Artist Zefrey Throwell On His ‘Ocularpation’ and Occupy


Of all the nude people we covered this summer, one in-the-buff group now seems oddly prescient. On August 1, artist Zefrey Throwell staged “Ocularpation: Wall Street.” At first, the 50 performers were dressed as people who work on Wall Street — businessmen and janitors alike. Then, they stripped. Some were even arrested. The project’s purpose was to “expose the realities of working on the nation’s financial artery as a commentary on the state of the economy,” according to the New York Times.

Now, after Zuccotti Park has been both occupied and cleared, “Ocularpation: Wall Street” is a gallery exhibition. But when Throwell planned the project he did know about Occupy Wall Street, he told Runnin’ Scared Friday. After hearing about Throwell’s gallery show via NY1, we decided to reach out to the artist himself to hear more.

Throwell, who was also responsible for a strip poker art project last year, was planning “Ocularpation” long before Occupy. In fact, he’s been at it since 2009. After the original performance occurred, Throwell said he was contacted by people in the Occupy movement. He attended some initial meetings and gave the protesters some advice. Once it started he went to some General Assemblies and protests, he said. Though he believes he and Occupy Wall Street have similar goals, he was not, he said, sleeping in Zuccotti Park alongside the occupiers.

Prior to the August performance, he did a six-month study in which he learned about which professions were actually represented on Wall Street.

During the performance participants acted out those roles. Now, in the gallery those professions are symbolized by various everyday items spray painted gold. Five Yankees hats, for instance, represents retail — 10 percent of Wall Street. Their gold sheen is a metaphor for what is going on in the United States, Throwell said.

“We’re sold this beautiful, glittering, glamorous, glitzy, bling lifestyle of gold and shining objects,” he said.

What you get instead, he explained, his what he represents: foreign items covered in a sheen.

Also on view alongside the sculptures and a film of the original performance are Throwell’s similarly pointed paintings. Images of Throwell’s study and photographs from the performance are silk screened onto stock trader jackets, symbolizing both Wall Street’s past and present. Throwell then put white spray paint on top of the images to illustrate how the “media whitewashes events.”

As for the title of the project’s similarity to Occupy, Throwell said he coined the term “Ocularpation” in 2007. His term is a combination of “ocular” and “occupation,” in both the sense of profession and habitation. It means, he said, “to aggressively reclaim public space and do work in it.”

To get more of a sneak peek of the exhibit, check out the video below. The exhibit is on view through Feb. 11 at the Gasser Grunert Gallery.