Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Move over Helvetica...

This is a poo font. It is a font made from poo.

The X, the R, the S - nothing was manipulated. Arne Gutmann simply sat on the can as you or I do when we go about our business and voila! A perfectly formed "A."

"Dude, everybody's got magic," Gutmann said. "I have pretty good digestive system. Everybody's got magic, man."

One day, about 20 years ago, he was about to flush at his home in Toronto when he took a peek - as so many of us do - and discovered a letter floating in the water.

"I was impressed," he said. "I grabbed my camera and took a picture. And then, I don't know, a couple of weeks or a couple of months later, I got another one. I was like, 'Dude, this is wild.'"

He doesn't recall what that first letter was but it stirred something within him. An idea was fermenting. A photographer by trade (he's active in the Whistler scene, curating local arts exhibits and sitting on the board for the Point) his passion has always laid in the obscure. So whenever a new letter would drop, he'd keep a record of it. It has had nothing to do with a fecal fascination - he claims he has never had one - but he just "keeps stuff." Over time, he decided to make something of all the letters and by using Photoshop to grayscale the images of his excrement he created an entire alphabet. It's now available for purchase at

"I have so many (letters), man - like the alphabet five times over but in different variations. They're not all the same," he said.

He's clearly amused when showing the raw images of his turds. While they are all quite horrific, they're also uncanny. That the human body can produce waste in the alphabet form is a perverted wonder and unless you see the original images - of which there is no rush, trust - you'll never see the true magic behind the letter "R" or the number "4."

Nothing like this has ever been created before. There are plenty of poo-based fonts, characters and images but most of them are hand drawn. An alphabet plopped out letter by letter over the years...well Gutmann's on the leading edge. No one has paid to use the font yet, and aside from the above headline and a few X's (a trademark, of sorts) given to a few friends it has yet to be used in the public.

People have been talking about it though to gauge their reactions is to gauge the vitality of the font as a work of art. Reactions lie somewhere between revulsion and fascination, often at both extremes and often at the same time.

"It's a natural thing. It's a natural bodily function," he said. "We're all aware of it... but it's also a repulsive thing too."

Gutmann is hardly the first artist to use bodily fluids as a vehicle for artistic expression. Among others, Italian artist Piero Manconi once sold one-ounce tin cans of his feces, complete with a label, in a collection known as "Merda d'artista" ("Artist's shit"). They didn't sell well at first but in 2007 a single can fetch 124,000 euros.

Like Manconi, Gutmann had an idea, and like every artist is compelled to do, he took the idea and executed it. As many artists will testify, the art is not always a biographical assessment of the artist as a whole.

"People are like, 'You're obsessed! You're obsessed!'" Gutmann said." I'm not obsessed, man, it's just a thing, you know? It's my magic and I've realized it and I have tried to capitalize on it," he said.

Gutmann plans to self-publish publish a book featuring all the letters, which include outtakes for letters that didn't make it, as well as original images to compare to the finished product.


We thought so.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Valentine's Day love story you've been waiting for

My first kiss was a peck on the lips of the girl I had been in love with for four or five months. We kissed on a dare made by our mutual friend, Suzie. It was innocent enough, simple enough - a brief peck and that was it. Kaily was smiling about it. For her, it was not a big deal.

She had a husband, see, and had been kissing him and holding hands with him throughout the fall. She had been married the month before in a wedding ceremony at the school yard baseball diamond, where she and her fiancée, Edward, a four-foot Filipino with a lustrous crop of jet-black hair I could never live up to, exchanged rings made of twist ties.

Because I didn't have a date I was not welcome to the ceremony and had to watch my love given away to another man atop some monkey bars located across the field with the few other 12-year-old rejects barred from the celebration, listening as the wind carried the wedding party's giggles in our direction.

A month later, Kaily, Suzie and myself were playing truth or dare. I had smoked my very first cigarette an hour or so before and my mouth tasted like the insole of a running shoe. I was self-conscious about the smell but as Kaily leaned in closer I noticed she reeked like cigarettes, too. This was a little comforting but as she leaned her face toward mine, I became a radiator of human heat. My heart was beating too fast and I thought this is the end. My chest is going to explode in a bloody mess all over my love.

But I leaned ever closer, my left eye shut tight and my right eye open a crack to view with limited visibility Kaily's puckered, wrinkled mouth inch toward mine. And we pecked and it was done.

Soon after that, Suzie and Kaily fellated their boyfriends. Suzie had passed a note around the classroom about the incident and later threw it away in the class trashcan. For some reason, our teacher dug it out of the bin and a controversy was born upon discovering the debauched behaviour of cigarette-smoking seventh graders trading after-school sexual favours in family living rooms. It was a big deal around the classroom and I'm certain it shook the more innocent-minded students out of their naiveté. It certainly did mine. I had no concept of such behaviour, and the thought of having someone's mouth...y'know, down there was absurd and unappealing.

Because this was a Catholic elementary school, any indecent behaviour was magnified ten-fold and I'd find out later this was one of - if not the -first time St. Paul's Catholic Elementary School had to deal with issues of student sexuality.

I'd also find out later through some friends that during this same period, at a public elementary school across the road, oral sex was akin to eating peppermints. Seventh-graders were taking regular hits of LSD and having sex in the bushes lining the playground. Indecent behaviour was rampant around this part of Richmond, British Columbia, and was a vital sign that Canada's youth were learning the methods of grown-up fun at a far younger age than their parents.

It seems strange to me, even now, that anybody in the seventh grade was even contemplating sex. I had only a vague sense of what it implied and what it looked like. It was something dark and murky and sounded like sheets rustling from behind bedroom walls. I thought ejaculate was yellow, like urine, and the prospect of sexual intercourse seemed to me as ludicrous as navigating my own way across the Pacific Ocean.

But this single event had yanked me from my carefully coddled universe of toy cars and Goosebumps novels into a more carnal reality of human sexuality. There was suddenly a realm of experience that existed beyond what Saturday morning cartoons were describing. The muffled rustling behind bedroom walls now had some clear visuals. It was alluring yet alarming, and bewildering that I had remained so ignorant of these primal desires while kids that I knew - that I talked with and shared granola bars, traded baseball cards with - were acting out their hormonal urges after school while their parents were away at work.

The following year - the first year of high school, when sex was still perplexing but the rite of masturbation had clarified some of its mysteries -a girl from my old seventh grade class admitted she wanted me to be her boyfriend, so she could "do it" with me.

"Would you have said yes?" she said.

"Probably not," I said.

I made up some nonsense about being in love with someone else, but the truth was I was too awkward to think about even kissing a girl. It would take several more years before the buds of this hormonal human would blossom into something, um, more fully functioning, but at this moment I was still holding on to that single moment one year before when ignorant innocence was still my reality and a pair of puckered, shriveled lips were enough to make my head explode.

I left that conversation and walked on home, wondering if I could catch the last half of Animaniacs.