Public Art, Bathroom Music: Mlynárčik’s Toilet Manifestation

“In 1966, on the occasion of the international congress of AICA, which too place in Prague and Bratislava, [Slovak artist Alex] Mlynárčik created another ‘permanent manifestation,’ which he placed in a public toilet in the center of Bratislava, with mirrors bearing inscriptions that referred to famous artists: Hieronymus Bosch, Michelangelo Pistoletto, as well as his friend Stano Filko. He also included the term: ‘CO (NH2)’–the chemical formula for urea. The installation had a musical component in the form of Johann Strauss the elder’s Radetzky March and a comment book for those who visited the toilet and encountered the installation. […] Mlynárčik’s radicalism, which rejected museum-bound painting in favor of an installation in a public toilet, certainly revealed the presence of a consistently critical approach.” –Piotr Piotrowski, In the Shadow of Yalta, 226-7.

It also revealed the Communist authorities limits: because of the unorthodox location of this public commission, they quickly seized the installation itself and subjected the artist to psychological evaluation. Mlynárčik’s participatory works in the later 1960s tended to be physical, visual and collective such as this bathroom project. Mlynárčik referred to these events as ‘permanent manifestations of joining art and life’.

Countering the traditional monument placed in the midst of a public space, such as Vito Acconci references  and Giacometti’s sculpture so well embodies in the previous post, Mlynárčik toilet installation uses the most ‘private’ utility available for public use. In doing so, he uses what David Antin calls “discard or transition” spaces, spaces that nobody had previously thought were worthy of that kind of attention. However, Antin felt squeezed out of public space by the mechanism of capitalism, while Mlynárčik was working in a totalitarian system.

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