the janitor

Mr. Furillen

A janitor is usually defined as ‘a caretaker or doorkeeper of a building’. In the UK we call them caretakers. Every school used to have one (these days they are ‘site managers’); they lived in grotty houses just inside the school gates, and kept equally grotty dogs or cats. They were marginal figures, hovering on the boundary between the school and the outside world.

In the Harry Potter series, for example, this figure is Argus Filch, with his cat, Mrs Norris. He is quite an unsavoury character. The name says it all: ‘to filch’ is to pilfer or steal something, usually in a casual way.

filch-mrs-norris

Filch is not an outsider, but rather a figure who sits awkwardly between the two worlds – a squib, born into a wizarding family but possessing no magical powers.

I called myself the janitor at Furillen as a joke. I am just the guy who looks after the place, cleans up after visitors, fixes things. The designation suited my favourite outfit, the overalls.

The Old Man And The Sea

Over time, the name has stuck.

The janitor isn’t an artist – nor a curator. It is a role that is difficult to define, but interestingly, it does come up in installations within galleries, as in Palmer C Hayden’s ‘protest painting’ from the 1930s, The Janitor Who Paints 

janitor who paints

… as well as in cartoons about galleries …

'We better first check to see if that is trash or a piece of art.'
‘We better first check to see if that is trash or a piece of art.’
The janitor also appears as the innocent figure who cleans up a ‘mess’ that turns out to have been ‘art’

janitor 5

… or who removes a ‘stain’ that was integral to an art installation

janitor 6

In much the same vein, I quite like this cartoon, where the janitor is being told that what looks like trash is an artwork called ‘shunned by society’ …

Induction day at the modern art gallery was proving to be heavy going for Sam. . .
Induction day at the modern art gallery was proving to be heavy going for Sam. . .
… or this attempt by John Cake and Darren Neave to ridicule Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde-preserved tiger shark, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living – with a lego janitor, scowling and cynical …

janitor 3

In such images the janitor is portrayed as the wise fool, a guy with common sense and unwitting insight. Lacking the education or ‘class’ of the artists or visitors, the janitor plays a role similar to the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes – pointing at this ridiculous figure and puncturing the pomposity of everyone around him by stating the bleeding obvious and calling out ‘he isn’t wearing any clothes!’.

emperors-new-clothes

This is not, I hasten to add, how I see my own role at all. I like and enjoy a diverse range of art – and far from pointing out the pretentiousnesses of others, I can be rather pretentious myself.

But it’s interesting that art ‘needs’ such a figure, policing the margin between the ridiculous and the sublime.

And that – quite by accident – we created one at Furillen.

4 thoughts on “the janitor

  1. It’s interesting the definition calls the janitor the door-keeper. Yet as I was reading the article, I was thinking how a janitor is not the gate-keeper. Damien Hirst gets in because the arts committee (or whatever) permitted it and undulge artist behaviour, and the door-keeper (who aids the public and the subversives to get in, but boots them out undecorously when they overstep) does not. You too at Furillen keep the doors, but not the gates.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My sister is working as a teacher. They have had a very reliable janitor for years at her school, everything was working well, everything was taken care of. Nobody really noticed him or his work until he got sick last year. And all of a sudden it was his absence that made everyone realize how much they had appreciated his presence without even really noticing or acknowledging him.

    The janitor plays a very important role in the background, having a major part in keeping things together and providing a pleasant environment for others. And that’s what you do as well, Serene: you created and keep up a place that allows us to be creative, thrive and feel welcomed and at home at Furillen. Thank you for that!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. am writing very tongue in cheek now, at writing group today we was looking up songs and lyrics’ so I put in title you tube Janitor and came up with this song title ‘ Janitor’. The song was performed by Suburban Lawns and appears on the album Suburban Lawns (1981). link can be found at the bottom, also some other reference ‘Scrub’s’, the programme had a Janitor but as we wasn’t look at soaps we didn’t get to view them.

    All action is reaction
    Expansion
    Contraction
    Man the manipulator

    Underwater
    Does it matter?
    Antimatter
    Nuclear reactor
    Boom boom boom boom

    Who’s your mother? Who’s your father?
    I guess everything’s irrelative
    Who’s your mother? Who’s your father?
    I guess everything’s irrelative

    I’m a janitor
    Oh my genitals
    I’m a janitor
    Oh my genitals
    Oh my genitals
    I’m a janitor

    All action is reaction
    Expansion
    Contraction
    Man the manipulator

    Underwater
    Does it matter?
    Antimatter
    Nuclear reactor
    Boom boom boom boom

    Who’s your mother? Who’s your father?
    I guess everything’s irrelative
    Who’s your mother? Who’s your father?
    I guess everything’s irrelative

    I’m a janitor
    Oh my genitals
    I’m a janitor
    Oh my genitals
    Oh my genitals
    I’m a janitor

    the song was performed by Suburban Lawns and appears on the album Suburban Lawns (1981).

    just say we all had a great time laughing like hell it sure brighten up the group discussion as no one really had a clue why they where singing about the genitals in context with a janitor and the role they preform.

    Liked by 1 person

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