The Water Closet
2006, reclaimed wood, pens, markers, chewing gum, lipstick, paint, ash, cigarette, nail
Catalogue essay by Cristyn Davies
‘The Water Closet’ presents poetry written in a graffiti aesthetic on five wooden boards recycled from disused public toilets. The boards are weathered, insipid, almost indistinguishable tones of green, white, beige, pink, blue-grey. Knox uses pens, markers, chewing gum, lipstick, paint, ash, cigarettes and a nail, playing with the texture and style specific to graffiti found in public amenities.
‘if i could’ plays on the pedagogical practice whereby writers in toilets correct the language of a previous entry. The persona appears to correct her own grammar, challenging and shifting perspective. Her process of visible self-censorship demonstrates familiarity with the surveillance of the other. Similarly, the hyper-feminine pink board ‘come here often’ playfully lacks the punctuation readers might desire so as to decipher whether the phrase is a question, or command. Knox has paint-washed over some of the text so that it is barely decipherable, hinting at the “white-washing” or erasure of graffiti by councils who seek to clean up a venue, and also pentimento—the process in painting whereby an earlier image shows through paint that has aged on the work’s surface. The persona may be read as obsessive/compulsive in this repetition: in order to obtain the effect of pentimento, she must return to this site, repeating her inscription on top of each new coat of paint.
Punning on the word fag’s colloquial usage for cigarette, as well as being an abbreviation of “faggot”, Knox implies much by inscribing very little. Engraving the board with a rusty nail, which is later hammered in among marks of stubbed-out cigarettes, signifies perhaps the potential for violence and danger at the site of the sexual encounter gone wrong. ‘for a good time’ also employs the genre of the sexual encounter, offering another option: ‘…or crawl across this wall’. The persona invites a reader into a dreamscape, or scrawled hallucination. Gesturing to the pastoral, Knox’s greenish landscape is not unlike that of Alice, after she slides down the Wonderland rabbit-hole into lands topsy-turvy. Here the toilet cubicle becomes refuge, an opportunity to daydream oneself into oxymoron. Knox offers a world that inverts, stretches, and reverses normative boundaries, be they political or personal, whilst reminding her readers of the dangers of straddling the edge.
This is a boundary transgressed in ‘Ol’ Tone Sally’. Written in blue ball-point pen on bluish paint, the poem alludes to the blue lights (UV tubes) assembled in some public toilets in an attempt to camouflage veins, and thereby to prevent drug users from injecting. This blue light (“black light”) installed by councils and other service providers is controversial, “causing” some users to attempt insertion multiple times in more prominent veins (such as the groin area). Employing the structure and rhythms of a loose blues narrative Knox uses repetition and rhyme to create a rhythm at once soulful and cyclical, the poetics and rhythms of addiction.
Viewed as a sequence in an art gallery, not only is an audience privy to the collective narratives that emerge, and the aesthetics of graffiti so familiar to us from public toilet doors, but we are encouraged to consider this graffiti as art, or is it literature? Knox’s installation challenges boundaries between high and popular culture by inscribing poetry for a readership in the domain of the public toilet.
Originally installed in a public toilet, and transferred to Medium Rare Gallery, 2006
Documentation of The Water Closet is published in Hecate: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Women's Liberation vol. 33.2 and in The Material Poem by James Stuart.