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A Secret History of the Pissing Figure in Art

By Dan Piepenbring

The New Yorker: Look at “Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin,” a fifteenth-century portrait by Rogier van der Weyden, and you’ll notice two figures in the middle distance, lingering at the crenellations in the courtyard. One gestures in faint surprise; somebody has captured their attention. It’s not Luke the Evangelist, the Virgin Mother, or even the infant Christ. It’s a faraway man who has stopped to piss on a high wall.

This isn’t an isolated incident. The fact is, a river of piss runs through art history. For centuries, painters and sculptors have depicted the act of urination. Men piss. Women piss. Most of all, young boys piss, so much so that scholars assigned a Latin term, puer mingens, to their ubiquitous appearances. Now Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, a French critic, has written “Pissing Figures, 1280–2014,” a genealogy of the pisseurs and pisseuses who haunt our canvases, fountains, and frescoes. The book, in a rangy, fluent translation from Jeff Nagy, is a record of what Lebensztejn calls our “diuretic fantasies”—of the lore and lust surrounding urine, sacred and profane.

In the beginning was the pissing boy, the putto. He appeared first in the margins of illuminated manuscripts, peeing discreetly as if in fear of detection: the gentle plash, the flaxen strands as wispy as a maiden’s hair. By the fifteenth century, he’d grown brazen and begun to multiply—“processions of urinating children set about inundating paintings and sculptures in villas and public squares,” Lebensztejn writes. They pissed into vases and basins and shells and conchs, onto snowdrifts and poppy husks and flocks of cupids. They pissed in the mouths and anuses of other boys, who themselves pissed in more mouths still. These were no ordinary boys. Spritely and seraphic, often winged and laurelled, they charmed their way into old churches, where they patrolled the transepts and friezes, pure of heart and full of bladder. In Padua’s Ovetari Chapel, for example, Andrea Mantegna painted a cycle of frescoes that included a pissing putto suspended from a garland, where, according to Lebensztejn, he “lets loose a long jet of urine, as if it were a bemused, symbolic paraphrase of the baptismal water.”

Indeed, a boy’s piss seems at some point to have crossed streams with holy water, becoming blessed with ablutionary powers. In Italy, Lebensztejn notes, “it is still customary, even today, to call an infant’s intemperate pee acqua santa.” Sometimes the gift of pure piss transferred to adulthood, though it helped if you were aiming heavenward. A thirteenth-century fresco in the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi shows three angels, grown men, holding their penises over Christ on the cross, as if they might relieve his suffering by relieving themselves.

Of course, the angels, being angels, feel no relief as they piss. They get their celestial jollies by raining a little holy water on us, but they know nothing of urination as a physical urge. If you want to enjoy some real salt-of-the-earth pissing, Lebensztejn reports, you have to skip ahead to 1600. It was then that, with the advent of genre painting, and its attendant embrace of everyday experience over iconography, more and more adults began to piss in images. In Rembrandt’s “Pissing Man” and “Pissing Woman,” both from 1631, we’ve at last found a couple urinating without ceremony, the peasant woman “turning around to reassure herself that no one is watching.” >>>

Lofti Zadeh, the Father of Fuzzy Logic, Dies at 96

IranWire: It was a summer night, in July 1964, and Lotfi Zadeh was alone in New York, away from his home in California. He was staying at the home of his parents, who were away, and a dinner he was invited to had been cancelled. Many of us, if we found ourselves in such a situation today, might binge watch that Netflix series everyone had been talking about. This being 1964, and television sets being barely a decade old, Lotfi didn’t have that option. So he sat and thought. “My thoughts turned to the unsharpness of class [category] boundaries,” he later said. “It was at this point that the simple concept of a fuzzy set occurred to me.”

In other words, his thoughts led him to questions. Why, in the world of computer science and engineering, the world in which he was involved, was there so much focus on sharply-delineated categories? It was the heyday of Game Theory, and “models” not tied to the real world ruled the roost in many a department. But weren’t things more … fuzzy in real life?

This simple idea gave birth to a concept, which Lofti christened Fuzzy Sets and later Fuzzy Logic — a concept that quite simply changed the world. It was first embraced by engineers, who used it in industrial process controls. It played a fundamental role in the design of early smart products, like hand-held camcorders and microwaves. It traversed the globe and found special favor in that tech-nut of a country, Japan. Fuzzy logic was used to help design the underground train system in the city of Sendai in 1987 —a crowning achievement of an idea that had proved itself.

Before Lofti Zadeh passed away on September 7, at the age of 96, he was one of the most influential living minds in computer science and mathematics >>>

Azad Right in concert

Thursday, Aug 20, 2015 8:30 PM PDT (8:00 PM Doors)
The Mint, Los Angeles, CA
18 years and over >>> Tickets