The Compost Toilet - a work in progress
'Art is simply how you look at life' Hamish Fulton
Our history is in the earth, everything that has ever been is returned to it.
Working towards a regenerative culture means we need to think in a circular way. Everything in nature is regenerative, waste from one process is always used in another, in continual transformation.
Water is one of the most precious resources and we use it for the disposal of human waste. More than a quarter of the average household water use comes from flushing toilets. At five flushes a day, one person may use as much as 2,336 gallons each year.
Compost toilets are dry or waterless toilets, they don’t use water to take the waste somewhere else. No chemicals or bleach are used. Urine is diverted into a soakway. After a resting period ‘Humanure’ is produced from the solids, rich in the basic nutrients that fertilise soil for plant growth. We grow plants and eat them, and our waste product is returned to feed them, the circle is complete.
The building of this compost toilet is a collaboration with the land in which it is sited, and is deeply contextual. This is a departure from my past work. The making is the experience, the process of working directly with, rather than representing, nature. It will involve the spontaneity of using materials at hand or sourcing as locally as possible. Working in a non linear way means not being attached to outcomes. It is the way nature works, following the feedback loops of an evolutionary process.
I will be working with the natural patterns and forces of the world. This approach is similar to Land Art or Earth Art, a movement that uses the natural landscape to create site-specific structures, art forms, and sculptures.
The difference is this will be a functional object. Considering this journey and the final piece as art challenges traditional art made with no function, often bought and sold for profit, using resources and just existing to be seen.
Far from the infinitely repeatable uniformity of Duchamp's urinal, this piece will be a unique individual organic structure, which is in intimate relationship with place and in service to the Earth.
In an interconnected world, all acts of service contribute to the solution of all world problems.
The installation is sited in 'the land' on which I live. The 350 trees I planted here over 20 years ago are now becoming quite large. The Woodland Trust placed them fairly close together and advised some thinning would need to be done. I first did this about 10 years ago, the logs and 'brush' (branches and twigs) were scattered around the wood to create habitat.
This time around the trees are big enough to be used in a small build. A compost toilet and shower will be great for when people come to visit over the summer and camp in the meadow. But I also intend to hold outdoor workshops here including learning to work with 'green' wood, gardening for wildlife and forest school for children. I will personally use it as much as I can, when the weather permits! It is about 200ft from the house.
Chris Snelgrove is the project manager and builder, he is very experienced working with green wood, and builds yurts. He was a civil engineer and together we have designed the look and the functionality of the build. Chris has a deep affinity with what I call the gesture of the tree, working with its individual character, and a tool for every different task. I am enjoying learning from him.
The project began in autumn 2020 and continued through the 3rd Covid lockdown. Construction work was allowed and being outdoors encouraged. We worked on it one day a week and it provided a regular focus point and connection to nature in a difficult time.
Joining wood the traditional way
I live in South Norfolk which is part of an area known as The Claylands. This landscape is on the great plateau of glacial till or boulder clay deposited by the retreating ice-sheet of the Anglian Glaciation.
The clay lies not far beneath the topsoil and meant we we able to use the spoil from the pits dug in the build using the traditional 'wattle and daub' method. The clay is rich in nutrients which is why this is a predominantly agricultural part of East Anglia. Unfortunately intensive farming has caused extensive hedgerow loss and there is virtually no woodland.