On the 10th of September, 2013, a South African performance artist strolled into the Place du Trocadero. The Eiffel Tower provided a mystical and historical backdrop for a new work from artist Steven Cohen…a work he titled “Coq/Cock.”
Now to fully grasp “Coq/Cock,” it is necessary to…. ….to embrace “Coq/Cock,” one must….in order to fully understand…
The performance was wardrobe intensive. Cohen donned feathers, platform shoes and red gloves. But if that wasn’t enough of a visual buffet, the 51-year-old artist completed the ensemble by attaching a live rooster to his penis with a ribbon. He then danced his way through the square and into our hearts…as well as an “indecent exposure” charge for which he is on trial this week.
But as with many artists, Cohen is misunderstood. He clarified his artistic point of view in the following way: “I made a work using French national symbols – the cock, the Eiffel Tower, the Folies Bergère – as well as a very South African approach to using public space with political consciousness,” he said.
As far as his penis is concerned, he added, “I used my penis because it’s me. Everything about me is inscribed in my penis.”
As for the trial, Cohen defended his work to the judge claiming that no onlookers filed any sort of complaint…including a group of nuns who happened by. He also told the court that “it was not the penis that was the focus,” and therefore a charge of sexual exhibitionism was unwarranted. However the President of the court was seemingly interested in determining whether the crowd watched voluntarily or if the performance was forced upon them. When asked if any part of his penis was visible during the performance, Cohen said, “a microscopic part, about five to six millimeters.”
Cohen, who just might become the next martyr for the art world, told the court, “if you condemn me it will be bad for France.” He just might be right because although his work is often controversial, it has also been included in important shows. For example, his recent work “Sphincterography: The Tour – Johannesburg (The Politics of an Arsehole)” was part of the 2013 Festival d’Automne in Paris.
“To some people, what I do is magical, and to others, what I do is criminal,” he says.
In the video interview below, Cohen says he’s “done more difficult work in more conservative countries which is why he may seem angry.” In the wake of his arrest, he said that he finds France “racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic.”
He added “I’ve had lots of things up my anus in the name of art.”
Judgment in the “Coq/Cock” case will be handed down on May 5. Cohen faces a fine of up to €1,000 if found guilty.
The rooster was reportedly unharmed physically, but the emotional damage may not be fully assessed for years to come.
GRAPHIC WARNING: Racists, Anti-Semites and Xenophobes may find the following video offensive.