Talk of poo has suddenly moved from the gutter to cool design circles thanks to the debut this week of il Museo della Merda - or the Museum of Shit - in Castelbosco, Italy. The world's first cultural institution dedicated to doo-doo is the brainchild of Gianantonio Locatelli, an enterprising farmer who smelled more than just a stink wafting off the piles of organic waste produced by the 2,500 cows grazing on his dairy farm.
After 12 years of transforming 1,000 tons of dung annually into biofuel (which he has sold to the Italian government as an alternative energy supply), as well as into material used for bricks and plaster, Locatelli has converted the farm's 14th-century castle into a public museum dedicated to the undervalued and misunderstood material.
'It's a fantastic subject,' gushes Milan-based architect Luca Cipelletti who restored the ground floor of the medieval structure into nine thematic rooms featuring installations from various artists including Carlo Valsecchi, Daniel Spoerri and Claudio Costa. 'Shit has always been privileged in ancient cultures - the Egyptians and Etruscans used it in their architecture. Today, it's the new gold because you can use it to make energy.'
The museum's rooms take visitors through a tour of excrement's privileged past and its potential future, along with scientific research and information on excrement in culture, technology and history. Meanwhile, the grounds of Locatelli's faeces factory look more like fashion headquarters than a sewer, thanks to several artistic interventions by David Tremlett and Anne and Patrick Poirier.
Tremlett painted the outside of 20 'digestors' - skyscraper-sized vats of poo that transform the material into usable energy, while the Poiriers designed green hilled art-scapes. 'Tremlett's paintings make the tubs look incredibly beautiful, while the landscapes set it all off in an unexpected way,' remarks Cipelletti. 'We're talking about shit here, but it's not vulgar at all. It's actually quite inspiring.'