Pope.L’s ATM Piece screened here August 11–25, 2021. The video is no longer available for streaming. Join us for the next Hyundai Card Video Views screening, beginning September 15, 2021.
Bringing humor, absurdity, and “fresh discomfort” to the streets of Midtown Manhattan, Pope.L conceived of ATM Piece (1997) as a performance and an act of civil disobedience. Prompted by a law that banned panhandlers from standing within 10 feet of an automatic teller machine—as part of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign—Pope.L chained himself to the door of a Chase 24-Hour Banking Center with sausage links. Wearing only a pair of boots and a hula skirt made of easily detachable dollar bills, he planned to open the door and hand out money to the bank’s visitors. Via email, we recently discussed the relevance of this piece, 24 years after its making. The artist’s unedited responses are below.
—Veronika Molnar, Intern, Department of Media and Performance
Join us monthly for screenings in the Hyundai Card Video Views series, which considers artists’ engagement with a technology that has become central to our daily lives.
Veronika Molnar: In ATM Piece, you were planning to hand out the dollar bills that made up your hula skirt, while slowly exposing what’s underneath—this would have involved “reverse panhandling” as well as doing a “reverse striptease,” in a way. All of this feels just as uncomfortable, absurd, and relevant now as it must have felt in 1997, but 24 years have passed, and I wonder what the first thing you recall from this performance is. Has your perception or emotions shifted at all regarding the many layers of this piece?
Pope.L: I RECALL FROM THAT TIME THAT MY STUDIO ASSISTANT INVITED MY MOTHER BY MISTAKE BUT BUT BUT LUCKILY HER TRAIN WAS LATE SO SHE ARRIVED AFTER THE PERFORMANCE WAS OVER. HA!! MY USUAL STRATEGY WAS TO TELL MY MOM ABOUT THE THINGS I DID AFTER I DID THEM. I ALSO RECALL THAT MY FRIEND FRANCES M. HAD BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER BUT INSISTED ON STAGEMANAGING THAT DAY. IN SOME WAYS I DO NOT KNOW WHO THAT PERSON WAS, I MEAN THE PERSON WHO ENACTED THIS PIECE IN THE SKIRT OF MONEY—HE WAS EITHER INCREDIBLY STUPID OR SOMEONE ELSE—I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER BUT SOMEHOW I KNEW BETTER AND I DID NOT. IGNORANCE AT ITS BEST!
The eight-foot-long sausage link chaining your right hand to the door of Chase Bank was a provocative spin on the (rich, white) masculine energy overflowing the streets of Midtown Manhattan. In this sense, the piece operated somewhat similarly to Member a.k.a. Schlong Journey from a year earlier, not to mention Egg Eating Contest (1990–91). What kept you going back to the white phallus in your works during that period?
I THOUGHT A GOOD BIT BEFORE ANSWERING THIS QUESTION. YOU CREDIT ME WITH FAR TOO MUCH. YOU CREDIT ME WITH BEING PROVOCATIVE, YOU CREDIT ME WITH TARGETING RICH WHITE MASCULINE ENERGY, YOU CREDIT ME WITH RETURNING AGAIN AND AGAIN TO THE WHITE PHALLUS, THAT IS A LOT OF CREDIT…WHAT IF, WHAT IF, WHAT IF I WAS JUST DOING MY WORK?
There could have been a thousand different outcomes to ATM Piece; you even had a friend nearby holding bail money. You could hear laughter and excitement in the video documentation, yet nobody dared to approach you, except for a security guard, who appeared in a minute. Was there any particular reaction that you were hoping for?
MY TASK WAS SIMPLE: TO HAVE THE WHEREWITHALL TO ENTER THE MOMENT, REMAIN IN IT AND NOT REQUIRE A SPECIFIC OUTCOME. THAT’S IT. I’D DONE SUFFICIENT RECONNAISSANCE AND I EXPECTED THE SECURITY PROTOCOLS TO BE VIGILANT AND SWIFT AND THEY WERE. I KNEW THE GIG COULD END IN SECONDS. I KNEW PART OF THE TASK WAS TO PROLONG THE EVENT AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. I KNEW I COULD GO TO JAIL BUT AT A CERTAIN POINT IT WAS GOING TO BE MY WILL AGAINST THAT OF THE AUTHORITIES. MY MOTHER HAD CRITICIZED ME SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE RE: WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THE STREET WORK I WAS DOING? IN HER OWN QUIET BUT PENETRATING WAY SHE PROBED: WAS MY WORK ABOUT PUNISHING MYSELF OR ABOUT THE ISSUES I HELD DEAR? LIKE THAT.
In an interview, you mentioned that you’ve “always tried to make cinematic choices when editing performance on video.” Even though ATM Piece is your shortest performance to date, it feels like the video cuts off early somehow. We are left out of the conversation with the police officers and the security guard, except for when he says, “I got an EDP [emotionally disturbed person] over here.” Perhaps that’s all we need to hear? Could you elaborate a bit more on your thinking around performance documentation?
SEE ABOVE. BUT ON THE ISSUE OF THE CINEMATIC, IT’S ALWAYS ABT. HOW MUCH, WHEN AND WHERE. A VIEWER, IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND, CANNOT SEE EVERYTHING. SOME IGNORANCE IS NECESSARY. IN MY VIDEO EDITS, MOST WHICH I DO NOT DO MECHANICALLY MYSELF, MEANING I DO NOT PRESS THE BUTTONS—I WORK WITH EDITORS. BY DISTANCING MYSELF FROM THE BUTTONS, I HAVE THE FREEDOM TO THINK ABOVE THE EDIT, THAT IS, I GET TO THINK ABT. HOW THE VIEWER MIGHT REACT TO AN EDIT NOT JUST THE IMMEDIATE OBLIGATIONS OF EDITING. WE , THE EDITORS AND MYSELF, DISCUSS HOW THE EDIT WILL BE EXPERIENCED BY A VIEWER AND THIS DISCUSSION IS A KEY PART OF OUR PROCESS—CAUSE AN EDIT ALWAYS DOES AT LEAST TWO THINGS, AT LEAST TWO THINGS—IT MAKES INFORMATION AVAILABLE WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY ABSENTING OTHER INFORMATION—
Photographs of How Much Is That Nigger in the Window a.k.a. Tompkins Square Crawl (1991) just went on display at MoMA in Gallery 207. In this performance, you crawled around Tompkins Square Park, wearing a business suit and holding a flowerpot. The park was shut down for renovation and rendered inaccessible to the homeless community that had gathered there before. This work was concerned with so many of the same issues as ATM Piece, only in Tompkins Square Crawl you were performing as Mr. Poots. When do you bring his character into a work and when do you leave him at home? In other words, where do you end and where does he begin?
HOW DO WE KNOW MR. POOTS WAS NOT PERFORMING ATM PIECE?
In the late 1990s, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign aimed to solve crime through “good policing” instead of focusing on the root causes of poverty and racism. More than 20 years later, it seems as though there hasn’t been meaningful change: police budgets are still exploding, while we’re witnessing a constant violation of Black and Brown bodies by the NYPD. Do you ever consider going back to street performance? Do you feel any sort of responsibility as a well-recognized artist?
YES, EVERY NOW AND AGAIN, I CONSIDER RETURNING TO THE STREETS, WHATEVER THAT MIGHT MEAN THESE DAYS. AND RE: THIS THIS THIS ‘RESPONSIBILITY’ THING, I SEE MY STUDENTS’ RESPONSES WHENEVER I BRING UP THAT WORD IN CLASS. THEY GET A LITTLE SKITTISH. FOR THEM, I THINK, RESPONSIBILITY IS AN OUTMODED CONCEPT. AT THE SAME TIME, I SENSE, FOR THEM, IT IS A DANGEROUS CONCEPT CAUSE IT WOULD REQUIRE THEM TO BE LESS MYSTERIOUS, LESS INTERESTING (WHICH IS A DEATH KNELL IN OUR BUSINESS, NO?). BUT ME, BEING, AS YOU CALLED ME, A WELL-RECOGNIZED ARTIST, I FEEL I SHOULD ANSWER MORE FORTHRIGHTLY, AND THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE: OF COURSE I FEEL A RESPONSIBILITY. COMING FROM WHERE I’VE COME, HOW COULD I NOT? THAT IS WHY I DID THE BLACK FACTORY PROJECT, THAT IS WHY TODAY, EVEN AFTER FOUR YEARS, I AM STILL DOING THE FLINT WATER PROJECT. BOOM! AND THAT, AND THAT, AND THAT IS WHY THOSE PROJECTS, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE TOUCHED SOME PEOPLE, ARE NOT ANYWHERE NEARLY ENOUGH!
Media and Performance at MoMA is made possible by Hyundai Card
Major support is provided by the Jill and Peter Kraus Endowed Fund for Contemporary Exhibitions.
Generous funding is provided by the Lonti Ebers Endowment for Performance and the Sarah Arison Fund for Performance.