldenburg, the artist Hannah Wilke began exhibiting the vulva sculptures for which she became well known. She would go on to make them in various sizes of many different materials: clay, latex, erasers, lint left over from the laundry. She made small ones out of chewing gum, stuck them all over her body and posed for pin-up style photographs. She also did it publicly, asking audience members to chew the gum first.
Material traveling from one hole through another.
You might randomly think I’m going to take a crap now, and you might then see how it is easy to understand why people think Thomas Crapper invented the first chair-like toilet. Perhaps the reason is two-fold: a) his invention coincided with developments in modern plumbing & b) Crapper was the first to display the toilet in public showrooms.
It’s often not about who was there first, or who did it better, or even about what it is
to belong to
to take a seat
Question: Was Crapper aware of the use of his last name as a verb? If so, did he encourage it?
oh porcelain god
taking all we have to give
stinking european hole
From 1969 to 1977, Wilke was in a relationship with the American Pop artist, Claes Oldenburg, and they lived, worked and traveled together during that time.
– 6th of 148 lines in Hannah Wilke’s entry on Wikipedia
Between 1969 and 1977, Oldenburg was in a relationship with the feminist artist and sculptor, Hannah Wilke, who died in 1993
–79th of 152 lines in Claes Oldenburg’s Wikipedia entry
She collaborated extensively with her husband, Claes Oldenburg.
– 2nd of 70 lines in Coosje van Bruggen’s Wikipedia entry
Consideration: Urine-marking, a normal behavior in animals to say I was here
Visualization: Imagine Oldenburg using his own creation, see him slip and sink and slide and piss all over himself.
No one knows if there was a precursor to the puffy toilet seat—the kind that pssts and pffts when sat on. We do know it was marketed to older users in the 1970s as a softer, more comfortable alternative to conventional hard plastic.
A warm and comfortable place to sit and rest.
A warm and comfortable place for tired, older bones.
In 1989, Hannah Wilke was to be recognized with her first major career retrospective at Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri. Claes Oldenburg, however, asked the University of Missouri to pull all mention of himself, i.e. photographic works in which he was featured. This amounted to a significant portion of the original exhibit. Why? “Out of respect for his privacy.”
career,” wrote Louise Hohorst in “Eraser, Erase-her: Censorship of the Female.”
A stool is inhibited by a chair.
Visualization: See yourself sitting. See yourself squatting.
How do you explain the difference?
*Image “CLAES OLDENBURG” by Barbara Rose, published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970.
Pune Dracker is a writer and editor specializing in animal welfare. Her essays have appeared in SLICE, Hyperallergic, Epiphany, and Critical Read, and she is a current MA candidate in SVA’s Design Research, Writing & Criticism program.