15th century Flemish portraits recreated in airplane lavs using toilet tissue, seat-covers and paper towels

It all started when artist Nina Katchadourian went into an airplane bathroom and spontaneously improvised a 15th century Flemish costume from a toilet-seat cover and shot a suitably posed self-portrait. This inaugurated an ongoing series of wonderful 15th century Flemish-esque portraits shot in a series of airplane lavs, in which a variety of replica garb is improvised from toilet tissue, seat covers and paper towels.

While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in March 2010, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror. The image evoked 15th-century Flemish portraiture. I decided to add more images made in this mode and planned to take advantage of a long-haul flight from San Francisco to Auckland, guessing that there were likely to be long periods of time when no one was using the lavatory on the 14-hour flight. I made several forays to the bathroom from my aisle seat, and by the time we landed I had a large group of new photographs entitled Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style. I was wearing a thin black scarf that I sometimes hung up on the wall behind me to create the deep black ground that is typical of these portraits. There is no special illumination in use other than the lavatory's own lights and all the images are shot hand-held with the camera phone. At the Dunedin Public Art gallery, the photos were framed in faux-historical frames and hung on a deep red wall reminiscent of the painting galleries in museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Seat Assignment: Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style


  1. I actually thought this was pretty awesome.  Kind of pointless and whimsical.  A wonderful thing.

  2. “Ma’am, you were in the toilet for 45 minutes. There are 14 people in line.”

    “But, I was only spontaneously improvising 15th century Flemish portraiture in the mirror.”

    1. Aw, c’mon.  She knows what she’s doing.  I’m guessing even the most elaborate bumwipe-and-ass-gasket headdress she rigged took no more than 10 minutes.  The last thing you want to do, when embarking on a project like this, is to incur the wrath of the flight attendants, who can make it difficult for you to get back in there and shoot more pix.

  3. Brilliant really. When the most that people have done is put the seat wrap around their necks like a life preserver and exit yelling Woman and children first, this is truly sublime.

    1. It would appear that she is holding the camera the right way around, rather than taking the traditional Myspace/Facebook in the mirror shot.

    1. Passenger who wraps their head in toilet paper: weirdo. Passenger who wraps their head in toilet paper, photographs themself, and gets said photos posted on BoingBoing: cool artist.

  4. You know some people really deserve to be on a no-fly list even if they aren’t terrorists. 

  5. There’s little in this world more emblematic of modern, low-end mass-production than the phrases “the lavatory on a domestic flight” and “tissue paper toilet seat cover”, and yet, using those materials, she’s managed to evoke historic, high-end hand-made artwork. I like the juxtaposition.

  6. A good thing mankind invented paper, WCs and airplanes, discovered germs and the need for toilet covers, made cameras portable and developed the internet for distribution of the results. Otherwise we’d be stuck with some Flemish original that no one knows about anyway…

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