In today’s digital era, just about every modern-day sage, artist and activist has a device and social media platform by which to project their pearls of wisdom, art or revolutionary ideals to the masses. But long before we were all wired into the matrix, and long after the ancient Egyptians were carving hieroglyphics into pyramids, one of the most popular ways of getting a message out there was via latrinalia – the graffiti you see on public toilet walls.
By no means do I think vandalism should be encouraged, especially by those who choose to do the uninspired, uncreative, spray-painting equivalent of cocking a canine leg to piss on a tree – taggers. But I have seen some brilliant gems on some of my visits to public loos. As an appreciator of sharp wit and creativity, I can’t help but admire those who, during a brief evacuative sojourn, can craft a comment or drawing so clever, it leaves an indelible imprint on your mind.
To those subversive individuals; the reflective philosophers, critics and radicals; the blocked up; the vengeful and the crass commentators; I thank you for sharing your kooky art, intimate stories, unexpected observations and reassuring words to live by:
“Never forget, you are so powerful that one of your pubes could shut down this restaurant”.
Sometimes I stay a bit longer just to peruse your cubicle etchings. I laugh (only on the inside – it’s weird to laugh out loud in a public lav) when I discover one-upmanship, wisecracks and ongoing conversations like this one: “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like”, which was followed by: “We vandalise things that aren’t ours, with quotes we didn’t write, to impress people taking sh*ts”.
The ‘grout pun’ movement – those of you who scribe grout-related puns in tiny lettering into the tile grout – have had me squinting to read amusing, dad-joke-esque lines like “rumours of my death have been groutly exaggerated”.
You’ve left me pondering, “what if the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about?”, if anyone ever showed up to “Meet me here at 2pm” and what happened when they did? And has anyone ever actually had a good time after calling that number?
I know I’m not alone in my appreciation and awe. There are countless websites like toilography.com that are dedicated to the archival recording and celebration of these works. One public amenities block cleaner said, “As someone who has to scrub this stuff off bathroom walls, I appreciate when someone writes something unique or different. If you’re going to vandalise, do it with creativity and style”.
Friends who attended the Limerick School of Art & Design circa 1979 say the stall scrawl that’s stayed with them all this time is, “Art is like morality: you have to draw the line somewhere!”. My sensibilities may be considered base, but I agree: sometimes, public toilet walls are a brilliant medium for the anonymous artistes among us.