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Richard Maloy: Purveyor of Tradition by Allan Smith 

The following text was commissioned to accompany the show Nothing Nothing Something at the Sue Crockford Gallery in 2009.

"One comes to learn a procedure by which, through a deliberate direction of one's sensory activities and through suitable muscular action, one can differentiate between what is internal – what belongs to the ego- and what is external – what emanates from the outer world. In this way one makes the first step towards the introduction of the reality principle which is to dominate future development."

"We recognise, then, that countries have attained a high level of civilisation if we find that in them everything which can assist in the exploitation of the earth by man and in his protection against the forces of nature – everything, in short, which is of use to him – is attended to and effectively carried out. … We expect to see the signs of cleanliness and order. We do not think highly of the cultural level of an English country town in Shakespeare's time when we read that there was a big dung-heap in front of his father's house in Statford; … Dirtiness of any kind seems to us incompatible with civilisation."

"We are astonished to learn of the objectionable smell which emanated from the Roi Soleil."
Sigmund Freud, "Civilisation and its Discontents"

"I want to talk about shit – the hourly transfiguration of our lovely eating of the sun."
Gillian Rose, Love's Work

"But this isolation of the natural functions from public life, and the corresponding regulation or molding of instinctual urges, was only possible because, together with growing sensitivity, a technical apparatus was developed which solved fairly satisfactorily the problem of eliminating these functions from social life and displacing them behind the scenes."  
Norbert Elias, The Civilising Process

"The culture of a people is revealed by the nature of its washing amenities and its toilets."
Adolf Loos, internet advertisement for Duravit 1930 series

"Bourgeois political economy transforms origins into a tabula rasa … By elevating bodies and objects (in the form of products) to the status of signs, it places them in a translucent state; the very light that penetrates them blurs their contours, renders them opaque and tasteless, luminous and free of smell."

"The ascendance of sight … is paralleled by the disqualification of smell. We find one repercussion of its primacy elaborated in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant: The beautiful doesn't smell."
Dominique Laporte, The History of Shit

"Integral efficiency is as lofty an ideal as any. … But only in [modern] art as yet, … has an appropriate vision of efficiency as an ideal been bodied forth, a vision of that complete and positive rationality which seems to me the only remedy for our present confusions."

"Only by … excluding from each art whatever is intelligible in the terms of any other sense or faculty would the … arts attain the 'purity' and self-sufficiency which they desired."
Clement Greenberg, quoted in Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratisation of the Senses

I once listened to a speaker arguing that the traumatic dream Jung experienced as an 11 year old, in which a giant turd falls from beneath the throne of God and destroys Basel Cathedral, was proof of Jung's blasphemous, diabolical imagination. I'm more inclined now to see Jung's dream vision as an assertion of absolute inclusiveness. As a gesture of cosmic embrace of the good material and bad material; of good and bad shit. If the book of Revelations in the New Testament refers to Christ vomiting out lukewarm churches, it is only a post-Victorian decorum which could not accept imagery of another form of bodily evacuation to symbolise divine dismissal of a moribund institution. Perhaps Jung's imagery is equivalent to Coleridge's Mariner when he is finally able to bless the sea snakes; or Maurice Gee's Plumb when he honours the squirming eels in the creek at the back of his property. We will not get to the end of the philosophical, aesthetic, or theological implications surrounding cultures and codes of exclusion and demarcation anytime soon. The line we can trace, however, from what Freud identifies as the pre-historical move away from the olfactory to the optical as part and parcel of the civilising process; the emergence of the privatisation of excrement as Dominique Laporte maps it in tandem with the singular bourgeois subject; the increasingly specialist and separatist processes of modernisation and industrialisation; and the modernist aesthetic of purist abstraction – is not hard to follow.

Allan Smith is a curator, arts writer and currently Senior Lecture in Fine Arts at the University of Auckland.

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