Jonathan Gold: Still Life With Chicken

Not everyone knows that Los Angeles’ beloved, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold was once a performance artist and worked as a studio assistant for Chris Burden. On a 1998 episode of “This American Life,” he discussed one of his performances with host Ira Glass (see: Act One, Still Life with Chicken):

Jonathan Gold: This was during the period when I considered myself to be a performance artist of a sort, a naked performance artist, to be specific.

Ira Glass: These days, Jonathan Gold is a food writer in Los Angeles. This all happened 15 years ago. He was putting together a performance. He had a PA system which could put out the requisite amount of annoying feedback sound at high decibels. He had the two full bottles of Glade American Beauty air freshener, which he would spray, in their entirety, in the performance space. And he had a live chicken, which he bought the day before the performance in one of those Chinese poultry markets in Los Angeles. And it comes the day of the show. An audience gathers in a darkened warehouse in West LA.

JG: I don’t know if you’ve been to a lot of performance art, but this was really typical of the stuff that was going on in the period. And I showed up, and I was naked. And I was carrying a machete, and I was blindfolded. And I stood in the middle of this pile of supermarket chickens, the broilers that you buy. And the chicken that I bought was tethered to a three-foot rope around me. And I hacked up and down blindly with a machete.

IG: Toward the chicken, or just in general?

JG: Well, I was blindfolded, so I didn’t know if it was towards the chicken or not. And I had fully intended that, in fact, I would kill the chicken in the midst of this performance. But chickens aren’t that stupid. And this chicken wanted no part of the machete, stayed at the end of its rope the entire time, apparently. And after 10 minutes, when I was completely exhausted, I fell to a heap, and everybody left. And the performance was over. I don’t know if you’ve stuck around after an art performance, but the few minutes after an art performance are some of the most depressing in the world.

IG: How so?

JG: You’ve done your wad. You’ve done your bit for art, which has either worked or it hasn’t. But you’re sitting there. You’re covered with chicken effluvia, in my case. It stinks to high hell. Everybody’s gone, and you’ve got to clean up. And you’re naked. It’s really not a pretty picture.”