As It Happens

Dutch artist erects penis fountain to protest 'elite' art project

A Dutch city has become immersed in a face-off over fountains — and one local artist who says he was excluded from cultural festivities has responded by erecting a phallic fount.

Local artist Henk de Boer started a crowdfunding campaign to create a fountain out of 240 wooden penises

Henk de Boer created a fountain with 240 wooden penises. (Submitted by Henk de Boer)
Listen5:04

Usually, organ donations are welcomed. But even Henk de Boer would admit he didn't donate all those organs out of the kindness of his heart.

The Dutch artist lives in the region of Leeuwarden, which was chosen by the EU as the European Capital of Culture for 2018, but de Boer says he and other local artists were excluded from the festivities. 

Those festivities include the unveiling of 11 fountains in cities across the region — the majority of which were designed by artists from elsewhere. So, in response, Henk de Boer has supplied his own, crowd-funded phallic-themed fountain.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to de Boer about his rebellious installation. Here is part of their conversation.

Henk, can you describe your work?

Well, we made a public toilet and it's in the middle of a whole bunch of penises. We thought a penis is the oldest form of something spraying. And also "Jan Lul" — "lul" is the word in Dutch for penis. The common people we call "Jan Lul." The man in the street who doesn't have anything to say and is never asked for something. We call it "Jan Lul" and that's the fountain.

What does it translate to?

Well, "John Willy," "John Dick."

So, you say a bunch of penises, how many penises are we talking here?

There are 240 around it. [With] 34 up above the toilet, the fountain, on the upper side. And around the toilet, those ones are funding by the crowd, members, and there are over 200.

And does it actually squirt water?

Yeah, when somebody takes a leak then the fountain will spray. So he has to go inside. She has to go inside. It's gender neutral.

Henk de Boer used a crowdfunding page to help pay for the installation. (Submitted by Henk de Boer)

How are people responding to your unofficial entry into the fountain project?

Everybody recognizes their feelings about the other fountains. It's a top-down project. The important people said, "There has to be 11 fountains. You can decide with us." But it never happened.

They never asked us about the designs. You know, the motto of Capital Culture is "community." Everybody should join. But the 11 fountains is an example where nobody is joining except the people who rule things. They want to have names. When you've got no name, you have to prove yourself twice, thrice, a hundred times, before it should become art.

The fountain functions as a toilet and even sprays when someone flushes. (Submitted by Henk de Boer)

I have to say, this is not easy to ignore. People are paying attention. Do you think by virtue of this you have proven yourself?

That's for sure. But the elite will always say, "What's Henk de Boer? What are the paupers?"

But the thing is though, as I understand, the creators of the 11 Fountains project now have said that your fountain, because it has become so popular with the public, it's now listed on the official program. So it seems like you have made an impact?

Yeah, because we got so many respond for crowdfunding and people who wanted to join with us. Then the board of the Capital of Culture thought, probably, "If you can't beat them, join them!"

Written by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes and John McGill. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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