Spewing gore-soaked foetuses from tentacled wombs and scaring kids straight with “faceless boys,” The Art Of Bleeding make first aid fun!
Words: Denise Stanborough
The Reverend Al Ridenour drives around LA in an ambulance with a gorilla mascot and a bevy of nurses in sexy latex uniforms. He bypasses accidents and ignores cries for help. But he isn’t a sadistic paramedic, or on his way to a fancy dress party. Al is the founder member of a comedy performance group known as The Art Of Bleeding. Best described as deadly unserious first -aid education show, they scour the city streets “preaching” the merits of safety to bleary-eyed bar crawlers. “None of us are medical professionals,” says Al, proudly. “We are shunned by the medical profession, they are downright hostile toward us.”
Far from being a new age Red Cross The Art of Bleeding turns straitlaced safety education on its head, and hits the audience with half-naked naughty nurses soaked in animal blood, inflatable foetuses and fucked-up puppet shows.
The live performance consists of flashing visual images — like being exposed to subliminal messages in ads — along with “managed accidents,” music and old 16mm films from the 1970s about first aid and safety. The troupe use wheelchair ballet, trauma narratives and weeping wounds to get the message across with Abram The Safety Ape, the group’s mascot, as host.
Spouting psychobabble about “tapping into the unconscious mind” and praising the work of psychologist Abram S. Lugner, AOB have surrounded themselves in a bubble of tongue-in-cheek performance art and general silliness, and the good Reverend never drops his guard. “You can hear about how people’s lives flash in front of them — Lugner’s concept of phantasmagoric acquisition is based around putting people in a state of fright that allows them to learn through sensory overload,” he says. “We try to capture an element of this when performing.”
Described as a “Traveling medicine show without a cure,” they claim to teach to the irrational unconscious part of the mind from the back of their ambulance. “People who watch us are happily oblivious to the fact they are learning anything,” deadpans Al. “We did a performance called “The Faceless Boy” at a kiddies’ restaurant. The story is he lost his face in an accident with fire and hence appears with his head entirely swathed in gauze. And sometimes we use food to demonstrate how injuries are dealt with and actually end up making a sandwich as an illustration. The abrasion will be like grated cheese, for example; it’s that kind of weird.”
AOB mainly preach their hideous safety message on the move, but the venues vary from late night bars to arthouses to performances on the street. For the slightly squiffy citizens of Los Angeles enjoying a night of intoxication, a run -in with the gang can make for a surreal evening. “There is a certain amount of audience participation,” says Al. “Some of them fall asleep in the ambulance or under it. We give people casts on their arms and legs. When they wakeup in the morning with a hangover, they are freaked out because they can’t remember how they got them.”
(From Bizarre Magazine #105, pp 78-79)