I've written in the past about names so deliberately provocative that they cross the line from amusing to retch-inducing. Chicken Poop lip balm. MomSpit cleaner. Alligator Poo lollipops.
I thought I was inured to the gross-out factor. But that was before I encountered Fecal Face Dot Gallery.
I learned about Fecal Face just a few days ago, although the name has been around—originally as a 'zine, then as a website—since 1998. The physical gallery, in San Francisco's Hayes Valley, on Gough near Market, opened in February 2008. And even though I'm interested in art and the gallery scene, I've somehow missed the reviews of FF shows in mainstream publications like the San Francisco Chronicle; the San Francisco Bay Guardian (a long-established, no-longer-"alternative" weekly), and the local public-broadcasting station's arts page. If reviewers offered any commentary on the gallery's name, it was brief. "Unusual," wrote one. "Quizzical," said another, possibly meaning "puzzling" or even "quixotic".
Because it is a puzzlement. As an institution, Fecal Face is seriously committed to art and artists. Here's how it explains itself on the Info page:
Moreover, you can't accuse Fecal Face of not maintaining brand consistency, albeit whimsically. (Some might say "sophomorically.") One of the website's main tabs is called "Fecal Stuff." The "Good Stuff" section is explained as "reviews of the good crap you send us." Mouse over the "Blog" tab and read this pop-up text: "The word is a combination of 'web' and 'log.' Spider turds!" The technical editor is listed on the Info page as "Poo." (UPDATE: Commenters point out that "Poo" is the name of Trippe's cat.)
Then there's the "dot" in the gallery name. It's a wink to its online predecessor and to everything dot-com that rose and fell between the 'zine era and now.
But why and whence "Fecal Face"?
Founder Jason John Trippe hasn't provided many clues. (Nor did he respond to an e-mail I sent to the gallery, asking for information about the name.) In February 2008 he told Tyler Callister of the Bay Area ArtQuake blog that when he started the 'zine, at age 22, "Fecal Face" just sounded funny. "I didn't think the site would grow to what it's become," he told Callister. "At times I considered changing the name and then I'd be like 'ah whatever.' Now it's just the way it is."
Yes, I wonder whether Trippe was fecal-faced drunk when he got that particular brainstorm. I also wonder what his runner-up names were. Did he arrive at his final selection by process of elimination?
But what's truly amazing is the nonchalance with which the name appears to have been accepted. How cool does one have to be not to gag or giggle at this name? Obviously, cooler than I am. I'd have a hard time not stammering if I tried to recommend a show at Fecal Face to a friend. Maybe I'd give "Fecal" a vaguely European pronunciation. Feh-CALL, darling: it's divine!
On the other hand, it's not much of a stretch to imagine Marcel Duchamp and his fellow Dadaists roaring with laughter around the giant urinal in the sky. "Fecal Face?" Marcel says, wiping his eyes and gasping for air. "It's the shiznit!"
UPDATE, June 23: The gallery finally responded to my email with a cheery note—"This should answer your question!"—and a link. I remain unconvinced.
Photograph by Sangroncito, reproduced under Creative Commons license. See more Flickr photos of Fecal Face Dot Gallery art and artists.