It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Jan 6, 2009

Blinky the Friendly Hen

You can describe the prank in one sentence. On 27 April 1978, Jeffrey Vallance persuaded a Los Angeles pet cemetery to bury a supermarket frozen chicken in a satin-lined coffin, claiming it was his pet, Blinky. Not a bad joke after all, but for Jeffrey Vallance that became a cornerstone for its carrier and general popularity.

Yes, indeed, Vallance is probably still most famous for “Blinky the Friendly Hen,” a 1978 conceptual art-school prank in which the artist purchased a Foster Farms fryer from Ralphs and gave it a proper funeral and burial at the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery in Calabasas. This elegant recontextualization spawned a torrent of work - a highly sought-after artists’ book, innumerable drawings, appearances on David Letterman, further performances (the exhumation and autopsy of Blinky’s remains), a video collaboration with the Yonemoto brothers, etc. - that remains unabated to this day. Several of the reliquaries house bone fragments and other artifacts from the Blinky saga, and one of the seminal precursors of this work was the “Shroud of Blinky” - the bloodstained absorbent paper toweling from the original supermarket packaging that sold to a collector for $1,000.

But, this is just one fact of the Vallance rich biography. In his lifetime, Vallance has exchanged neckties with world leaders, been blessed by the Pope, searched for Bigfoot, discovered the faces of famous clowns in the Shroud of Turin, presented a fish change-purse to the President of Iceland, and examined the eye of the Virgin of Guadalupe. No matter how diverse the strands of his research, he always manages to weave them together to find an improbable, almost insane, synchronicity in it all.

Part intrepid explorer and part cultural anthropologist, Vallance has visited numerous foreign countries in an effort to gain a more authentic experience of their culture. In 1988, he was granted his first audience with the King of Tonga, the largest king in the world, to whom he presented a pair of extra-large swimming flippers. Vallance always performs his ‘semi-official’ diplomatic exchanges with a mix of deadpan humor and unblinking sincerity, although it is never clear which one is masking which.

Often, the only recording of a performance is a text that Vallance writes upon returning from his journey. These essays are usually a delirious intermingling of objective recording, ancient folklore, religious myths, historical fact, conspiracy theories, and the artist’s own memory and imagination. To him, all are equally truthful and valid ways of documenting the event. Vallance creates his own authentic natural history by blending the fragments of the country’s culture with the fertility of his imagination.

Jeffrey Vallance (born 1955 in the United States) lives and works in California.

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