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EVENTS & FESTIVALS

Words and images from the 'bathroom blogosphere'

January 10, 2008|Elina Shatkin

MARK FEREM has made a career out of crawling around urinals -- and he's not a janitor. Inspired by a Rainer Maria Rilke quote ("For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror") scrawled on the bathroom wall of a Houston dive bar, the native Angeleno began a small photo essay on the subject. Thirteen years later, his obsession with latrinalia has led to dozens of trips around the country and a 160-page photo book on the subject, "Bathroom Graffiti" (2007, Mark Batty).

Where tagging and street graffiti obsess over marking territory and artistic self-aggrandizement, the "bathroom blogosphere," as Ferem calls it, is devoted to a more interactive form of self-expression. "I used to think bathroom graffiti was invisible, and I never really paid attention to it. But seeing that [quote] got me more interested in it as a ritual. Why is it that people use this medium to acknowledge these moments in their lives?" Ferem says.

Christie Scott, one of the organizers of now-defunct punk club Il Corral, has an idea: "It's a pure democracy. It's anonymous. It's complete expression with no censorship. You have the same power as anyone else who can mark a wall." During Il Corral's reign, graffiti and stickers dotted the entire club, but the nexus was in the bathroom and adjacent hallway, where patrons first began marking the vivid orange walls as they waited in line to use the club's only toilet.

It was one of Ferem's favorite haunts. For the best of latrinalia, he recommends cafes Insomnia and Karma Coffeehouse, the Hollywood outpost of Thai restaurant Toi, Echo Park dive bar Little Joy and another all-ages club, the Smell. Though he hasn't noticed a distinct difference in graffiti varietals from city to city, the sheer quantity of L.A.'s bathroom graffiti continues to awe him. The nastiest bathroom in L.A.? That distinction belongs to Al's Bar, circa 1995. "The men's bathroom was crushed with graffiti, layer upon layer. It was like a time capsule," Ferem says with palpable regret.

Scott, whose years at Il Corral turned her into a de facto curator of latrinalia, will celebrate the art form at the launch of experimental art and performance space Zero Point. Guests will, of course, be welcome to mark up the bathroom walls. But a curated exhibit of Ferem's photos of bathroom graffiti, printed, framed and under glass, will also hang in a gallery area. "Maybe next time when someone goes into a bathroom," Ferem says, "they'll perceive it in a different way."

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-- Elina.Shatkin@latimes.com

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'BATHROOM GRAFFITI'

WHERE: Zero Point, 1049 E. 32nd St., L.A.

WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday

PRICE: $5-$10

INFO: www.zeropointspace.org

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