Pee Is Us

Jason Hirata’s Why Not Lie? at Artists Space

December 6, 2019 – February 9, 2020

Toward the end of the opening night — the hour of “text me later” versus “afterparty?” — we bore witness to an improvised Act Two: The Intern’s Nightmare. A bottle of urine erupted with the tea-hued liquid flowing across Artists Space’s freshly renovated wooden floor, leaving behind the gruesome smell of aged bodily excretions. Lights flickered as patrons dispersed like commuters dodging a rogue coffee. “More paper towels!” Artists Space’s inaugural four-person untitled exhibition was making a pungent splash.

The container was one of six foraged and displaced bottles of actual pee by Jason Hirata titled Why Not Lie? (2020). But by the end of the evening, we’d all wish he had. Hirata’s litter occupied serious real estate, from disrupting the flow of visitors to photobombing Danica Barboza, Yuki Kimura, and Duane Linklater’s work in post-exhibition documentation.
A Poland Springs water bottle filled with pee lies in the middle of the sidewalk.
The gesture was as punk as it was tediously arranged and in lineage to Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Piero Manzoni’s bathroom themed art object ridicule. However, unlike Warhol and Manzoni, Hirata did not rely on his own bodily excretions. He outsourced them: The bottles are “readymades,” foraged souvenirs from New York’s most private public spaces and filled with the liquid relief from workers and the homeless, lacking immediate access to toilets.

In that case, Why Not Lie? could seem like a statement on New York’s austerity measures, the slow but incessant dismantling of public infrastructures since its fiscal crisis in 1975. But tell us something we don’t know about inequality, like its elevation to contemporary art. Is Hirata staging the import of depreciated value into the exhibition space? Or leveraging broken-window theory for an act of in-house defiance, thereby mimicking austerity as a form? The faster liquidity circulates, the higher the risk of a leakage. It’s the poorest art you can do and it’s not even for sale.