Monday, April 14, 2014

a lot has changed in 4 years

I am fascinated by the forum of the bathroom wall.  

During my time attending New Trier, a MASSIVE public school in the middle of a very wealthy part of the "North Shore" of Chicago, I experienced the beauty of these ladies' bathroom forums. Dialogues, criticisms, gossip, quotes and commentary were all things I recall seeing whilst sitting on the loo. It was the criticisms that really excited me though, the real mean stuff. Luckily for me, it was everywhere. (I attribute the surplus of negative commentary to the way that attending such a large and impersonal school made people crazy, in combination with the easy accessibility of bathroom walls and sharpies).

I was back at home this past weekend, and with Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics in mind, decided to utilize these stalls as my "Arena of Exchange" in order to provoke more of those  juicy critical comments (or whatever people decided to respond). On a blank sheet of paper I wrote:

(write the meanest thing you can think of)

I prepped ten of these sheets and snuck in to the school.
So much had changed - in the bathrooms (everything else was the same). New plastic doors had been installed in the majority of bathrooms to replace the old wooden ones. I suspect that this replacement was made in an effort to decrease the graffiti that I so loved, since permanent maker is easier to clean off plastic than wood. I really had to search to find stalls that had any writing at all

When I finally did find some writing, the content was just as shocking to me as the new doors. They were positive messages! I really had to hunt to find something the least bit mean (pictured above).


Still, I forged ahead, planted all ten of my "arenas" in ladies' bathrooms around the campus, and waited. I let two class periods pass before going to collect the results (an ample amount of time considering the size of the student body and amount of traffic that travels through those stalls). Then came the next shock:

All of my Anonymous Hate Mail forums had been torn down.

I found them all in their respective bathroom's trash can. Such blatant rejection of my prompt both frustrated and inspired me. I chose to focus on the second reaction as I gathered my things and left the school. Clearly something has changed within the past four years at New Trier High School. Either students are making a genuine effort to promote positive relations, or custodians have gotten much much better at purging restrooms of negativity. Whichever it is, I left the school feeling hopeful.


  1. I love this idea, Emma! So true that this type of 'vandalism' happens in everyday life, and it's cool that you were able to capture some of the positive messages in a school like New Trier.

  2. This is so intriguing considering how much I know about New Trier.. With that said, I really hope that these were torn down by students. It would be nice to know that students are trying to make a positive difference. I like what you did here :)

  3. I really want to know whether the signs were torn down by students or by faculty. The fact that there were, essentially, only positive messages written on the walls was disconcerting to me. When I think about where New Trier is, who goes to New Trier, and what goes on (apparently Mean Girls is based on it?) I find it creepy that they would tear down the wooden doors with the negative messages, and put up plastic doors where only the positive messages endure. *Censorship*? It fits right in with the cookie cutter, ostensibly charming suburb New Trier is in--plastic doors displaying plastic comments for plastic people? Well, I'd take obscenities over insipid compliments any day-- they're much more entertaining when you're relieving yourself.

  4. I love the ephemeral and personal quality of this project. You really captured a moment in time that conflicted with your own knowledge of place and emotion. What Alex is saying above really makes me wonder if there is some sort of facade being put up. I almost think the replaced doors are the work of art here.