Nothing to sniff at

The British have a well-deserved reputation for eccentricity and their latest alleged tourist attraction does nothing to diminish that reputation.

The British have a well-deserved reputation for eccentricity and their latest alleged tourist attraction does nothing to diminish that reputation. In fact, it enhances it.

I say “alleged tourist attraction” because it is very definitely appealing to a certain niche market. Welcome to the National Poo Museum.

This latest contribution to the sum total of the knowledge of Western Christian Civilisation is on the Isle of Wight and has been created by members of what is perhaps euphemistically named an “artist collective”. It seems that painting pictures or sculpting statues or even writing poetry is all too mundane for these artists who, I am sure, would delight in being described as “edgy”. In my experience, “edgy” artists exist deliberately by their own choice on the fringes of the creative world, usually sustained by way of government handouts, and whose work is designed to be confronting and challenging but more often than not turns out to be ludicrous and bizarre.

According to co-curator Daniel Roberts, “Poo is all around us and inside us, but we ignore it.”

Well, he and his artistic collaborators and aggressively determined not to ignore it. They have collected samples of faeces from around the world and have had donations from the Isle of Wight Zoo.

So far, they have 20 “illuminated resin spheres” to exhibit the various bowel evacuations and beside each sphere there is a no doubt fascinating statement of facts such as whom or what expelled it and these statements are hung next to the spheres behind toilet lids. You have to lift the lid to read the story and isn’t that just too, too cute and cutting-edge?

The display also includes fossilised poo (‘croprolites’) dating back 140 million years as well as a tawny owl pellet containing bones and teeth. Just why tawny owl poo contains bones and teeth is not explained — presumably you have to lift the right toilet seat to discover that — but I have a very uneasy feeling about the toilet habits of this bird.

In what, no doubt, is considered to be a logical extension of this marvellous artistic display, it “covers issues such as dog mess and the lack of access to sanitation in developing countries” according to the organisers, which proves them to be not just artistic but caring and sharing as well. Well, doesn’t it?

Another co-curator, Nigel George, said the display “provokes strong reactions”. Nigel must be the artist collective member most given to understatement I suspect.

“Small children naturally delight in it but later we learn to avoid this yucky, disease carrying stuff, and that even talking about poo is bad,” George said.

“But for most of us, under the layers of disgust and taboo, we’re still fascinated by it.”

Speak for yourself was my first reaction.

They have a very lively website, which includes all sorts of interesting stuff for the kiddies including a catchy jingle — ‘Poo At The Zoo’ –, an hilarious jokes section with such side-splitters as “Did you hear about the scientist who found a cure for constipation? She worked it out with a pencil” and a very handy recipe so the youngsters can make their very own fake poo.

I was entranced by a display of snaps by the Belgian photographer Anne Charlotte Wouters who went to a hospital “to create beautiful portraits of people and their poo” although her seminal work wasn’t easy as admitted by the organisers, “Finding sitters wasn’t easy”. I cannot begin to think why.

Sadly, when I visited the website the “Shop” section was still “under construction” because I already had my credit card in hand. I can only wonder at what tasteful items will finally appear. Perhaps some specially embossed toilet paper? Or a range of potties?

I did wonder why the organisers of this museum didn’t wait until November 19 for the great unveiling given that day is World Toilet Day. It is an official United Nations day and the first was held in 2001 when the first World Toilet Summit was held. Dare I say over the years it is an event flushed with success?

Why their website has lots of interesting facts and ideas and my favourite has to be “The Global Urgent Run”, which seeks to enlist folks to participate in a fun run to “raise a stink” about sanitation matters. Will you sign up yourself and your family for the runs?

If the Poo Museum organisers had, to coin a phrase, thought outside of the thunderbox, they could have asked our former well-beloved PM, Kevin Rudd to open it in his capacity as Chair of the “Sanitation and Water for All” (SWP). After all, he has lots of time on his hands now that his bid to be UN Secretary General has flopped.

There’s no doubt about it, Rudd has been lots of sh*t fights in his life. Perhaps as a lure to get him to visit, he could be invited to name a special poo? A name, taken at random, like ‘Julia’ would be nice.

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