Vexed at his fellow Parisians' passive endurance of dog doo as an inevitable fact of pedestrian life, an artist who calls himself Cho is raising public awareness about the problem by drawing attention to some of its most egregiously deposited examples. During outings, Cho keeps watch for specimens left in high-traffic venues and transforms the offending piles into "protest messages" by adorning each one with a small flag bearing an ironic, eye-catching symbol. He then outlines the subject in chalk to resemble a homicide victim, and signs and dates the entire tableauwhich he may also photograph if the mood takes him.
"It's not art as such, but rather a form of civic protest using artistic expression," says Cho, 30, a professional graphic artist and painter. "It's not an obsession, less yet a life's work. It's just something I've decided to do for a while to humorously convey the disbelief a lot of people feel when they see some big pile of crap and think, 'How can anyone be so disgusting as to leave that for people to walk in?'"
Cho calculates he has decorated more than 600 samples of Paris' most pungent plague since launching his campaign last August, and adorns a further 15 to 20 every week. His earlier tolerance of the problem gave way to irritation last year, when, as a first-time father, Cho found himself slaloming his son's stroller between innumerable malodorous moguls studding the city's sidewalks. Cho eventually decided to take artistic action against doggy dreck when his son began walkingand seemed to happen upon the worst thing about man's best friend virtually everywhere.
Cho's prolific acts of protest, however, remain an entirely symbolic stand against a rising tide of merde. A massive 16 tons of what sanitation officials call dejection canine is squeezed out on Paris' 2,400 km of sidewalks each day, around 12 tons of which is removedeither whisked away by broom-toting street sweepers, or sucked up by vacuum-equipped motorcycles driven by men no dog owner would dare look in the eye. The tab for cleaning up after dogs comes to $10 million annually, or $50 for each of Paris' 200,000 hounds. Ad campaigns urging owners to pick up after Fido have produced only Gallic shrugs, and municipal officials have shrunk from imposing the fines already on the booksranging from $170 to $500for fear of losing votes.
The result is clear as sludge on Paris' notoriously befouled sidewalks, whose doo-slickened surfaces cause 650 hospitalizations a year and rank as Parisians' third-biggest gripe about their city. Tourists also marvel at the mess, a situation that in part shaped Cho's form of protest. "I wanted it to be an international message everyone would understand," says he. "I began using French flags to suggest we Parisians are so proud of our dog poop that we display it all over our sidewalks. I think visitors and residents alike get the irony of the message."
While most of the reaction Cho gets is supportive, he encounters a few dog owners who consider his effort a public rebukeand respond with some pretty loud barking of their own. "Some get so indignant I almost expect to hear an Association to Protect Dog Poop in Public has been founded," he muses. "Most argue since they pay city taxes to clean it up, their dogs have the right to plop it down. Non-dog owners, it seems, pay taxes for the right to walk in it." Though he has started selling packs of flags (five for $25) so admirers can join his protest, Cho says he'll end his campaign after a year or so. Despite the public service nature of his crusade, the artist is wary of earning a permanent reputation as "the Paris turd guy." "If it instills greater responsibility in dog owners, fantastic," he says. "If any attention it gets helps me find a gallery to show in, all the better. But after a year, that'll be iton to other things." If at that time life takes inspiration from his art, Cho's work may partially erase the noxious stain that has so long corrupted the Parisian sole.