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SiteWorks: San Francisco performance 1969-85

Sidewalk at exterior of La Mamelle Arts Center, 70 12th Street at Market

Tony Labat with Mike Osterhout (Red & The Mechanic), Kidnap Attempt (4th June 1978)

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Lowell Darling, the artist, was running for governor of California in 1978. I think it’s important to mention that Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys was running for mayor of San Francisco in 1978. I grew up with strong political beliefs, and I really dug what Jello Biafra was attempting to do. Like Fight, it wasn’t so much an issue of winning or losing. The idea of an artist really seriously attempting to influence politics was something I believed in. But I saw Lowell Darling as a clown. He wanted to acupuncture California to fix the earthquakes. He carried around a fake hand on a stick because he didn’t want to touch people – so, of course, he was getting press […] just like The Gong Show and Fight, I needed to enter into a persona that would do the research. I wanted to do it right, so I started sort of stalking him, checking out his schedules, finding out where he was going to be. I heard he was going to do a $1,000-per-plate dinner benefit, so I staked it out. I knew that for this piece, what was important was to walk away with a photograph. I saw the bushes where the photographer could be, and I asked [artist] Mike Osterhout to help me. We got fake guns, I appropriated the whole Sandinista bandana gear, and on we went. The funny think about this whole piece is that as a rookie terrorist, I had a Chevy Vega. I don’t know if you remember those cars. It was a two-door car. Now I know I should’ve gotten a van with a sliding door, but I had a two-door Vega and I wasn’t thinking about that. I got all my details right except that one. So we’re struggling with him, we’re wrestling, we’re trying to get him, and then I open the door and I’m trying to find the little switch to push the seat forward. [Laughter]. So it was a failed kidnap attempt, and we just took off. But what I loved about that piece, there was a moment when Lowell and I were looking at each other, and this moment of disbelief: is this real or not? That’s the part I remember most. Maybe first I thought it was a performance piece, and then it got real. The punching got real, the wrestling got real. I felt bad that we left him with a broken lip and his presentation on the sidewalk […] He hired bodyguards from that day on. (Labat in Phillips 2008: 153)