LA MOSTRA DELL PIPI. 05/2012  |   CHAOS IS HEALTH. 03/2012  |   ...AND WE'RE OFF! 01/2012 


When I was a child in Spain, there was a song in the 80s by Los Toreros Muertos called Mi Agüita Amarilla – my yellow water. The song narrated the story of a drunken man who, whilst urinating at a bar, began to think of the journey that his urine would then take. From the urban sewage system, to the rivers and animals we eat, the song ended with the man laughing as he imagined the expansion of his ‘impure liquid’ throughout the world. History shows that there was a time when our tainted liquid was of high esteem. Thousands of years ago, the Celtiberians in Spain used it as toothpaste to clean their teeth, whilst the Inuits in Iceland applied it to their hair as you would a shampoo, to keep it lustrous.

For many centuries, urine was an essential ingredient in the textile industry, being extensively employed as a mordant but also as a medium to extract the dyes and pigments from plants and other sources. The city of Tilburg is still known as Kruikenstad or Jug City, alluding to its glory days as the wool city of the Netherlands, when its mill labourers, known as Kruikenzeikers – or those who peed in jugs – were paid extra for bringing a jug of their urine to work.

For the past two weeks, Mike and I have been collecting our own urine, filling two 50mL plastic tubes each, with the middle part of our first morning leak. After labelling the tubes, we store them in the freezer in order to preserve its components and after a total collecting period of 6 weeks, all the samples will be transferred to the lab, to obtain their metabolic profiles. Although taking a urine sample is nothing new to either of us, when it becomes part of your daily routine for a prolonged period of time, you inevitably start to develop new affinities with your ‘yellow water’, looking out for its slightest fluctuations. The idea that it carries relevant information of your body’s state is reinforced through this daily interaction. This appreciation of urine as a ‘mirror’ of the body is not new. In the medieval ages, urine was employed in disease diagnosis and medical treaties of the time distinguished more than 20 standard shades of urine corresponding to various health conditions. From blue to green, red and even black, medieval physicians would observe the colour of their patient’s urine, as well as examine its thickness, texture, smell and even taste it up to 3 times.

We seldom notice urine as we rid our bodies of it, flushing it down the toilet. Collecting and storing our own urine for the past two weeks, has forced us to change our daily routine for a new purpose. The act of urinating gains relevance, when you are eager to obtain something from it: in this instance, data. If in previous times urine’s worth was proportional to its material value, in today’s Age of Information it possibly lies in our appreciation of urine as information of an organism’s changes. With our fluctuations stored and recorded through time, we can begin to understand health as an adaptive process. Questions begin to rise in relation to the degree and type of information we will manage to extract from the samples.

A challenge at the moment is how to merge this metabolic data with the insights we obtain from the Traditional Chinese Medicine questionnaire, which we fill out each night, prior to sleeping. The abstractness of Chinese thought on health offer a more holistic view on the body’s patterns, but how can we merge this with quantitative data, by defining new parameters? Parallel to this is our changing notion of urine. Often said to be more sterile than tap water, and proclaimed as the body’s own elixir, what would happen if we drank it? I can hear that man laughing…