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Commentary: The university has become an artwork - of crap

Shaun Clayton

By Shaun Clayton
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday Feb. 4, 2002

When going about daily activities at UA, it seems one cannot get very far without shit getting in his or her way.

Oh, not "shit" as in your typical dealing with student loan checks that don't come in on time, or professors who assign homework that is meaningless and will have no application in the real world - I'm talking about actual shit.

Yes, walking through the campus, late at night, in particular, one is often hit with a sudden smell that makes one stop and ask whether a sewer just backed up, or if there is a chili cook-off nearby.

The smell seems concentrated in three distinct locations: just outside the Main Library, Old Main, and McClelland Hall. It is almost as if the University of Arizona, feeling that students will not be driven away by endless construction projects alone, has tacked on the smell of crap for good measure.

Investigation has produced some theories. One source of the smells seems to come from manure laid out for olive trees and various other plants by UA groundskeeping.

However, the UA may not just be laying out this wonderful waste product for the purpose of growing a few plants in a climate that they probably shouldn't be growing in, no. This all might be some large art project.

Yes, perhaps the university said, "Hey, let's do a large-scale art project on campus, and hey, let's make it with mounds of crap!"

It is not so unusual for artists to work in feces. The most notable example is Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary" that contained elephant dung, which was on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. People, including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, got so upset about the sight that they tried to shut down the exhibit and stop funding for the museum. They failed.

This outcome was good for other artists working in the dung medium, too.

Piero Manzoni's creation "Merda d'artista No. 35" was 30 grams of his own feces put in a signed, numbered and well-sealed tin. Manzoni was part of the "actionist" movement. Action artists believe that the making of art is as important as the art itself. The tin sold for $28,800 at Sotheby's.

Then again, artists don't necessarily have to work in actual crap, as seen in the example of Karen Finley, a performance artist who would walk around with chocolate made to look like feces all over her body. Sure, it wasn't real poop, but the idea was there, and the purpose behind the piece was to bring to light the degradation of women.

So, if UA is indeed putting out piles of crap as art, there must be some purpose, some message behind it.

Maybe the manure is representative of education, the fertilizer that helps a tree of knowledge grow. The smell reminds us that education can be unpleasant at times, what with the endless homework, the late nights of studying and the huge monetary cost.

Or maybe the idea is an associative one. Perhaps the university wishes to equate a crap smell with learning, and therefore lead students to study while sitting on the toilet, thereby cutting out what would have been wasted time.

Then again, perhaps the poop is completely abstract. The poop could be ironic, and the person smelling the poop could become the small rubber stoppers found at the bottom of pieces of furniture. The university, then, would be the whole universe, except, instead of stars and planets, there were cherry-flavored Pez.

Okay, it's a huge stretch. Most likely UA is putting out poop simply to grow plants that should probably not be rightfully growing in this climate. However, it just goes to show that even crap, as disgusting as it is, can be a valid tool in making art.

At the very least, one can declare "this university is full of shit" and be absolutely correct.


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