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60 Seconds With . . . Jeffrey Vallance

March 06, 2008|Paul Young

In 1978, at age 23, Jeffrey Vallance bought a whole chicken at Ralphs, named it Blinky and buried it at Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park with a funeral service and gravestone. Since then, that same performance art piece has grown beyond Vallance's wildest expectations. On the 10th anniversary, Vallance hired a lawyer, doctor and scientist to conduct an exhumation. And on the 20th, university students attempted to start a Blinky festival with tributes, honors and, of course, merchandise. Now, beginning Saturday, the Track 16 Gallery is hosting a 30th anniversary, which includes a Vallance-designed chapel-reliquary, relics and five contiguous Vallance-curated solo exhibitions.

WHAT'S THE STRANGEST REACTION TO BLINKY THAT YOU'VE EVER SEEN OR HEARD OF?

Several people have told me that they stopped eating chicken. Which makes sense because I was a vegetarian when I performed the piece 30 years ago. I didn't eat meat for health reasons and because I was against the inhumane treatment of animals. Similar to the Unknown Soldier, Blinky represents all chickens that have been slaughtered for the dinner table.

SO BLINKY THE FAMOUS HEN WASN'T CONCEIVED AS A PRANK, BUT A SERIOUS STATEMENT?

There was a prankishness about it, but I never called it a prank. It was a conceptual art piece. But its meaning has changed over the years, at least for me. After the exhumation I began to see parallels in martyr stories in terms of the stages of torture, death, burial, exhumation, becoming a relic and finally a myth. And since then I've come to understand how such stories exist in our subconscious, and how every culture finds its own images to tell what is essentially the same story. Like the scriptures say, "The word of God is written on our hearts."

HOW HAS THE CEMETERY REACTED TO ALL THIS?

They were mad at me for a long time because people would show up and do all these bizarre things, like rituals, noisy spontaneous performances or eating KFC and leaving the leftovers behind. People also leave strange offerings on the grave, like votive items or fetish objects. And for some reason they thought I was behind all of it, which I wasn't. But then my mother found an article about the cemetery and the interviewer asked about Blinky, and the owner basically told the story but then added their own embellishments. . . . So they've added their own spin to it, which I like. I include all these embellishments in the Blinky lore.

CAN WE EXPECT ANOTHER PARTY WHEN BLINKY HITS 40?

For the 40th anniversary celebration, I'm thinking of constructing a colossal marble mausoleum for Blinky in Athens or possibly an underground sepulcher in Paris -- that is, if I don't get the bird flu.

--

theguide@latimes.com

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