Artist's lavatorial display does not wash with gallery's cleaner

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The Independent Online

Artists often complain of being misunderstood but few have had to suffer the indignity of having their work scrubbed from the face of the earth before they had finished it.

Artists often complain of being misunderstood but few have had to suffer the indignity of having their work scrubbed from the face of the earth before they had finished it.

Angela Bartram's attempts to force her audience into contact with the "dysfunctional and impolite uses of the mouth" were lost on the cleaning staff of one of Glasgow's exhibition galleries.

For hours the Nottingham artist spat, dribbled, licked, choked and chewed soap in front of a live audience in a series of bizarre rituals intended to "play on personal parameters of what is safe and comfortable".

Unfortunately, when the cleaners at the Arches - an exhibition space beneath Central Station in Glasgow - arrived for work last Friday they were less than impressed.

Furious to discover the mess the women's toilets had been left in following the previous night's National Review of Live Art (NRLA) events, nobody noticed it was a work of art in progress.

There was soap stuck to the walls and sink counters, tissue paper pulled out and scattered about the floor and stickers all over the walls and cubicles.

Only after an hour and a half's work was the space looking passable again and the head cleaner, enraged, sat down at her computer to let her boss know exactly what had been going on.

Unfortunately for Georgie Fowler, the cleaning and services manager, the first e-mail she opened was from a member of staff on behalf of the NRLA, asking her politely not to remove the artwork in the toilets.

"I was really shocked, I just thought 'what have I done!'," said Mrs Fowler, who has worked at the Arches for four years.

As part of the NRLA, Europe's longest-running festival of live art, Bartram had wanted to perform her work in the Arches venue itself but concerns for health and safety meant that she was relocated to the toilets.

Bartram, whose previous work has involved her kissing an Alsation dog on the mouth - titled Fur Kiss - and an inverted toy bird called Inside Out Parrot , says she draws influences from the human figure, emotions and comedy.

Her website says her work "utilises notions of feminine, cultural and physical transgressions".

Kirstin Innes, spokeswoman for the Arches, said the cleaner had simply made an honest mistake. "Fortunately everybody has seen the funny side and Angela has said it was an interesting show and that there was no harm done."

Ms Innes said the incident was in no way an indication of the Arches' attitude towards the work or the artist.

"I thought it was a joke or something, I didn't think it was art - so I threw it in the bin," said Mrs Fowler.

This is not the first time an artist has suffered the indignity of having their work mistaken for garbage. A bag of rubbish which formed part of a Gustav Metzger work which was said to demonstrate the "finite existence" of art was thrown away by a cleaner at Tate Britain in London last year while in 2001 a Damien Hirst installation was mistaken for trash by a cleaner at London's Eyestorm Gallery.

Yesterday, Gillian McCormack, a spokeswoman for the NRLA's organisers, said the artist had not complained. "The installation was due to be cleaned up the next day anyway so it's not as if a permanent exhibit has been destroyed," she said.

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