Vacantly Occupied Movements Queering Materialities (or, Becomings from the Toilet)

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Nicholas Rebstadt


This text-based essay investigates and makes uncertain public toilets through ficto-critical writing. The essay is a response to an experimental analysis where I vacantly occupied several public toilets around Melbourne, each for varied amounts of time. This embodied methodology allows the interior itself, relieved of any expected utility or function, to become foregrounded, eventful. The research builds on an existing body of research into the interior subcultures of public toilets and their representation in pop culture. ‘Vacantly occupied’ refers to the process of occupying toilet cubicles and making uncertain the binary of ‘vacant’ and ‘occupied’. To vacantly occupy queers the binary function of the cubicle lock, the toilet, design, and labour more broadly, and turns it into an open-ended situation. ‘Queering’ because it blurs categorisation — occupation without an occupation — and embodies a functional, utilitarian space in a deliberately a-functional way, as opposed to dysfunctional because design too often looks towards explicit function as reification of ‘good/bad’. I argue this kind of majoritarian binary qualification isn’t necessarily useful for queering, which unlike identitarian definitions of ‘queer’ resists certainty. This text deploys queering tactically to move beyond these dynamics in order to destabilise and make uncertain in both content and form, thinking design in different ways. Ficto-criticism is used as a methodology to develop two distinct perspectives: the author’s, and through its diverse language loosens normative interpretations of critical writing for the reader, creating a second. The style, much like toilet cubicles themselves, is at times messy, fragmented, and blurred, mixing academic, dirty, common, poetic styles attempting to resist cartographic objectivity in favour of a language that cultivates multiple perspectives that queer the form of a critical research essay. This is reflective of a broader argument that, in the case of public toilets, other viewpoints beyond dominant heterosexist norms are needed now more than ever, that other historiographies and perspectives that create uncertainty in how we assume, use, and design with logics, utility, function, cleanliness, and so on can be embraced to envision radically different interiors.


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How to Cite
Rebstadt, Nicholas. 2023. “Vacantly Occupied: Movements Queering Materialities (or, Becomings from the Toilet)”. idea journal 20 (01):118–135.