Turning Shame into Art


Tour participants at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, in Sydney (Photo for the New York Times by Christo Crocker)

Excerpt from "New Tour at Museum Reveals All," by Mark Whittaker, The New York Times, May 1, 2012:

Stuart Ringholt said that in his 20s, he was profoundly affected by experiences of extreme embarrassment, a subject now at the center of much of his work. One of these involved toilet paper hanging out of his pants as he walked on the field at an Australian football game with hundreds of people looking on.

“I was wrecked — I went home and explained it to my girlfriend, and she was killing herself laughing,” he said. “I was distraught for a whole week.”

Being a dabbler in performance, Mr. Ringholt turned shame into art. He went to Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and stood in front of a marble fountain for 20 minutes with toilet paper trailing from his trousers. He walked around for a day in Basel, Switzerland, wearing a prosthetic nose with a “gob” of fake mucus hanging from it.

“I tried to understand how fear manifests in the body and how it debilitates you,” he said. Knowing these acts of abjection were performances didn’t make them easier, he added: “It was just as bad. You get a panic attack. You get cold sweats. I realized it was the same fear I got when I rang up a woman to ask her on a date.”

Eventually, he said, he learned to conquer his fear by understanding it. He called the woman and got the date, and he took his fear workshops on the road. That led to the nude museum tours.

See also: "I Ran Out Naked In The Sun" by Jane Hirshfield, from Come, Thief