Toilet paper is 2020’s hottest commodity. Everyone wants a piece – in fact, at one point near the start of quarantine, some of us were willing to fight one another for just a piece. That’s all to say, assuming that it’s a household item we use everyday, toilet paper is more important than we sometimes feel comfortable acknowledging.
In Echo Park, an east side neighborhood in LA, the Marta gallery showcased more than fifty different toilet paper holder designs as part of an exhibition called, “Under/Over,” that responded, in short, to the recent toilet paper shortage that reached the far corners of the USA. As a result of anxious pre-quarantine shoppers hoarding loads of toilet paper, the paper goods aisles in plenty of grocery stores were emptied out for weeks at a time. This prompted a unique design showcase where artists of varying mediums were given a space to get creative with their distinct take on the toilet paper roll holder.
The curators behind this exhibition, Heidi Korsavong, and Benjamin Critton recognized the comedy behind this anxious hoarding but also sought to comment on the environmental implications of our silent dependence on toilet paper. 37 gallons of water are needed in order to produce a single roll of toilet paper. That’s a lot of water down the drain and once we flush, it’s out of sight, out of mind. We give toilet paper little to no thought unless it reaches the point of a dire need for it and when we’re actively trying to avoid getting to that point, toilet paper turns into somewhat of a luxurious expectation no matter where we might find ourselves sitting…with our dire needs.
The designs ranged from chic, clean aesthetics that prioritized minimalism and style to more intimate and culturally significant interpretations that rubbed shoulders with folk art. My personal favorite turns the toilet paper holder into a mammoth-sized, shining-wet, orange tongue. The designs that adorned the walls of Marta Gallery spoke to the idle, yet inherent autonomy that could bring the need for toilet paper from afterthought to center stage. This provides much-needed commentary on our collective claim to environmental provisions, such as trees for toilet paper. “Under/Over,” begs the question, When did we expect toilet paper to be there the same way we expect our bodies to produce the need for it? The cycle of destroying virgin forests in order to create toilet paper for human needs might never end, but we can get creative with slowing it down in the meantime. The exhibition’s curators proved that getting creative in the meantime will always be worthwhile.
In order to provide an ecological alternative from which to jump off, the toilet paper presented at “Under/Over” was made entirely from organic bamboo pulp, in collaboration with Plant Paper, in order to incorporate an appeal for ecologically moral alternatives to the everyday toilet paper roll. The founders of Marta Gallery, Heidi Korsavong and Benjamin Critton aimed to inspire a sense of enchantment in the exhibition’s attendees with the hopes that upon leaving the toilet paper-lined gallery walls, they’d feel capable of producing their very own toilet paper holder, to go along with their very own need for it. Further, Critton says, “Our hope is that the sheer presence of some of these pieces prompts delight or reflection in such a way that someone might question their implicit ‘collaboration’ with the companies supplying them their toilet paper.”
Check out the exhibition in Echo Park by scheduling an appointment between September 10 and November 1, 2020, or scroll through the designs below, feel inspired, and get creative in the meantime!
Curators: Heidi Korsavong and Benjamin Critton.