Art Happens: Faster Pussy Bird, Kill! . . . Eat! | A Considerable Town | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Art Happens: Faster Pussy Bird, Kill! . . . Eat! 

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The setup: Saturday night, a basement in Chinatown, just down the alley from the Full House Seafood Restaurant. Two combatants gear up in chicken suits made of cardboard, foam, a rolling backpack (to hold computer wires) and feathers. Lots of feathers. The wings are wired to tilt-switches, which are wired to computers, which are wired to television screens, which project computer-animated chickens onto a big concrete wall. Flap your right wing and the chicken avatar on the monitor moves right. Flap your left wing and the chicken moves left. Bob your head and your chicken eats from a pile of birdseed. The goal here: Pummel your opponent. The grand prize: your pride, your prowess, and a dime-store wind-up baby-chick toy covered in yellow fluff.

Ominous fight-sequence music swells.

It’s T-minus 30 minutes to fight time at Cockfight Arena, and c-level, the cooperative of artists, programmers, designers, writers and engineers producing the event, are in prep mode. Mark Allen, tonight’s hardware expert, straps a girl into one of two chicken suits created by c-level artists Jessica Hutchins and Karen Lofgren. “Stop flapping!” a guy calls out from behind a curtained-off bank of computers. “I need to reprogram your head.”

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Eddo Stern’s the guy behind the bath curtain, pulling the digital strings, reprogramming wings and other bird parts. He’s warm and rumpled, soft-spoken. Later, he’ll tell me by e-mail that the “simulation of violence offered an opportunity to ‘safely’ step into the role of a bloodthirsty mob.” Or, in my case, the role of a bloodthirsty chicken. I think about my dad in the Philippines, the stoic doctor who trained roosters for cockfights during his off-hours, about the miniature sickle blades strapped to chicken feet, the trophies, the squawking. I sign up to fight.

“Watch out,” says a friend as I await my turn in the chicken suit, “it’s an art-school crowd.” Two players ahead of me are strapped into their wings as the minutes count down. Three. Two. One. Let the cockfight begin! Bob. Weave. Peck. Kill. The first match is over quickly. It’s my turn in the AstroTurf arena. Cyril, c-level’s videographer, adjusts the wing strap.

“Is it too tight?”

“No, it’s good.” My opponent, a pleasant-looking girl named Molly, is the blue chicken. I’m green. The odds on our match are projected on the wall-screen behind us: 6 to 6. Molly keeps her glasses on. I take mine off. We smile and give each other the thumbs up. Seven to 6. Maybe she’d like a cup of tea afterward? Eight to 6. She is going to kick my ass. Ready? Set? GO!

I flap both arms at once and the bird launches into the air. The wings are light and wired for sound. Swoosh! I bend my knees, flap Molly in the head: “Caaaaw!”

Molly pecks me in the back: “Oof!”

I jump-flap-glide and nail her on the tail: “Bwaaauck!” The crowd is loud.

“Peck her to death!”

“Kick her chicken butt!”

“You fight like a hen!”

“Kill! Kill!”

“Fight, goddammit. Fiiiiiiight!”

Things to keep in mind: 1) It’s not the size of the cock, nor the vigorousness of the flapping that matters, but your responsiveness to the virtual fowl enemy that counts. 2) Less is more, or a cock can win simply by crouching and gliding. 3) An inexperienced cock can outwit even a seasoned, old-pro cock. Ergo, it’s not always easy to tell which chicken will emerge victorious. And, 4) when peck comes to shove, all-out flapping beats eating.

And so I flap. Molly flaps. “Energy!” the crowd screams, “Eat!” Molly pauses to eat. She bobs her head.

A moment of weakness.

I flap in for the kill: flap-drop-KICK.

“Caaaw!” Blue chicken busts up green!

The battle screen freezes.

“Did I win? Did I win?” Molly and I look at each other, confused.

“I think you won,” she says, grinning. We turn to the bookie: “Green!” he says, and points at me.

I flap a victory strut.

The night wears on and the crowd thins when one of the bird suits falls apart after some too-frantic flapping. The swirling mass of hipsters, Andy Dick look-alikes, girls in retro outfits and Vidal Sassoon–ettes disperses. At the core of the c-levelers who remain are Mark Allen and Eddo Stern assessing their pure idea of sharing technology, of coming together to explore the interactions and feedback loops between the roughhouse physical world and the so-called virtual world.

“I have this theory about art,” Allen says. “It’s like a giant brain. It’s common for artists to develop specialized skills and talents. You can combine all those skills to make a giant brain that has a synergistic ability to make or think things that no one could on their own.”

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