In late 2010, Maurizio Cattelan, the ribald, “post-Duchampian” artist from whose satirical crosshairs nothing—from the Guggenheim to the Pope—is safe, joined forces with photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari to create Toilet Paper, a magazine devoid of text and devoted to uncomfortable, uncanny, and surreal images. Each issue of Toilet Paper, a 232-page compilation of which was recently released by Freedman/Damiani, is a collection of visual punch lines, but the jokes are hardly practical. The result is an unsettling world comprised of bizarre, self-enclosed narratives: a heavily made-up butchered pig’s head joins the body of a dead chicken; gold-painted sausages and a fake skull are strewn across the floor; and four pairs of hands pose in a swastika pattern. With its dusty color scheme and anti-nostalgic style, Toilet Paper’s darkly comical aesthetic owes nothing to anything—which, one assumes, is very much the point.
Which artists did you draw from when conceptualizing Toilet Paper ’s aesthetic?
On more than one occasion, we have made tributes to artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn, Robert Rauschenberg, and Mario Sorrenti. We’d say that our reference is not a specific field, however, but reality itself, filtered through our personal taste.
Was Toilet Paper designed with a particular aim?
To conquer the world and toiletpaperize it!
Is there a joke at the center of Toilet Paper ?
No, we’re deadly serious. If there were a joke, it would be one that doesn’t make you laugh.
Would you be proud or depressed if an issue of Toilet Paper gave someone a stroke?
We’d be satisfied to make someone feel a punch in his stomach.
If Toilet Paper were a person, what would it eat?
More importantly, if Toilet Paper were a person, it would be able to digest everything.
Black, red, and tan, Toilet Paper ’s trademark colors, are politically charged both by themselves and in combination with each other. Was this deliberate?
It’s about aesthetic—we want it to be an unseen combination, but with a vintage touch.
You’ve said that each picture springs from a specific idea. What are some ideas that you’ve ended up throwing out?
There are a lot of ideas that didn’t turn into good photos. We usually make a strict and severe selection. Hundreds of pictures don’t survive elimination, but some of the ideas still have a chance. Sometimes they’re more suitable for being a video, such as the girl covered with chocolate and getting licked by a rockabilly guy, or the three pieces of pizza moving like a nuclear alarm.
Is Toilet Paper continuing the conversation started by the Surrealists in the early 20th century? If so, what is the conversation and where can it go?
We’re in conversation with so many things at the same time that even the Surrealists have probably been a part of it. It’s like a séance—you never know who you’ll end up talking to.
What film has the most in common with Toilet Paper?
If you’re stoned enough, every film could show its Toilet Paper side.
All concepts and images by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari.
Get Surreal. The Surreal Issue, now at the Bullett Shop!