Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
November 12, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 46
Of rats and men
By Nancy Barber
Blood. Guts. Rats. Naked people. Right there on Prince Street in front of Paula Cooper’s gallery with the monumental minimals.
The first sign of life to break into the paper-covered street last Saturday afternoon was a squirming penis, pushing its way out from under yards and yards of white paper. (The vision might belong in that category of existence described by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “man is a mere bubble, oozing up for a while in a sea of gray.”) A girl in the crowd rushed over to help the emerging organ, fondling it, tearing away a big hole so it could breathe and wiggle in its nest of pubic hairs. So everyone within seeing distance could get a good view.
The next sight was of a breast or two, drawing in a bemused audience. Then a nude man jumps out. He runs. Racing to the other end of the street and back. Again. Again. What is this? The burst of original energy? The frightful absurdity of living, over in a sprint? A show to shock a hung-up society — or artist/ The running over, the performer puts on his coat and boots and walks off.
An hour of events follows: “Love America or Live,” directed by pith-helmeted Tosun Bayrak. A contingent of respectable mothers march, and kids toss around thousands of buttons and Canal Street trinkets. But the blood number was the big one. Gallons of the real stuff were tossed off the roofs. At first the buckets contained water and people moved back on the sidewalks, hugging the buildings to stay dry. A considerate gesture on the part of the artist who was preparing the way for blood. Yes, the deep red stuff splashing down was blood.
Bayruk ran through the deserted street, tearing back hunks of paper, revealing mounds of entrails. Butcher bags filled with animal insides…hundreds of pounds…miles of intestines…with a couple of animal fetuses tossed in as well.
But the moment of fright came with the sack of white rats. He picked up a bag full and slit it open. He tossed out more than a dozen, right to the edge of the screaming audience. But all the fat beasts wanted was a taste of the blood.
The naked boy re-appeared, capturing the crowd with a dance in the vitals, draping himself with spleens and livers that started sticking and smelling all over his body.
Could this be some major political-metaphysical-sexual statement to awaken the people? Or is it better to view it as form? As the world’s biggest all-over-pattern sculpture? A living, breathing post-Pollock perhaps?
Whatever, the work closed with a public screw. Under the paper, of course, at the far end of the street. The rat, the blood, nothing mattered now. Everybody milled back into the street, trying to edge into the tight circle inspecting the act. “Wow. A tattoo. A hairy leg — it’s the girl’s.” The report came out that the chosen couple were probably too anemic to carry it off. But there were props to cover for such inadequacies. A John Philip Sousa march filled the air. Ticker tape and confetti fluttered down from the roof. Maybe the conception! The crowd clapped and howled. It was stinkingly beautiful. Bayrak tole me that it was all over. “I’ve done my little part for the day.”
“Sick, sick,” pronounced the working Italians from the neighborhood, shaking their heads in unison.
“More, more,” muttered the boys from the Bowery, sledging through the sticky mess.
“Just some people into public fucking,” commented some of the art scene.
“I want a rat,” cried a kid, picking up the contented public enemies.
As the pastel confetti slowly settled into the sea of blood, rats, and plastic debris, the cop cars came peeling up, rocking as brakes screeched. Word was out about the rats. Seemingly a betrayal, after they had turned their backs on the nude bits all afternoon. They moved into the slowly dispersing crowd. “This is disgusting,” a cop said. “We have our people to protect. We can’t have rats in our neighborhood. Where’s the guy who did this?”
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]