Kirk Read performance at Too Much! (Jan 2010)

Chicken Shit (meditation is supposed to make you less crazy)
Performance by Kirk Read

Kirk Read walked on stage carrying two milk crates. He was wearing a short white shirt-dress or choir robe that read ceremonial. The robe was closed at the throat but open to the torso, revealing gold lame bikini pants. A voice over of Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield’s trance inducing monotone introduced us to some kind of meditation practice. A wall-sized video projection of someone, someone white, touched and then later licked a small brown-skinned doll. The effect of the close-up fondling was creepy but almost camp, especially in contrast with what we hear.

Kirk stood on the two crates and attached a carabiner to a cord extending from the ceiling, lengthening its reach to approximately 3 feet above the floor. A (frozen) chicken on a silver platter was passed through the audience. Kirk received the chicken, which had been prepared with some kind of wire harness, and suspended it from the cord.

The voice over and projection continued. Kirk’s mood was calm as he moved slowly and methodically to set the stage. Some of us knew what was going to happen, but we knew that not everyone knew. The audience mood was unsettled, caught between images (real and imagined) that were both ominous and absurd.

Kirk moved the crates, with platter on top, away from the chicken. He turned his back to us and flipped the robe over his head, revealing his back. He pulled his pants down, and backed up, straddling the crate, which was positioned diagonally between his legs. He leaned forward, reached back, pulled his butt cheeks wide. The audience started to squirm, giggle, moan, recoil, chat. The first sign of shit elicited both gasp and light applause. The applause returned louder when the first turd was pinched off and dropped to the plate. Then he pooped a bunch more. Some walked out. Some applauded. The rest of us tingled, stared, squirmed, squeezed our neighbor’s hand or thigh, commented, took pictures with cell phones, laughed.

Just getting to watch an asshole open and release, for most of the audience, was a once in a lifetime event. Read crafted the event in a fresh hybrid of shamanistic body art vaudeville that somehow made the taboo acceptable, watchable, even interesting. Read’s onstage pooping was simultaneously funny, magical, and formally precise. How did he do it? I can’t believe he’s doing it! I can’t believe I’m watching this! Wow, look how much is coming out.

Then it stopped. He pulled up his pants (without wiping), fixed his robe, and turned around. He brought the crates, with platter of shit, back to the chicken. As if performing a demonstration in home ec class, Read dressed and stuffed the chicken. He dressed it with a skirt of streamers and stuffed it with spoonfuls of his own poop. He took his time, making sure not to waste any.

Then he moved the crates out of the way, looked up at us and smiled. The smile was coy, suggesting possible danger, but we didn’t have time to imagine what he might do next. When he pushed the chicken towards the audience, it swung over the first row and folks jumped out of their seats to get out of the way. Swinging it more erratically, to challenge even more of the audience, we laughed and squealed and more folks scurried out of the way. Some took their chances and remained seated, ducking their heads as the poop-stuffed chicken came their way. The shock was tempered with the ridiculous.

Before the chicken swing had come to rest, Kirk stopped it with two hands. He unhooked it and placed it in one of the crates. There was intermittent applause as Read reached up to detach the carabiner and gathered his props. He returned to the unhurried state of executing simple tasks, closing the ritual as he had opened it.

Read walked out. The applause was strong. He left no visual trace but the smell now seemed overpowering. The door to the small theater was opened, several people left and the rest were engaged in animated chatter, while fanning their hands in front of their noses.

I questioned the video and wondered what would be gained or lost without it. I adored the creepy vibe and the licking shots were really strong - I mean evocative, suggestive, inappropriate - but what did the video bring to the larger gestalt of the work? It introduced a juxtaposition or tension with the live performance that wasn’t sustained. Insufficiently developed video projection is too frequent an occurrence in dance and live performance.

In brief discussion with Read I know that this work was inspired by both a meditation retreat and a book about the horrors of factory farmed chicken. These diverse sources both crack the denial of how we’ll eat shit – real and metaphoric - as long as we don’t know what we’re eating. Read’s Chicken Shit (meditation is supposed to make you less crazy) is a provocative yet nuanced meditation. It will be notorious as a poop performance, but the complex resonance of the work ripples in ever-widening concentric rings to disturb the social surfaces of our denial.

Chicken Shit was one of over 30 performances at
Too Much! a marathon of queered performance
Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, Jan 10 2010
Produced by Zero Performance as part of Keith Hennessy’s A Queer 20th Anniversary