Saturday, July 21, 2012

Of Piss @N' Pus & Dancing with Wolves

Of Piss @N' Pus, #5, 2002 

Of Piss @N' Pus, #5, 2002 (inside cover) 
Of Piss @N' Pus, #5, 2002 (inside pages)
Of Piss @ND Pus, #7, 2002
Of Piss @ND Pus, #7, 2002 (inside pages)
Of Piss @N' Pus, #9, 2002
Of Piss @N' Pus, #9, 2002 (inside pages) 
Of Piss @N' Pus, #11, 2002
Of Piss @N' Pus, #11, 2002 (inside pages)
Of Piss @N' Pus, #11 , 2002 (inside pages)
Of Piss @N' Pus, #12, 2002

Of Piss @N' Pus, #12, 2002

Dancing with Wolves, #1, 2012

Dancing with Wolves, #1, 2012 (inside cover)

Dancing with Wolves, #1 2012 (inside pages)

Of Piss @N' Pus

(& Dancing with Wolves)


Twenty-five years ago, when the Nazis fled from Belgium, my native country, after four years of military occupation, I saw people burning in the streets all over the country whatever had been German: books, magazines, records, films... Buildings which had been occupied, or built, by the Germans were dynamited. The Belgians wanted to erase forever whatever had been part of the Deutschland Kultur. (Toche, 1969)1
It's not easy being Jean Toche—at almost eighty he's still waging war against the hypocrisy and stupidity of our national and political culture. Since the early '90s, from his secure location in Staten Island, he's been sending out bold, loud and outraged handbills that contain his responses and suggestions for making things better, and how to keep the bozos away from the levers of power. An exposer of fraudsters, poseurs, politicians, hypocrites, government agencies and the art world, Toche started with single sheets of text that were mailed out to around 50 people at a time, then he centralized this activity in his artists' periodical Of Piss @N' Pus (2002).2 Each of the periodical's 12 monthly issues contain individually signed and designed handbills from a specific month. Using quotes from mainstream media sources (New York Times & Wall Street Journal), Toche combines these with his own texts to critique, challenge and ridicule a wide range of political and cultural events. These are serious and often outrageous attacks on the body politic but they always contain a hint of humor. Toche does not exclude himself from these critiques either. Each page is printed on different colored papers, often with assorted pre-printed designs and he creates different typographic layouts for each page. Bound together by a removable plastic binder these original page works are presented in an economical, and modest format that is in elegant contrast to the extravagance of Toche's critiques and the challenges he aims at bombastic politicians and their ilk.
At the same time as Toche started this periodical he was encouraged by Jon Hendricks, a former artistic partner, to experiment with digital technology. He acquired a new printer that enabled him to print works up to 10 feet long and a digital camera and software with which he began to create, and manipulate, an archive of self-portraits. It is from this latter collection that he chooses the self-portraits in his now standard practice of combining digitally manipulated self-portraits with his own and mass media texts. From 2002 up until quite recently he was printing his works in sizes that varied from 6 - 10 feet long. Recent issues with the wholesale supplier of this photographic paper has necessitated him working in a reduced format of 11" x 8". Once again in order to streamline distribution of these works he has adopted a folder format to distribute small groups of works. One of the first of these publications I received from Toche was in May 2012 and it was titled Dancing with the Wolves, Vol. #1. Other similar mailings have not included the periodical title, which suggests that Dancing with the Wolves might have been a one-off periodical.

Toche also has something of a history of intervening in situations in order to get his voice and opinion heard. As one of the founding members, with Jon Hendricks of the Guerrilla Art Action Group (GAAG, 1969-76), they communicated their views by writing letters & sending handbills of protest to their adversaries, and sometimes they created actions to draw particular attention to an issue.3 One celebrated event was the "blood bath" action that took place on November 10, 1969, in the foyer of the Museum of Modern Art, in which Hendricks, Toche, Johnson and Silvianna4 staged a fight in which the bags of blood hidden under their clothes burst and splattered the participants. The text that was left at the scene demanded the resignation of all the Rockefellers from the board of trustees of the Museum of Modern Art because of their involvement with the 'war machine.'

Four years later the museums would get their revenge. On February 28, 1974, Toche, under the auspices of the 'Ad Hoc Artists' Movement for Freedom,' sent a handbill to assorted museums, newspapers and individuals in New York City in which he demanded a number of things, including the kidnapping of museum "trustees, directors, administrators, curators, & benefactors," and for them to be held as war hostages until a People's Court could be convened to " specifically with the cultural crimes of the ruling class..." Toche, with solidarity from the arts community, fought the kidnap charges for more than a year before the government dropped all its charges.

Toche was 12 years old when he witnessed the events he describes at the beginning of this text, and the powerful image of Belgium's WWII anti-Nazi purge and the frenzied eradication of all Deutschland Kultur provided a vivid experience of the power of culture and the culture of power. Since his arrival in the US in 1965, Toche has waged his own war against a culture he despises, and that's our culture of political corruption, inequality and discrimination, to name but a few. However, one thing can be stated with certainty—Toche's fight will be a fight to the end!5

Stephen Perkins, 2012

1. Jean Toche, ltr. (Oct. 9, 1969) concerning the 7th Annual Avant Garde Festival, in GAAG: 1969-1976, Printed Matter: New York, 1978, unpaginated: Introduction.

2. Various issues of Of Piss @N' Pus have different dates: #1-5: 2003, #7-12: 2002. Despite these different dates the publication was published monthly during 2002. Confirmation of these dates can be found in Kristine Stile's exhibition catalogue "Jean Toche: Impressions from the Rogue Bush Imperial Presidency," presented at Duke University's John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, Duke University Center for International Studies, 2009. In footnote #5, page 14 she states that she received the periodicals by mail from Toche and they were all postdated 2002.

3. Other collaborators and members of GAAG, were Virginia Poe (Toche), and Poppy Johnson.

4. Silvianna was an artist/filmmaker and participated in this action only, (in GAAG: 1969-1976).

5. Printed Matter in New York has recently reprinted their invaluable 1978 sourcebook about GAAG, titled: GAAG: The Guerrilla Art Action Group, 1969 - 1976 : A Selection, Jon Hendricks & Jean Toche, New York, NY: Printed Matter Inc., 2011.  Printed Matter also has some of Toche's publications for sale as well as copies of Of Piss @N' Pus #2 for $3.

An update: Jean Toche was found dead in his home by the police on Monday, July 9th, 2018, he was born in Breuge, Belgium in 1932.