Horse Appearance, 2019, was a performative gesture involving a horse, the horse's trainer, and a private security guard who I hired to stand in my studio during Columbia University's MFA Open Studios in November of 2019. The piece evolved out of a conversation with Baris Gokturk concerning the trojan horse. Below is my recollection of that conversation and my own inner dialogue leading up to the project.
We should do a project with a horse sculpture and a painting of a broom. A bad representation of horse, considering a bad symbol of its body, you know playing horse with a kitchen broom. A chasm, an abyss.
But what are we going to do with this Trojan Horse? What are we breaching/infiltrating/destroying? What is the lure?
It would be cooler if the horse was a real, live horse. Where would we get a horse in New York City?
The Mounted division has horses.. What if our medium was mounted police officers?
It would be amazing. We could tie a rope to the mounted officer and pull them off the horse. Like bringing down an equestrian monument.
Or we could get two of them and have a game of horse-cop polo in central park.
Okay, so let's do the horse considering the broom, the bad representation - the poor symbol - of itself, with the presence of the officer. The horse will be the lure, the trap, to catch viewers walking by the studio. Just like the Trojan horse was for the defenders of Troy, but the viewers will be trapped in this abyss between the horse and the officer, the mounted man, the 10ft cop. The symbol of power, property, aggression. The tension will be between the animal and the soldier.
I have to find a mounted officer to do this.
They won't like you making fun of them.
Am I making fun of them?
I reached out to an officer who had retired from the NYPD Mounted Division. I found his name in a New York Times article, found him on facebook, and sent a message asking if he and his horse would like to take part in an exhibition. I sent him along some paintings to prove I was an artist. No answer.
I wandered around between Times Square and Central park, looking for horse cops to ask to do this piece. I passed by the Mounted Division stables on the way, in the Mercedes Building. Caught a glimpse of one of the horses. I hear they have treadmills for them in there. Horse sized treadmills, to keep the horse part of the horse cop in shape. They hung up on me when I called their non-emergency number, I wanted to try to get a tour. I'm pretty sure they let school groups in, elementary schools. I thought I could swing a student angle or something.
I wrote the commander of the mounted division a letter, on a piece of nice paper that I had done a pen and ink drawing of a horse on, as an offering. It described the proposed art work, with a diagram, and invited the mounted division to the show. I also added that the cops should be okay with me making fun of them, to show humility, win some points towards the public image of the police.
Inviting the soldiers to an art studio, that's the breach. Inviting the police to my home. In one sense, this project would be very much like the Trojan Horse, sneaking soldiers into the castle. Just, into my own castle, my studio, our school.
Someone mentioned they were worried about a big ol' warhorse kicking and killing someone in the studio. They mentioned mini-horses. Definitely a good idea, decrease the scale, increase the cute factor - the Lure.
I found http://kensingtonstables.com/horse-appearances/, they had horses in Prospect Park that they rent out for parties and commercial appearances. The website says they've done some work with Saturday Night Live. I called and asked for the smallest one they had. They said they had one that was 32" at the withers - that's what they call horse shoulders. Perfect. Date, time, address, and credit card. That was it. No questions asked. I asked if the horse would be more comfortable with another horse present, I had heard they were social. They said it doesn't matter. What do you mean it doesn't matter..?
Horse is booked.
I start getting nervous about the soldiers, I had no soldiers yet. I remembered all the private security I had seen in Times Square. They all looked like cops. And they had a realness about themselves, their position, their presence. A relation to private property, to "protection", to authority, to brutality, mafia, power and violence. The image of violence.
I called a security company in Long Island, told them I needed a guard for an art show who was going to be more a part of the piece than actually protect anything, and that I needed him to be visible, to wear something that said security on it. No problem.
I talked to some professors about it. Everyone was laughing, that was good. But then, no way. No way you are getting a horse inside the building.
But you know, it's like a pony for a birthday party. This is like our debutante ball. And it's like a dog and pony show.
There's no way this is going to happen. What if someone has an allergic reaction? What if hazmat gets called? Who are you putting at risk? What if the dean comes, and kicks you out. Kicks us all out of our studios?
I wake up now, early in the morning, every morning, thinking about this horse. I can't sleep because of it.
People keep asking me if there will be a horse. Hopefully, I don't know. I can't handle it. It's too much stress. I leave the studio the day before open studios, the day before the horse is supposed to arrive. I get wasted and pass out before 8pm. I still haven't done anything, I haven't prepped. All my stuff is in the studio, it looks like a painters studio, paintings all up on the wall, stuff all around. There's no relation between anything and the horse and the guard.
I woke up at 3 am, I moved everything, the sewing machine, pounds and pounds of paint and books, tools, table saw, whatever I have, out of the studio in a fit. Take the paintings down, except one. Leave the cleats, and the stains on the floor and wall. Push all the stuff in the hallway in the storage area, stuff some back in a back room, but leave the marks. Show that something was here, something that was supposed to be here was here, that the things which are here, the things that remain, as well as the visitors who will be here, along with the horse, the security guard, are not really are not supposed to be here. Make distance between the space and the place, highlighting the division, the dual presence, the irreconcilable difference between what was here and what is here.
Alright, what if the horse doesn't get to come in. No problem, install a projector, live stream the projection from outside on your phone. Leave one painting, a work in progress up.
Okay, all set. Just wait for it, get a haircut. Eat well, and let the horse come.
The horse arrives. The video above was recorded during the two hours the horse and guard were booked for, and it was projected during a final third hour after the horse and guard had left.