ART / Outside edge: Rosie Millard visits the Ladies at the ICA

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The Independent Culture
A major disappointment is in store this week for anyone wishing to take part in Spanish artist Rosa Sanchez's much-publicised lavatorial installation in the Ladies at the ICA. The idea, which was to show audiences what goes on in the cubicles of the Ladies toilets by help of a cannily positioned television monitor, has unfortunately been scuppered by the Disorderly Houses Act of 1751.

'I'm gutted,' says Lois Keydon, the ICA director of Live Arts. 'Look at this cubicle. No one is allowed to go in. It's censorship.' She gestures to a firmly locked cubicle door, above which a surveillance monitor looks down on a fairly innocuous, black plastic loo seat. Keydon is unclear exactly why the Act should have power over video cameras in loos, but ICA lawyers have warned Sanchez that this part of her production may not go ahead.

'At least we can have the cameras in the male urinals,' says Keydon brightly, 'although the Theatres Act of 1968 requires a 10-second delay before the audience can see what's going on. This is to prevent us showing people doing anything indecent or obscene. But what sort of behaviour do we regard as indecent, or obscene? That's one of the points of the whole piece.'

Sanchez's performance, Sanctus: The Profaned Body, is described as a 'voyeuristic and intimate installation about the body, sex and society'. Taking place every night this week in the ICA theatre, it deals with 'the representation and control of the female body in society'.

'I wanted to merge the public with the private,' mourns the artist. 'This is why I wanted to screen the inside of the toilets, a private space, into the theatre, a public space.'

Needless to say, female members of the audience appeared to be relieved about the intervention of the Act. 'Would I have been filmed on the loo?' says Maria Amidu, an arts administrator. 'No way] It's too humiliating.' 'I think it's quite appropriate that filming is only allowed in the urinals,' says Linda Baxter from the British Council. 'Public peeing is a very male thing, you know, deals struck over the pissoir and so on. I wouldn't have gone in if I was being filmed, I have to say.'

Besides showing the goings-on in the male toilets, Sanctus uses banks of monitors to screen excerpts from pornographic movies, and rather grisly footage from sex change operations. The audience is led in to view all this via a black-draped walkway; one is only allowed to stay for 10 minutes at a time. In front of the monitors, Sanchez chants mantras from books such as 101 Uses for Sex, a leather-bound dominatrix figure lies on a table and a third, similarly clad woman smears her breasts with glue and sticks on bits of hair.

'I thought it was very . . . esoteric,' says Marsid Greenidge, a PR consultant, after his first 10-minute burst. 'But it was a shame it was censored. We've obviously missed something; the edge has been taken off for us.'

However, surely it was the whole furore which has given Sanctus long queues at the ICA box office. 'We knew it would give us publicity,' says Keydon. 'We knew the whole piece would be provocative; and yes, the publicity keeps the profile for this kind of work up. We were never going to force people to be filmed sitting on the loo, anyway. There were notices everywhere pointing to alternative toilet facilities, and staff positioned outside the toilet in case people with language problems went there by accident.'

She looks sadly at the 'You are prevented from entering this cubicle' sign on the lavatory door. 'I think the ICA would be letting the side down if we didn't show how artists of great integrity, like Rosa, are representing the world at the end of the 20th century. And we find it very frustrating that archaic laws are stopping us from doing this.'