Monday, July 25, 2016
SUITABLE FOR FRAMING
Telling people that I am an "artist" is one of those exasperating experiences that I've never liked. If I could find a better moniker I'd use it in a heart beat. The first reaction is the traditional. "Oil or water colors?" Then comes a further refining of the term. "Painter, sculptor, photographer.....etc.?" It goes on from there and never ends with any real understanding. The other day a woman stood in the middle of my studio, surrounded by work, slowing turning around and honestly asked "Where's the art?" Even amongst my most highly educated, in tune, hip, completely savvy, artsy friends, I can get furrowed brows and perplexed gazes when I present them with recent work.
ROOST X opened on Saturday evening at THE OLD SHUL FOR SOCIAL SCULPTURE. Essentially this is the placing of 30 chickens (avail. for adoption) in the oldest portion of the shul once prayed in by THE CONGREGATION ANSHEI in Glen Wild. The content is the chickens, feed, water, wood chips, chicken wire, tree branches, boxes and adoption certificates. The context is the shul itself. I've always been labeled a conceptualist. But I'm more accurately a "contextualist". Over a 40 year career I can count the times I've shown in the traditional gallery or museum context on one hand. The shul was started by the communist, co-op chicken farmers of the 1920's. By the 21st century the congregation had dwindled to the degree that they were ready to sell the building to a goy (me) and put the money into keeping up the cemetery. More of the congregation were in the ground than needing to pray in a crumbling shul.
So being the prop. of the context, as well as the creator of the content, I'm forced to hire someone, or sit the place myself. I have no money. So yesterday I opened the door, spray painted the word OPEN above my drawing of Cheeky on the steps, and waited.....and waited. Then, late in the afternoon, I heard screeching tires, blasting car horns, and a small Toyota and a large mini-van skidded to a stop in front of the shul. Ahhh.....gallery goers.
Three Hassidics - one older and two younger, got out of the two vehicles dressed in black and white finery. My artistic engagement with the Hassidic community has been on going for years. Since a bunch of Hassidic teenagers broke my GOD LOVES FAGS sign in half in 2010, it's been a love/hate relationship. 99% of the time I'm nice. You can't put hebrew on billboards and chickens in a shul without expecting a little engagement with the Catskill Jewish population. The first words out of their mouths, after I admonished them for their shitty, dangerous driving, were "Do you have any books?" It's always about the books. And no matter how many times I tell them that the books were taken by the congregation I can see in their eyes that they don't believe the goy. The next question is "Who owns this?" When I explain that it's mine they can't believe that "the handyman" owns the shul. It only gets crazier from there.
As the elder and one of the youngers pepper me with books?, torah?, bema? and ark? for sale? questions I direct them to the chickens. "So now it's a chicken coop?" the elder asks. "No" I say "It's an art work. Do you want to adopt a chicken? It comes in a box with a certificate, suitable for framing." The talkers frown, shake their heads and the 2nd younger has a grin that never leaves his face. He says nothing, as the other two scowl and continue with the inquisition. Finally I can't take it anymore, as they repeat themselves ad nauseum. "What's with you guys?" I bark. The elder stares into the shul of pecking and scratching birds and quietly admits "We're a thick people." I crack up. As the three leave I call to the smiling third. When he turns I point to the others. "Keep an eye on those two." I say with a smile. He grins wider and nods. Yeah. I'm an artist. The chickens and I will be down at the shul most afternoons for the next two weeks. Drop by for a visit. And NO! I don't have any books. But I'm giving away art.
Friday, July 22, 2016
ADAPTING TO ADOPTING
I've used the practice of "adoption" in my work for almost 40 years now. I've adopted a girl, a boy, a cow, a couple of roads and now I'm asking you (my community) to adopt a bunch of chickens. It's all consistent work. But this is the first time I've asked others to take on the responsibility of adoption. And so it was, in structuring this piece I call ROOST X, that I went about asking my chicken farmer friends if they would sell me some chickens? Turns out a full grown "roosting" chicken can be a hard thing to purchase. All my buddys' birds were spoken for. Fancy French chef's were destined to serve up these birds. What to do? I put the word out and I got one name- Murray.
I placed a couple of calls and ended up in Murray's office. It was like visiting the don in the back of a Mulberry St. social club. Every eye in the room sized me up. I introduced myself as the "artist" with the church and shul over in Glen Wild. Murray didn't let on, but I think he knew who I was. I explained my piece to Murray as out of the corner of my eye, a guy snickered on the couch. I think when I said "artist" Murray thought I wanted to do some Youtube chicken snuff video. When I said adopt Murray's eye's lit up and he said "Sure. $2 per bird. We'll loan you the boxes. You can pick 'em up on Friday." Damn. I couldn't believe how easy it was. What could go wrong?
Today I picked up two yellow plastic crates of chickens. 24 grimy white chickens were stuffed in slippery, shit covered crates. A large guy lifted them right off the tractor trailer bed and and tossed 'em in the back of my truck. I thanked, tipped him and took off before I puked. The smell on the hottest day of the year, just on the loading dock, was overpowering. I can't imagine what it was like inside. These workers were doing a really nasty job for our chicken dinners. I told the guy i had a lot of respect for him and he flashed me the peace sign.
Now here's where the piece takes a turn. Turns out these hens are specifically bred to grow really fast, develop all kinds of health issues and essentially blow up so large that their legs will break under the weight of their giant breasts. In my, albeit well intentioned act of saving them from the slaughterhouse, providing them with a cool open space, with plenty of food and water, I may have caused more harm than good. Genetic engineering has made this adoption very problematic. But then again..........The show hasn't even opened yet. The girls are safe in the shul and tonight I'm delivering six of those fancy French roosters into their midst. I've already changed the official document to actually encourage you kill your adopted bird. So I hope that clarifies things. Hope to see everybody tomorrow at 6pm.