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July 6 - August 3, 2002 at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, West Hollywood

by Andy Brumer

“Holy Water" (detail), 2000/01, human
urine and blue pencil on paper, 40 x 60".

All works signed 'Margaret Manzoni'.

“Adolf's Stool," 2000, human faeces, urine,
white conté and blue pencil on paper, 40 x 60".

“Gold Standard," 2000/01, human faeces, urine,
white conté and blue pencil on paper, 40 x 60".

“Merde D'Articta," 2000/01, human faeces,
urine and blue pencil on paper, 40 x 60".

Australian born, L.A.-based artist Margaret Morgan locates her work somewhere within a host of difficult and dynamically opposed ideas and ideologies. To wit: the scatological and the sacred; the beauty of the body and its "base" functions; the poetic inventiveness of conceptual art as against the focused strictures of academically written sociology and the history of ideas; feminism and the fetishized fear and loathing of feminine sexuality, amongst others. Her drawings in this show are made in part from human feces, urine and blood, aged to a deep golden hue, and replete with a kind of shock value that an artist as sophisticated as Morgan clearly not only anticipated but accommodates (reference the work of Andres Serrano, Chris Offili, Marcel Duchamp, etc.). The fact that these pieces display a high degree of craft/draftsmanship also signals and subverts conventional notions of fine art and "beauty," and adds to their enigmatic, and, perhaps, disturbing character. Images include toilets, douches, and bathroom furniture, such as a stool, with the pun so very much intended.

The exhibition is titled A Pictorial Guide To Sanitary Defects. In a letter written to this reviewer, the artist states that the drawings in it "reference art history, film and ordinary life (and) articulate the relationships between plumbing and modernism. . ." Her work metaphorically argues and explores many aesthetic and sociological concerns, all informed by the over-riding metaphor of plumbing. Specific metaphors include the tenuous border between and association of art making as a private process of digestion, and the institutionalized dissemination of art via the art museum, art gallery and art magazines, as, bluntly stated, "excretion." Other juxtapositions include the idealization of women's sex-/sens-uality set against the the trans-sexual (therefore democratizing), biological functions that link all living organisms, and the gulf Morgan establishes between the notion of painfully "plumbing" one's soul and the anal ease and, well, pleasure of simply going to the bathroom.

Certainly the act of punning informs the work in this show. One piece, for example, is titled Adolph's Stool. It depicts a simple three-legged piece of bathroom furniture that linguistically indicts Hitler as an obvious "piece of shit."

Morgan, in the aforementioned letter, states, "I see my written work as part of my art practice, on a continuum with my photographs, installations, drawings and videos." She also points out that an article she has written, "The Plumbing of Modern Life," forthcoming in The Journal of Post Colonial Studies, outlines "similar concerns and covers similar turf," as does this exhibition.

In fact Morgan opens that article with the bold assertion that, "Hygiene is the religion of the twentieth century and the toilet its ambiguous icon." She states that "under the forces of industrialization, art became independent of religious purpose and craftsmanship was supplanted by industrial design." The paper supports her thesis with a brilliant collection of examples culled from the history of Western art and contemporary American pop culture, amongst other sources. Though she doesn't cite the Swiss psychoanalyst and philosopher Carl Jung, she might have. As Jung, speaking of modern man "in search of his soul," once observed, "we don't believe in the gods anymore, but we believe in vitamins. . ."