by Cromheecke & Letzer

Friday, May 04, 2007

Save! Need your help to put a stop to this madness.

The public urinoirs and toilets were called "Vespasiennes" after the Roman emperor Vespacianus (Vespasius) 68 after Christ. Next to building the Colloseum, ending Nero's misgovernment and persecuting the Jews, the Roman emperor had the idea of levying taxes on public toilets. When he got complaints about it he used the famous words: (pecunia) non olet! Money does not smell.

Especially in the previous two centuries vespasiennes were strikingly present in the street picture. Splendid copies decorated cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon, and also Antwerp. The public urinals are becoming scarce street furniture however. A lot of them were demolished in the course of years and not replaced.

Artist Jan De Pooter ( Belgium, 1958) has taken interest in this and started a project to bring public toilets back into public interest. He made an inventory of public urinals in Antwerp and mapped and documented these. In the last years he took pictures of existing and demolished urinals or "pissijnen" as they are called in Antwerp. He also made a number of objects that are related to the subject such as his portable urinal or "pisse-partout" – a portable device that allows one to have a pee at any place in complete serenity.

Next to the historical-cultural and architectural context there is a social profundity to the Vespasiennes that especially takes the male population sublimely. How many men know you can still visit an arranged urinal behind the cathedral instead of watering against the walls of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Cathedral.

For women the urinal is a world which they don’t know well. Some would like to know and use it but most ladies pass over peeing standing up.

For example in Germany, there was a strong interest of the local ladies (who apparently felt no embarrassment to philosophise about urinating situations) and who continuously interrupted the artist the exhibited "pisse-partout" with the question, no, the demand to build a copy that could also be used publicly by women in a discrete fashion to release pressure of the bladder.

It’s a sure thing that for a long time people will have a piss of it…

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