There's nothing like a good shit show to bring in the tourists. Opening for tours in October, the Shit Museum, or Museo della Merda, is a research and data-collection institute set in a medieval castle in Northern Italy that houses documents and information on excrement in culture, technology, science and history. Melding biomechanics with environmental art, visitors can expect to see a series of art, archaeological, historical and scientific installations dedicated to the theme of poo.

While the eyebrow-raising idea may sound a tad eccentric, founder and owner Gianantonio Locatelli is serious about presenting the many possibilities for reexamining and reinventing a waste substance that often leads to ecological degradation; one that promotes a healthier relationship between humans and nature. Locatelli has had lots of opportunity to contemplate the subject: he operates a 3,500-cow dairy farm on the surrounding property in Piacenza province that supplies milk for Grana Padano cheese. Besides the 13,200 gallons (50,000 l) of milk, there's also 330,700 pounds (150,000 kg) of cow dung produced each day.

The farm uses anaerobic digesters to convert the manure into biogas that produces 3 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, and heats the farm buildings and offices. Fertilizer is also produced from the digester's remainders. Other items made by Locatelli, in conjunction with architect Luca Cipelletti, are terracotta artifacts made from cow dung and clay, dubbed Merdacotta, which won a design award during Milan Design Week 2016. The pots, furniture, tableware and objets d'art are also featured in the museum, and are lighter and sturdier than industrially made terracotta items.

The development of Merdacotta is part of the Shit Museum's mission as a production center, generating ideas, both scientific and artistic, for exhibitions and projects, particularly as it pertains to sustainability and the transmutation of dung.

Installations at the museum include a display of bioluminescence in the form of green glowing jars lit by genetically modified bacteria feeding off methane gas. Based on research by Philips Lighting, the light is constant and all organic, and is meant to illustrate the potential creative uses of waste products.

An example of the museum's historical installations include a display of medical preparations from Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia that call for various types of dung. One such mixture uses the ash of excrements for quinsy, sore tonsils, sore uvula, and carcinoma. And for scorpion stings? Try she-goat's dung boiled down in vinegar.

View gallery - 14 images