KEEP IT DIRTY, vol. a., “Filth” (2018)
TASTING AND SPITTING (1975)
Lil Picard, with Kathy Acker
In the middle of the room there is a table on which are arranged in no particular order varieties of soda pop, a blender, wine, papers, and utensils. Under the table, on the folded cotinuation of the tablecloth lies a naked girl, alternatively covering and revealing herself with a little bit of fur. Behind the table, facing us, sits an old woman wearing a large white geriatric Afro wig sprinkled with parsley.
—Village Voice, February 23, 1976
[As reported by Village Voice, Lil Picard’s performance of “Tasting and Spitting,” featuring a nude Kathy Acker, took place on a cold night in Stefan Eins’ storefront gallery at 3 Mercer Street, November 29, 1975.[i] Picard, a fixture of New York City’s downtown art scene, had emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1936, fleeing the Nazi regime. Before arriving in New York, Picard had hung out with the key players of Berlin Dada, including Richard Huelsenbeck, Georg Grosz, Emmy Hennings, and Hugo Ball.[ii] Although a critic of Pop Art, Picard became good friends with Andy Warhol, with whom she shared a passion for wigs, and frequented his “Factory” studio. (See Warhol’s Polaroid portrait of Picard below [Fig. 1].) An early champion of “Destructive Art,” she wrote a review of the Vienna Actionist, Hermann Nitsch’s, Orgy Mystery Theater, which was performed for the first time in America at the Destruction in Art Symposium (DiAS), March 22, 1968. As Picard observed of Nitsch’s Orgy: “His ‘assemblage’ of a crucified lamb-cadaver, pink calf brains and red lungs with blood flung on white-covered tables, walls, and meat, hypnotized and stunned hundreds of viewers, art connoisseurs, students, hippies, [and] intellectuals of New York’s alert art world.” (See Picard’s full review, “No Blood in the Finch Museum,” New York Magazine, May 6, 1968, here.) No doubt, Picard’s own ritualistic play with altars, nudity, food, and bodily fluids in “Tasting and Spitting” owes a certain nod to Nitsch’s Orgy.
Kathy Acker, as Chris Kraus has noted in her recent biography, returned to New York City in 1975, just in time for the christening of Hilly Kristal’s club, CBGB.[iii] That year, CBGB hosted shows featuring The Ramones and Talking Heads, and, by 1979, Acker had duly fashioned herself into a “punk.” (See Fig. 2.) Picard had met Acker at St. Mark’s Poetry Project in 1975, where Acker was a regular. According to Kraus: “[Picard] told Acker she needed a girl to lie naked under a table, which at the time seemed like no big deal” (140). Acker, after all, had already worked at Fun City, a Times Square peep show palace, performing “live sex scenes” and film loops in the early 70s. And yet, as she would later recall of the performance of “Tasting and Spitting”: “I had to sit naked right there next to all these people I knew, and I didn’t know them that well . . . The door was open . . . I was just sitting there freezing my tits off” (qtd. in Kraus, AKA 140). At the start of the performance, Picard introduces Acker as “The Black Tarantula,” referring to Acker’s recently published six-pamphlet serial, The Childlike Life the Black Tarantula (1973), a work that would “establish Acker’s reputation in the art and avant-garde literary worlds” (Kraus, AKA 80). The basic conceit of “Tasting and Spitting” involved Lil giving Kathy things to eat and Kathy spitting them out, but, as reported by Village Voice, things quickly escalate:
[Kathy] spits into the audience; all over Charles Schwartz . . . Some well-dressed people ran out . . . Then someone spits You-Hoo on Lil. Then the newspaper article about Craig Claiborne’s $4000 dinner is put into a blender with nutmeg, tap water, and Alka Seltzer, blended, and spoon-fed to the audience. Someone says, “It’s too pulpy,” and spits it out. Lil feeds Kathy mouth-to-mouth fluid—“Like a mother bird to a baby bird,” Lil says. Kathy opens and closes her legs, rubs the fur on her breasts, a character out of her porn biography-fantasy, The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula. (VV)
In her biography, Kraus goes even further, noting that Picard “invited the audience of artists to take sips of wine and spit on Acker. Dieter Froese went first. Judy Rifka upped the stakes by spitting into Acker’s vagina. By the end of the evening Acker decided to reverse the roles by spitting on a New York Times photographer’s camera” (AKA 140). The existing photographs documenting the performance of “Tasting and Spitting” support Picard’s characterization of herself as a “mother bird” regurgitating into the mouth of a “baby bird” (Figs. 3-4).
Reproduced below are the script and audio recording of “Tasting and Spitting” by Lil Picard, featuring Kathy Acker. By 1978, of course, “No Wave” and “punk” had taken over NYC’s “Blank Generation,” with the simultaneous emergence of bands like Sex Pistols in the UK. Similarly, the strange phenomenon known as “gobbing”—i.e., the ritualistic spitting between audience and performer—had become a notorious part of the semiotics of “punk.” While in no way claiming to be the origin of “gobbing,” Picard’s “Tasting and Spitting” surely needs to be added to an ever expanded—and exploded—contextuality of “punk historiography.” Thanks to the University of Iowa Special Collections and the University of Iowa Museum of Art, where many of these documents are housed and available for digital viewing.—Ed.]
* * *
Tasting and Spitting (1975)
IN TIMES AS OURS NOW, in a city with troubles, we quite often feel like spitting, even vomiting. But today, just two days after Thanksgiving and shortly before Christmas, we will be contented with spit. To spit of the junk of intake . . . spit of junk-liquids . . . after a good taste, man, woman, and child needs a relief. And a good, hardy spit makes everybody feel so much better.
You will be served many strange liquids, some have funny colors, some strange tastes, some taste good, some awful—yes, even a $4000 dinner will be served to you in liquid form . . . as a real surprise . . . here, in Stefan Eins’ Store, where Stefan watches over his toys, objects, and utensils.
Because I have a reputation to serve real good stuff—since last year’s November Fiesta at Rene Block—I will serve you also, this year, the very best of junk . . . and besides, as the powerful corporations do, with their presidents, vice presidents and managers, so will I give you a fleshy addition—a “Nude à la Mode, garnished with Dill”—an absolutely great dessert: Kathy Acker, the Black Tarantula.
May I present her to you with a toast of soda pop . . .
Some people read the Bible, some read other things to get ideas. The Bible says: “He spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle.” So I spat on the ground, and now I show you my clay . . .
I read with preference at night Roget’s International Thesaurus, to calm my worn nerves, disturbed by media news, art newsletters of all kinds, by all sexes, by art invitations, press releases, mountains of printed stuff. Old Roget’s order, its assemblage of words arranged to give guidance for the construction of sentences, serves me as a meditation: it soothes my wounded soul in this declining world of politics and economy. I found there by accident two words—Taste and Spit—which I took as symbols for today’s doings. Taste and Spit . . . I use as actions to make us all feel good. You are all invited to participate in this event . . . tasting and spitting. Ah, tasting the good ambrosia, the mouth waters, the flavors penetrate, saliva forms . . . you either swallow it . . . or you spit it out.
Be an artist in swallowing or spitting . . .
Join us, Kathy and myself, in this ritual of taste and spit. Kathy will be fed by me with liquids of all kinds, and so will you. I leave it to your discretion what you like to swallow and what you want to spit out. But do it with style. “Everybody his own football,” said the old dadaists . . . once upon a time . . . which I can still remember so vividly . . . everybody his or her own perfect spitter today. At the end of this afternoon’s performance, we will see the results inform [in the form of] something that might change the image of Art.
[i] “A Performance by Lil Picard and Kathy Acker” [Review], Village Voice, February 23, 1976, n.p. Hereafter cited as VV.
[ii] See John Perreault, “Lil Picard: Mother Dada” [Review], Artopia, April 26, 2010, 1. Accessed February 5, 2018. http://www.artsjournal.com/artopia/2010/04/lil_picard_nine_lives.html
[iii] Chris Kraus, After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography (South Pasadena: Semiotext[e], 2017), 127. Hereafter cited in the text as AKA.
 [Stefan Eins’ storefront at 3 Mercer Street (1972-79) pointedly called itself a “store”—not a gallery—, and encouraged artists to show low-priced art. —Ed.]
 [Picard, here, is referring to the Rene Block Gallery, New York, NY. —Ed]
 [In the audio recording of “Tasting and Spitting,” Picard sounds as if she is referring here to Georges Bataille’s notion of the “informe” (l’informe)—or “formless”—which Bataille had famously compared to a “gob of spit.” On this point, see Marcel Griaule’s “Spittle (1. Spittle-Soul)” (1929), and my Afterword, reproduced in this journal: http://keepitdirty.org/a/spittle-1-spittle-soul/ —Ed.]