Even if he actually stops creating sculptures, he’s not going to stop digesting. He and his collaborators used to produce a magazine called Permanent Food, which was a sort of scrapbook made of other magazines. After a while, “we wanted to produce our own pictures,” he says, which led to starting Toilet Paper, a Dada-ish confection of staged scenes he creates with photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari. It is being paid for by the billionaire contemporary-art collector Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation, but at $12 a copy, it is a more democratic endeavor than sculpture. He actually wants people to see what he’s thought up; the reaction is what is most important to him. When his pope-hit-by-a-meteor piece, The Ninth Hour, was in Warsaw, several members of the Polish Parliament attempted to stand the wax John Paul up to give him back his dignity. A man in Milan was so disturbed by the garroted boys he climbed the tree and cut two of them down (before falling out of the tree himself).
On the bench, Cattelan flips through images planned for the newest Toilet Paper. “Probably they’re like advertising pictures, fitted out with meaning,” he says. “I won’t say I’m not fascinated by the way advertising works. I like the sleekness. But a picture in advertising doesn’t last too long. They have to work for 30 seconds. And I’d like to reach at least two minutes. This is my goal. To break that two-minute record.”
And despite his saying, “I never talk about my work as a joke,” he proceeds to make sardonic commentary on each image. There’s the photo of a woman crouching in pants with a heart-shaped hole in the back (“You can customize your own shorts”), and a museum engulfed in flames (“We needed some pictures with no people inside. This is of very expensive paintings set on fire.”) He becomes very animated talking about his homage to “Mike the headless chicken,” who “was so famous … alive for years without a head, fed with a dropper. The farmer was probably preparing dinner and left a little part of the brain by mistake. You can go on YouTube and see Mike walking among the other chickens.” When we get to one of a serious-faced woman holding a copy of a mocked-up newspaper with the headline NOW OR NEVER, he laughs and says, “This is a good one. It’s a motto for every day.” But perhaps his favorite is of a man with his feet inside fish heads. We were after something else, and then a friend was around and started playing with them. He looks like he’scross-country skiing. It’s disturbing, I have to say. This is what I like, when it’s difficult to find what is going on, but it’s still a compelling picture.”