There’s a public toilet-as-tourist-attraction in Sulphur Springs, Texas, next to the giant chess board in its town square, that may or may not be a knockoff of artist Monica Bonvicini’s art-as-toilet-as-art that was installed outside of London’s Tate Britain eleven years ago. It certainly looks like a knockoff, and as Eric Nicholson of the Dallas Observer reports, Bonvicini and her lawyer have sent a cease-and-desist letter to the town’s leaders and have considered taking the matter to court.
In both cases, the object in question is a tall polished cube of one-way mirrored glass, built so the urinator can watch the world go by but the world can’t see the urinator. For Berlin-based Bonvicini, the original piece, titled “Don’t Miss a Sec”, was a bundle of multi-layered meaning when she created it, and I’d agree it was quite prescient when it was unveiled in London in 2003. Bathroom humor aside, though that’s part of its appeal, it was a decent earlier examination of the document-everything/uber-surveillance/don’t-miss-a-thing human condition we’re now so plagued by. I’d also argue that in the context of Sulphur Springs the toilet takes on a more basic one-joke-wonder or thrill-seeker tone. On its unveiling in East Texas in 2012, at least one local media report directly referenced Bonvicini’s piece.
In the face the controversy, the powers that be in Sulphur Springs have stopped boasting about the toilet but haven’t removed it, while an intellectual property and media expert at Columbia University’s Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts has speculated that the copyright issue would be hard to prove in court due to the simplicity of the installation’s structure and use. The skirmish is ongoing.