In 2003, not long out of college, I was working at Grizedale Arts, an eccentric arts organization in northwest England’s picturesque Lake District. Grizedale Arts had become known for staging projects that placed contemporary art not in gallery exhibitions but in live events tailored to their rural context. A country fair, for instance, or a car boot sale. When the organization proposed to fund, plan and implement the wedding day of two volunteer couples from the local community, the stakes were raised for everyone.
It would be disingenuous to claim that Let’s Get Married Today was an unalloyed success. At one point, one of the brides was seen in tears. But after the dinner and speeches, a disco lifted everyone’s spirits. The evening’s high point, and a high point of my formative experience of site-specific art, was a performance devised by the Scottish artist Kerry Stewart. As the DJ played the office Christmas party classic Mull of Kintyre (1977) by Paul McCartney and WINGS, a man dressed as a raggedy black crow strutted onto the dancefloor and proceeded to perform a grotesquely suggestive mating dance while the assembled guests wolf-whistled and hooted with glee.
Stewart’s horny crow remains one of the best performances I’ve ever seen: critical, confrontational, hilarious, but also humane and empathetic. Nobody questioned whether or not it was art, or what it meant. It needed no theorization. It was exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.
First published in Issue 200