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Paul Etienne Lincoln

by Elisabeth Kley
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Ham comes from pigs, acorns come from oaks and the New York-based British artist Paul Etienne Lincoln could be found, on April Fool’s Day, at Duane Park in Tribeca. The popular cabaret-restaurant, which Lincoln designed in 2008 for general manager Marisa Ferrarin, was the site for the U.S. debut of Lincoln’s latest mechanical folly.

Titled Bad Bentheim Schwein (2008-2011), it is a singing pig made of pewter that contains a (musical) organ, a voice synthesizer and a surprising method for gilding acorns. That night at Duane Park, the porcine automaton stood in solitary splendor on a tiny stage, its head shrouded in a Hessian sack cloth with a royal blue ribbon tied in a festive bow.

Lincoln’s poetic, hand-tooled machines perform arcane rituals involving music, science and history. The bees and Versailles-bred snails that inhabited his 1985 work In Tribute to Madame Pompadour and the Court of Louis XV, spent their limited lives recreating the celebrated mistress’ relationship to the Enlightenment. Among the myriad features of the yet-to-be-completely-realized New York-New York (1986-2006), are 86 Buick car horns performing The Stars and Stripes Forever over a period of 60 hours, a small by-product of an elaborate, 26-part installation.

For Bad Bentheim Schwein, Lincoln is planning to return bygone splendor to a forest that once flourished in front of a 12th-century German castle. As the lore goes, herds of local pigs frolicked happily among its oak trees until 1698, when Count Franz Georg von Manderscheidt decided to evict them and turn the land into a baroque formal garden modeled on Versailles. Unfortunately, Count Franz was much poorer than Louis XIV -- he ran out of money when the park was barely finished and it soon reverted to its former wild condition.

“When I heard about Count Franz’s exquisite extravagance,” Lincoln explained to his New York audience, “in a sudden Fitzcarraldo moment, I decided to transform the forest-garden back to its former splendor. The area has, amongst other things, a tradition of special savings boxes called Sparschranks that were often kept in taverns. Sailors would insert money, and if someone was killed at sea, the collective contributions would be given to the unlucky widow. I was inspired to use the same system to finance the garden’s rebirth.”

Lincoln’s boxes will be placed in nine German restaurants, teahouses and bars. Twice a year, one lucky patron from each of these establishments will visit the swine’s future home. Some of the collectively generated funds will be spent for a ceremony and a feast, but the most will pay for trees. In 20 years, as Lincoln projects it, 120 new oaks will be planted along the garden’s formal avenues, and Count von Manderscheidt’s vision will finally be realized.

Lincoln has designed a small stone folly with an acorn-shaped domed roof (modeled on an 18th-century icehouse) for a miniature island in the garden’s lake, where the pewter pig, currently on display at Duane Park, will ultimately live. After being ferried to the island in a punt by a “pig keeper” dressed in a red velvet footman’s uniform, patrons will cram themselves into the folly through a door only five feet high, and make the mechanical pig perform its acorn-gilding ritual by pulling on nine of its teats, one at a time. Finally, one of the patrons will enjoy the supreme privilege of cranking the pig’s curly tail.

Lincoln’s demonstration of the swine robot’s activities commenced at Duane Park when cabaret artist Tansy D’Amour unveiled the armored pig, accompanied by a pianist and trumpeter playing a delicate version of Falling in Love Again. Dressed in scarlet tails, Lincoln raised the hinged doors on either side of the pig, revealing a lighted interior filled with a variety of intricate tubes, and popped a fresh acorn into the swine’s mouth.

Furiously rotating the pig’s little tail, Lincoln turned redder by the minute. The interior organ tooted out a specially re-orchestrated version of a popular German hunting song (presented as a Mylar punched roll), a soloist sang out the German lyrics and a special grunting mechanism coming from inside the swine provided a piggy refrain.

Holding up the acorn that finally popped out of the swine’s rear end, miraculously gilded in gold, Lincoln was lauded with hurrahs. Finally, guests were regaled with a shot glass of the schnapps that came out of a teat underneath the pewter animal’s belly, and universal happiness reigned.

ELISABETH KLEY is a New York artist and art writer.