Author | Go! Push Pops
For this year’s much anticipated Art in Odd Places: Number, Go! Push Pops collaborated with artist Meg Welch on a somber piece exploring the hidden truth of the U.S. Army’s longstanding problem of inter-military rape. Titled “500,000” in reference to the number of individuals who have been sexually assaulted within the ranks of the U.S. Military, the piece was inspired by Kirby Dick’s award-winning documentary Invisible War.
As a performative protest during AiOP: Number, Go! Push Pops took the U.S. Military’s war against its own to task in our characteristically embodied, feminist idiom. Dressed in the likeness of androgynous officers, Go! Push Pops held a funeral processional along 14th street carrying a casket and altered American flag. Sewn by hand into a vibrant bricolage of beads, denim and sequins over written with the banner “GO PUSH POPS!” our flag signified both our feminist freedom and decent.
In a graceful, quiet and ritual manner, we walked along 14th street, cardboard casket in hand, saluting passersby as we played Invisible War testimonials from U.S. soldiers who had been victims of rape by fellow officers from two handheld speakers. Fusing old school tactics of feminist protest with our spontaneous, queer Fluxus-style approach to collaborative co-creation, we set out to engender new territory concerning the debate on military sexual violence.
When we reached Union Square, our first official stopping point, we lay down the flag and made a scene as we slowly began to snip pieces away in squares. Sometimes humming patriotic songs under our breath, sometimes shuffling about with raised knees, turning sharp angular corners as if performing military routines. As crowds gathered, and the flag slowly came to have more holes than solid patches, we began to use the cut away fabric of the flag-cum-quilt to adorn ourselves. We tucked stripes under our commander hats and let stars obscure our vision.
Posing as officers located on the spectrum somewhere between “male” and “female” we were able to effectively “blur” the gender binaries we associate with rape and sexual assault. Our passive protest condemned universal military sexual violence, including that which targets gays and straight men.
By approaching the subject matter in an oblique, performative manner, the work appealed to a cross section of passersby that might otherwise be closed-off to a straight out protest. Says collaborator Meg Welch of her experience: “The documentary had struck me so deeply that I had wanted to respond in a way that matched my passion. So, to be chosen to perform with Katie and Elisa in 500,000 was a great opportunity to explore contemporary performance art and the social climate in NYC surrounding such complex subjects. I felt the piece was received in a manner just as complex as sexual assault, militarism and governmental policy regarding violence against women. It at times was nerve wracking but I am so grateful for the experience.”
During our ceremonious finale on the steps of the Salvation Army, under its majestic gates and the pristine flag waving high above our heads, we shook hands with old white men, who eagerly wished to celebrate being American with us. We burst eardrums with a shrill punk rock rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, slicing and cutting the lyrics as we pleased, singing “Our flag wasn’t there” in melody on the megaphone.
We ripped the last bits of the flag to shreds, and let the pieces fly high up into the milky light of the full moon. We howled and gesticulated, and saluted our fellow Americans in a spectacle that ultimately may have said less about the rape victims than our own freedom as first world women and as artists. Despite the many looks and grimaces and even “FUCK thats!” we received from unsuspecting viewers who watched us do something as seemingly transgressive as cut the American flag to smithereens, it’s perfectly legal to decimate the American Flag in the state of New York. At the end of the day the work we did in solidarity with survivors of military sexual assault was symbolic.
We can’t immediately stop the rampant abuse of power, sexism, homophobia and racism that is not a symptom of militarism but a tactic, and our tax dollars still go to fund violences that occur very faraway and too close to home. Ultimately, we hoped to let the victim testimonials echo in the air of public space and speak truth to a seemingly impenetrable wall of bureaucracy. We hoped to upend male/female binaries that often characterize an antagonist approach to combating military sexual violence. As a queer feminist performance-protest, 500,000 took an intersectional approach, introducing a space where we could challenge how and why the US. Military’s turning of male young adults (often from socially and economically disenfranchised backgrounds) into “fighting machines” uses rape as an operative principle defining normative hetero-masculinity.
Under the Aries moon, using our voices and our powerful female bodies, we held a ritual honoring victims of rape whose tragedy has been ruled an “occupational hazard” by the American judicial system. Their stories have still not been honored. Our work is symbolic, and healing. It echoes in the chamber of our hearts and cries out for a more just future ahead.