John Fare


John Charles Fare was born in 1936 in Toronto, Ontario. These exciting facts were always made available to members of his audience, for whose benefit Fare's birth certificate was always displayed under glass at the entrance to each of the theatres where, over the years, he conducted his 'appearances'. Portions of this document have been blatantly deleted, a circumstance which, in fight of Fare's own highly edited state, I find very suggestive. It is more than simple tidiness, I think. As a theatre programme, it seems quite perfect. It says: 'I went fishing once, but tonight I cannot do an that.'

Fare attended Forest Hill Collegiate in Toronto, and in 1959 came to London, where for a time he remained as an imperfect student at the Bartlett School of Architecture. Disappointed, he left London for Copenhagen. Owing to his financial independence, a condition from which he was never perfectly relieved, he was free to spawn novelties, including the first of his 'appearances'. The notable events of his tirocinium are perhaps less well known than they ought to be. Nor are facts concerning this or any other period of Fare's career as generously imparted as one might be led to expect by an organization calling itself the John Fare Vital Information Bureau, West 56 Street, New York. A vital telephone call which I put through to them early this morning yielded nothing beyond the swirly gobblings of a certain 'Jenkins' who, possibly owing to the distance, resembled a ventriloquist in a Waring Blender, and an unidentified preadamite whose continual laughter sounded like pieces of iron thrown in a bathtub. As publicity agents, they are just one step ahead of the Tarbaby.

I have nevertheless been told by others that Fare's earliest 'appearance' gestures consisted in the public removal of his clothing, accompanied at times by such trimmings as the pressing of 'his bare arse' against the street-level windows of particularly genteel restaurants. These high deeds nearly always led to his arrest and/or hospitalization, if only because it never, apparently, occurred to him to avoid consequences, however predictable or unpleasant. One might almost fancy that in these stunts, however amusing or informal, it is not impossible to discern a tinge of masochism as well as the slightly feminine tendencies to discard things and extort medical attention. (Any woman, for example, will throw away an arrowhead collection, and a survey conducted in 1968 indicated that in Harley Street 91 per cent of the customers are women.)

After a brief spell in the bughouse, Fare was again arrested when, early one morning, a frightfully Danish police constable found it impossible to ignore Fare's curious treatment of a parked motorcar. Fare had in fact already spent several hours fastening random objects to the vehicle in question with epoxy resin. These included: golf balls, milk bottles, brooms, unopened tins of food, one dead cat, his own clothes, old gramophone records, dozens of biros, and over a hundred forks and spoons. While Fare sat quietly in the local stationhouse, the police officer waited patiently for the owner of the car to arrive so that it could be explained that a known lunatic had unfortunately made him the target of vandalism, but had been apprehended and would be charged as soon as the victimized motorist would be good enough to sign a formal charge. However, when the owner did turn up after hour or so, he appeared not to notice anything. When pressed by the astonished officer, he suddenly declared that he thought that there was something different and appeared to be highly entertained. He immediately arranged Fare's release and introduced himself: Golni Czervath, who was a cybernetic inventor, electronics wizard, and an accomplished musician. Together they began, almost at once, to develop a robotic operating table, consisting of two robots (each with two flexible hands), attached to the table, beneath which was located a power source and an ingeniously controlled programming system. Assisted by the painter Gilbert Andoff, they worked out a series of programmed 'appearances', which, if nothing else, ensured a very settled career for Fare and an end to the sort of trifling which had so far coloured his life and which parents so often find vexing. The series of amputations thus planned was still, of course, a kind of strip show; yet the difference between it and Fare's earlier disrobings is the difference between sculpture and election posters.

The first operation, a lobotomy, was presented in June, 1964, in Copenhagen. The time and day 8.30pm, Friday - never varied in subsequent appearances. His mind thus abridged, Fare was more or less proof against any doubts concerning his vastation which he might otherwise have entertained. By the time I was last invited to attend one of Fare's appearances - at the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto,17 September 1968 - Fare was short one thumb, two fingers, eight toes, one eye, both testicles, and several random patches of skin. Each of these scraps had been replaced by a bizarre metal or plastic facsimile, so that when he entered the gallery - a man who, in purely fleshly terms, was so small and faint that, thusrefurnished, he seemed to beggar the customary initial enquiry in the game Twenty Questions - several memories were coaxed forward all at once: brass monkeys in winter, 'A Rebours'. the whittling of Dr Moreau, the final condition of Bonny Parker, Nathanael West's curtailed heroes, a bird cage in Bradbury, 'Captain Carpenter', 'Johnny, I Hardly Knew You'. and in the instance of the thumb, an eloquent rejoinder to Nazi bad taste in the field of interior decoration.

That night in Toronto, his entire right hand, previously unmolested, was scheduled to run out of luck. The gallery was hung with Andoff's huge, faintly Transylvanian murals. Andoff and Czervath assembled the operating table and its adjuncts in front of the audience, putting the whole thing together 'from scratch'. Fare stood perfectly still in one spot, smiling vacantly while lazy blonde spotlights grazed slowly about the ceiling, as if in response to reports of leftover Messerschmitts, harmless in their old age, ever so ample to catch. At length, Fare lay down upon the assembled table, and his two assistants strapped a number of tiny microphones up and down his flesh, so that the highly amplified sound of his pulse, breathing, and mutilation, could be laid on at will. At first, before the robots began the actual surgery, it sounded like whale music. Andoff and Czervath stepped into another room, and, as the four hands of the robots began all at once to move very energetically above the weird table and its stylized cargo, I was reminded for a moment of a xylophone recital I and a girl named Nellie had gone to about ten years earlier on the planet Neptune. Her last name was something like Fisher, only it wasn't Fisher.

One metal hand gave Fare an injection, paused, and began in concert with the other three to perform exactly as one imagines a competent surgeon and an assistant would. Alarmingly coloured lights began now to emanate from the robots themselves as they continued the job. Plague shades flooded the room, lurid crash pigments, a filthy Dallas crimson, shabby leper mud, a kind of frayed porky one, and a truly horrifying yellow that Winsor & Newton knew nothing about. The absurdly amplified noise of the bone-saw resembled huge panting elephant death yells played backward on too many tape recorders. People blacked out here and there, a few more during the sutures.

The operation over, one metal claw abruptly raised the hand and wagged it about horribly for a few seconds, as one would a found purse everyone had been searching for in a large field. It then placed the hand in a jar of alchohol, which Andoff, reappearing with the houselights, carefully labelled and placed on a table next to the birth certificate. 'What larks!'a pretty girl of about seventeen said. Fare was wheeled into another room and three days later travelled by rail to New York. 'Dying is an art like everything else.' Since the evening I have described, Fare has made six appearances in various cities. Much of his audience has from the very start consisted of a hard core of mainly professional, mainly middle-aged people waiting patiently for the masterstroke. The date of that event has always been kept very secret.

They'll applaud until their tickets tear up the ushers.


As far as we are aware John Fare's web site is no longer active.

Texts relating to his career can be found at:

Gender Forum
Industrial Culture Scene
Neoism as Negation
Performance Art
The Beauty of Pollution
The Millionth Apartment Festival



and in print:

Tim Craig: John Fare You Well in: Studio International, vol. 949, Band 184, November 1972, p. 160
The Coil Handbook edited by John Sanders and Mick Gaffney, 1986, p. XI
Network News: Total Eclipse Issue, June 1999, p.15



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