Zoé Duchesne’s Aesthetics of Failure at Galerie Inside Art

Matthew sees an exhibit documenting Raffy, a Paris pooch and his unusual streetside behavior, pooping on walls. The show causes reflections on the “poop art” phenomenon, a long-standing albeit small niche in the art world. Artist Zoé Duchesne, owner of Raffy and creator of the poop art documentation, is also a performance artist, with a series of forlorn, self-abnegating performances in public. Matthew says her work is an examination of the aesthetics of failure.

Shit, or “merde” as the French would have it, makes regular appearances in the art world. Piero Manzoni’s “Merde d’Artiste,” Chris Ofili’s “dung paintings” and Maurizio Cattelan’s 18-karat gold toilet, “America,” (2017) are just a few artworks that traffic in excrement capturing the contemporary imagination.

So, metaphorically stepping in it, I walked through the doors of Zoé Duchesne’s “Je chie, donc Je suis” (“I shit, therefore I am”) at the just-launched Galerie Inside Art in Paris to find the model, photographer and performance artist offering up yet another entry to this art world phenomenon.

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Zoé Duchesne, “Je chie, donc Je Suis” photographs, installation, Galerie Inside Art, Paris 2018.

Riffing off René Descartes’s philosophical proposition “cogito ergo sum,” (“I think, therefore I am.”) Duchesne’s savage take on consciousness features “Raffy,” her Jack Russell dog and his unusual habit of pooping directly onto Paris walls. Consisting of documentary photographs, it’s not quite evident what you’ve just stepped into – just as in real life. A wallpaper installation of 357 color photos documenting Raffy’s art greets you but you have to look closely to see what this is all about. For the nearsighted, there are two dozen larger framed and unframed photographs of Raffy’s in situ “art actions” in and around Paris. Running in a loop on an iMac, is of course a video of Raffy in his on-the-streets studio, busy at work.


Dog Art

This peculiar proclivity of her joyful mutt Raffy raising his leg and planting his business on walls, car tires, water pipes is both strange and unique. The pup literally “throws” everything he has at various walls around Paris to see what sticks on surfaces already loaded with information – spray-painted tags from kids or advertisers’ posters from the adult world of commerce. The poop art is photographed almost daily, creating a journal for a year in the life of a dog.

Zoé Duchesne’s “Je chie, donc Je Suis,” wallpaper installation, Galerie Inside Art, Paris 2018.

While Raffy’s art is a brand of untamed urban graffiti, Duchesne exploits the end game of what a picture could be in a world eager for endless streams of images. She seems quite aware of the questionable nature of her (and Raffy’s) art. But both dog and mistress have found a few fans: Experimental French “New Wave” film maker and feminist icon Agnes Varda, dropped into the gallery before its close, and left with one of the art-making pooch’s works.

A Cottage Industry

Indeed art world excrement has become a cottage industry. British duo Gilbert & George have been making works about shit for more than decades. There was also “Cloaca” (2000), Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s 33-ft.-long monster machine that processes and produces actual excrement – in roughly 27 hours.


Kiki Smith’s “Tale,” (1992) featured a prostate woman in wax, pigment, and papier-mache, with a trail of excrement following behind her. And Kara Walker, master of the silhouette cut out, peppers her dark narratives with a range of animals and humans’ feces.

Perhaps the king of all this low-brow art is Italian artist Piero Manzoni (1933 – 1963) whose father owned a cannery and reportedly told his son that “his art was shit.” Manzoni’s “Merde d’Artiste” (1961) took his father’s words to heart and produced an edition of 90 tuna-fish sized cans containing the artist’s own excrement. Seeking to satirize the art market and expose the dubious value of art works as foul joke, critic Stephen Bury wrote that “Merde d’Artiste was “a critique of consumerism and the waste it generates.” As recently as August 2016, one of Manzoni’s “sculptures” sold for 275,000 euros at an auction in Milan.

Poupée: The Aesthetics of Failure

Duchesne who hails from Quebec, also bends her art towards provocation and irreverence. Perusing her Instagram, we can see a series of past performances entitled “Poupée,” meaning doll, puppet or mannequin, featured her on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. There she stripped down to a bathing suit bottom made of red “FRAGILE” packing tape and wandered about topless until security escorted her beyond the velvet ropes.

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Zoé Duchesne, Red Carpet performance, Cannes, France 2015.

Another performance video on her Instagram seems to epitomize Duchesne’s real interest – an examination of the aesthetics of failure. Again from the “Poupée” series, Duchesne is shown in a blond wig stumbling and falling on her face as she makes her way across a group of hay bales wearing a single high heel shoe: Trip and fall, trip and fall. “Poupée: Les Obstacles” is oddly heartbreaking – a work of slapstick tragicomedy. She looks like Pipi Longstocking drunk and lost.

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Zoé Duchesne, Screen Grab, Poupée: Les Obstacles, Video, 2:31 mins. August 2014, Québec.

Duchesne’s comic narrative could be called a dog’s life, and yes, Raffy does have an Instagram page. In one tongue and cheek post, Raffy signs a post-it asserting, “One day rich people will pay me to shit on their walls.” Indeed, they already have.