Steven Cohen shocked tourists and passers-by at the famous Place du Trocadero on September 10th last year when he dressed in a bird outfit and began dancing about, with no less than a cock tied to his penis by a long ribbon.
In high-heeled platform shoes and wearing a corset, thigh-length tights, and long red gloves, and with long, wild feathers emanating from his head and hands, Cohen began “walking” the rooster up and down before crowds of tourists.
Cohen was arrested and spent nine hours in a police cell for charges of indecent exposure. His lawyer later slammed the police who arrested Cohen for treating him like a “homosexual prostitute”.
On Monday he had the tough job of explaining the artistic reasons behind his performance to a judge at a Paris court, who could hit him with a €1,000 fine.
“It was not the penis that was the focus,” Cohen told the court. It was all to do with the expression of his identity – “a white male, homosexual and Jewish”, he told the court.
Cohen argued his performance was not offensive because none of the passers-by who stopped to view his bizarre act filed a complaint with police.
“No one complained, not even the group of nuns who walked by,” he pleaded. Cohen has argued that a free country like France should not be throwing its artists in prison.
“If you condemn me it will be bad for France,” Cohen added.
Cohen's performance was captured in the video below.
WARNING: This video contains nudity that some may find offensive
The president of the court said however that it “was not the court’s job to judge the artistic value of the performance. We are not art critics,” the judge said, before accepting that the cockerel used by Cohen was not mistreated.
The president of the court asked however whether any part of Cohen’s penis was on show to the public. “A microscopic part, about five to six millimetres,” Cohen responded.
The court has to determine if those who paused to watch Cohen’s dancing did so voluntarily or whether they had his act thrust upon them.
Cohen’s lawyer Agnes Tricoire argued that the artist did not impose anything on members of the public. “The people who did not want to watch moved away," she told the court.
The Paris prosecutor however deplored the presence of a young girl among the by-standers.
Cohen was born in South Africa in 1962, according to the Stevenson agency’s website, but currently lives in Lille, in northern France.
“He is a performance artist who stages interventions in the public realm and in gallery/theatre spaces. His work invariably draws attention to that which is marginalized in society, starting with his own identity as a gay, Jewish man,” the South African agency says.
His performance art piece “Sphincterography: The Tour – Johannesburg (The Politics of an Arsehole)” has been included in last year’s Festival d’Automne at La Maison Rouge in Paris.
The court will give its judgement on Cohen’s case on May 5th.