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Photo by Mike Kingsbaker on Zefrey.com

Ocularpation: Showing Wall Street the Naked Truth

by Hollis Witherspoon

To me, the performance was about exposure, calling attention to the microcosm mechanisms and mysteries of Wall Street. – Aaron Mattocks
Monday morning, bright and sunny at 6:30am, a motley crew of about 50 performers gathered in a park near Wall St. to put a plan in action. Consisting of everyday ‘characters’ ranging from stock broker, to dog walker, to building security, there was a convivial vibe and nervous energy of anticipation among the group and at least twenty people with large, expensive looking lenses and video cameras ready to capture what would come next.No, these people weren’t going to their ‘work’ in the conventional sense, but rather portraying the wide demographic of people that inhabit Wall St on a daily basis; rich, poor, manual laborers and pent-house corner office dwellers alike. Zefrey Throwell and company were about to begin Project Ocularpation, shedding their clothes and literally, exposing Wall St.

Throwell, a New York based artist and creator has been prolific in his public performance art, following on the heels of ‘Why Not Take All of Me NYC’, ‘Entropy Symphony’ and ‘New York Paints Better Than Me’. As he explained to a New York Times reporter, his inspiration for wanting to tackle Wall St. and the egregious mismanagement of the American economy hit close to home. His mother, a longtime teacher, saw her savings literally wiped out with the recent crash. Rather than retiring in her early sixties, she had to go back to work.

A few minutes to 7am, the group ambled down Wall St., stopping off at their various designated ‘zones’. As a ‘helper’, I was assigned to document and look after a woman named Gayle, who found out about the project on Craigslist. Dressed up in tear-away clothes and carrying a gym bag and yoga mat, Gayle was ready to play the role of personal trainer. At 7am sharp, the action began. Each performer got into character and in the next five minutes – which seemed to last a lifetime – continued to act their part while stripping down to various stages of undress and finally, full on nudity. 7am on a Monday morning isn’t exactly bustling, so there was a clear view of how the ‘civilian’ pedestrians walking to work, handled the spectacle. Some walked by on cell phone, too busy to stop; some halted and gawked, confused, and finally pulling out their cell phones for impromptu videos. It didn’t take long for the police to catch on. Within minutes, a swarm of officers were approaching the half nude performers, demanding they re-dress and then almost as quickly, changing their minds….and the arrests began.

By 7:05am, the performance was complete, Wall St. got naked and at least 10 people were cuffed and sitting on the curb, ready for booking. That afternoon, the blogosphere and many reputable papers were blowing up with the news of naked Wall St. Project Ocularpation was complete. One of the performers who was arrested, a dancer named Aaron Mattocks, shared is thoughts on the project and on his experience.

“To me, the performance was about exposure, calling attention to the microcosm mechanisms and mysteries of Wall Street.  Ocularpation was about stripping off layers of assumed understandings, the false sense of security in something we now know inherently we cannot trust.  It was a statement of protest, as well, for the illegal practices taking place with or without government support, that have lead to a crisis point.  Ironically, it was much easier to get arrested on Wall Street as a person respectfully and peaceably objecting, than for those who have been specifically proven to have violated the interests and safety of the American people.”

I got involved because I’ve been getting to know Zefrey, and have been very interested in his particular form of public interaction/intervention.  I think it’s great to surprise people, shock them to various degrees, create little waves of non-normalcy. We are all able to be hyper-sensitive, and at the same time over-sensitized, and I think Zefrey somehow plays to both of these with his pieces.

I was pretty scared about getting naked – the vulnerability most especially, but I also think there’s something completely and wonderfully democratic about the body – without clothes on, we’re all just bodies with the same basic needs and functions and desires.  I think the naked self is the most pure and scary version of us.  So I was terrified.

I watched as Zefrey and one of the other performers, Eric, were getting undressed, and the police were telling them to get clothed again immediately, but they were not making arrests, so I chose to continue with the performance.  As soon as I was naked, an officer ran over to me and told me to put my clothes back on or I would get arrested. I said ‘OK’ and began getting dressed immediately.  I responded with respect and deference to the circumstances. However, as soon as I was pretty much fully clothed again, the same man came over to me with handcuffs and told me I was under arrest.  When I asked him why, telling him I had done exactly as he had asked (and obediently, without any confrontation), he replied “I changed my mind”.  I was then handcuffed and led to the curb, later put in the police car and driven to the precinct.  They then took all of our personal effects, and we were put in the holding cell for about an hour and a half while they processed our arrests.  I was given two summons – one for “exposure of person” and one for “disorderly conduct”.  While I can understand getting ticketed for exposure, I am pretty angry about the disorderly conduct, and the subsequent statements by the police force in the press.  I acted with complete composure and compliance, never once raising my voice or acting against orders.  I was ‘acting’ as a stock broker/banker, and was on an imaginary phone call the whole time I was performing. If being on a cell phone on Wall Street is disorderly conduct, then this is definitely a shocking precedent.”

I was there to witness the ultimately peaceful, short and quite funny nude performance that happened during a brief five minute period on a Monday morning on Wall St. There was no disturbance, nor did I find anyone particularly ‘shocked’ by the human body as they hustled to work. I find it extremely ironic that that the people clearly responsible for the devastation of the American economy, to a criminal degree, continue working on this very street, enjoying the ever-increasing gluttony of their plunder, while a few un-threatening artists find their way to the jailhouse simply for exposing their bodies. It’s a strange, strange world we live in right now and Zefrey Throwell is on the case.

Hollis’ video coverage of Ocularpation:

6:30 am Aug. 1st the group gathers

 

 

personal trainer getting ready to strip

 

 

 

 

Hollis Witherspoon first interviewed Zefrey Throwell (Zefrey.com) in November 2010 and again in June 2011 where he talked about his plans for Ocularpation: Wall Street on the Artsy Fartsy Show. Listen to her segment “Spot of Culture” Tuesdays at 2pm EST on WBAI 99.5FM or online stream.wbai.org. To learn more about Hollis and the Artsy Fartsy Show dont forget to visit artsyfartsyshow.com
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