Taurobolium was performed by the collaborative artist team of Ian Williams and Nick De Pirro for the Hoboken Studio Tour event October 19. 2008.
I might as well describe a bit of what this performance was about. At the time, the Neumann Leathers factory complex was the center of a development and zoning dispute in Hoboken. From the start, I was always skeptical and am still convinced that the developers will get their hands on the property very soon.Taurobolium was representative of the face offs that were very literally happening once a month at Hoboken City Hall. Ian and I wanted to create a face off of our own, borrowing loosely from the Agamemnon battle scene from Time Bandits. The minotaur is a anthropomorphized factory, and the gladiator is progress, development, etc. Taurobolium is a historical term describing a Roman practice of bull sacrifice, and in this case, the tragic figure of the Minotaur, with the unfortunate circumstances of his conception, is a perfect representation of the factory. Dirty, toxic, neglected, and exploited, the factory stands to loose. Progress wears him down like a matador wears down his opponent through tricks and choreography. The bull only knows the basic rules for fighting and can't see what is really happening to him.
Visually, the piece consists of two performers, a twelve-foot clay powder circle ringed by a plaster powder stripe. The space is a derelict room in the Neumann Leathers factory on the ground floor. The space is unused and thick with dust. It also contains a massive tumbler used in the tanning process. The tumbler room is lit from the inside, so spectators can get a good look at its details. The Neumann Leathers logo crest is outlined in white plaster in the center of the clay ring. The bovine character's body is coated in wet clay slip. Additional wet clay leeches out of a yoke around his neck built of bundled leather strips made in the former factory itself. The bovine mask is a modified and exaggerated bull skull with a maine and a tail that drags at his feet.
The opponent wears the clothing of a factory worker, including a leather apron, work gloves, boots, and coveralls. He is dusted with clay powder, and wears an elaborate Roman centurion's helmet. He is a hybrid figure having the features of both destroyer of the minotaur and the maker of leather goods.
This battle, for me, is the perfect model for the labyrinthine machinations of a development project as it engages the target and destroys it. Every word and every maneuver is dubious. The old factory that served a purpose becomes an anathema and must be destroyed so that the future can take its path and forget its mistakes.
I suppose the factory itself is a labyrinth as well, with the Taurobolium at the center of the maze, but this is perhaps the first read of the piece. The factory is a maze in a very practical sense, an unknown black spot for most of the residents of Hoboken. If for some viewers, this is the maximum depth of meaning for the performance, we would be satisfied. The battle itself is intended to carry the underlying narrative of the battle between the future and past, or in the site specific context, development versus the past. Whether or not the viewer sees the link between themselves and the matador is another question altogether.
As the performance progresses, the audio track becomes more energetic and the face off of the performers gets a little more aggressive. It is all posturing and compensating; a chase. The clay and plaster drawing becomes destroyed by charging feet, and the bull eventually crashes into the center of the ring, wiping out the emblem.