My personal cosmology of Conceptualism starts with snakes...
Tony Oursler on David Askevold
An empty room. The paint still fuming with freshness, the gallery is just finished and looks it, brand new. The crowd mills around drinking beer, chitchatting. In the back next to the table laden with food was a bucket bursting with ice and beer. The covers of mostly trashy mass-market paperbacks have been woven into an undulating blanket (Native American, not likely a reference) stretching up the wall and cresting like a just breaking wave at the top. In the front, centered in an otherwise empty gallery rests an overturned kiddie pool, plastic, its surface patterned with the arching neck and regal hood of a cartoon cobra snake.
Parker Jones clip clops around the cement floors handing out not press releases, but release forms. "Don't worry," he says, "I'll be in there too. It's just a precaution."
We shuffle out of the gallery and malinger on the streetcorner, beers growing emptier by the moment. Spring night turning summer, not hardly chilly, rough beats and hollow bass creak from the jukejoint across the street and mix in with the sound of passing traffic along Washington.
The door cracks open and we all shuffle back in. I squat characteristically oblivious at the front. A sound echoes off the wall. We can't decide if it's a recording or not. I guess that it's real. Joe Deutch doesn't really fuck around. It's the even sound of a regular rattle.
Deutch emerges from the back, well dressed, gaunt face, longish hair, carrying a stick with a small bit of rope at the end to hook the snake, before that a wrapping of papertowel, that the snake increasingly pissed off, tests out his fangs on.
It's really a snake, rattle rattling, teeth bared, looking increasingly annoyed by the spotlight. Two men stand on the side, one with tattoos and a bandana over his head eyes the snake with a professional keenness; my guess he's the real snake handler.
Deutch on the other hand seems less interested in the proper and safe handling of a venomous animal. He removes his shoe and sock, offering up his ankle to the snake, first coy, but with Joe's stomp and prompt, the snake strikes.
Snap, snap, snap. The sequence of following events gets a little fuzzy for me. I've seen enough hardcore performance art in my life to be rather un-phased by many modes of personal mayhem, but I still get quietly freaked out. Deutch takes the stick, unwraps the papertowel on the end, and takes each individual blood stained sheet and nails it to the wall with method and purpose. He pokes in a handy needle and seems to squirt anti-venom into his fresh wound. The snake is properly rewrangled (was this before or after the paper towels, memory fails me, everything is fuzzy after the snake, SNAP, SNAP). Then Deutch applies a bandage, puts on his sock and shoe, and leaves through the back door of the gallery in route to the hospital. The crowd claps and all look around at each other, wondering if it had been done before, perhaps yes and perhaps no, never in quite the same way.
- Andrew Berardini