One word at a time… ‘Taking’ Trump Tower

Photos by Tequila Minsky Lena, the daughter of Reverend Billy and Savitri D., writing in her notebook in a privately owned public space in Trump Tower. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY TEQUILA MINSKY | He’s in the belly of the beast.

Reverend Billy — the infamous political performance-artist preacher of the Church of Stop Shopping Choir — and his creative partner and wife, Savitri D., have started a writing room of sorts, using the public space on the fifth floor of Trump Tower on Fifth Ave. at E. 56th St.

Who knew?

In this space, Reverend Billy, real name Bill Talen, regularly writes in his black-and-white Mead composition book.

A number of commercial buildings in New York have indoor or outdoor public spaces created primarily in exchange for zoning variances. Trump Tower has two such “plaza / gardens.”

(For creating 15,000 square feet of “gardens and atrium public space,” Trump won a zoning variance that enabled him to increase his building’s height by 20 floors. That amount of space actually represents what Trump still owns in his tower and is worth $530 million.)

While the skyscraper’s commercial restaurants and shops are touted, it takes detail-oriented vision for a visitor to spot a sign that mentions the “gardens.” Talen and others want to use the space for its intention — open space for the people.

Arizona State University students joined Reverend Billy and Co. at the Trump Tower write-in last week.

After going through security and taking the escalator up, up, up, ascending the shaft of gold and pink marble to the fifth floor, one enters through glass doors onto an outdoor patio space — the public space of Trump Tower.

It’s got 12 Japanese maple trees, Talen points out.

“For us, it reminds of Zuccotti Park,” he said. “It’s a park with no dirt. This is the leftover conscience of the city.

“We’re here in this city garden forced on Trump,” he stated.

He was, of course, referring to Occupy Wall Street — another privately owned public space, or POPS — which had a “tent city” encampment in the Lower Manhattan park for more than two months in 2011.

(There’s another space like this on the fourth floor that the building has closed, probably for security reasons. And Talen talks about Secret service, probably watching as he and this reporter speak.)

Since May 23, three to four times a week, Talen and Savitri have been writing, longhand, for 45 minutes in this space. Their daughter, Lena, was busy writing, too, on the day this reporter visited.

Savitri D. puts pen to paper in a Trump Tower POPS — a privately owned garden / plaza space.

They have dubbed the write-ins “radical ritual.”

As for what they actually write, the couple described for The Villager some of what they have penned so far, in general terms. Some of it actually sounded rather disturbing — not that surprising, though, given the venue.

“For the first ten days, I wrote almost exclusively about death,” Savitri said. “Then I started to wonder what people would give up in exchange for a different president. Could Lincoln give up his job as editor of The Villager and work as a waiter for three years? Would I be willing to be Steve Bannon’s sex slave for three years if he agreed to leave his job? So, you see we are starting over.”

As for Talen, it sounds as if he has almost been channeling the building’s gilded vibrations.

“My writing sometimes appreciates the evil of the place, the palpable evil of a powerful man whose empire is built on fear,” he said. “Fear is a distortion, and from the top of his tower, nothing he sees is like the real world.

“But sometimes my writing flies over a meadow of long, waving grasses, and in the tossing and writhing there seems to be an intention. Nature is deciding what to create in this meadow.

“I know that Trump is so full of fear,” Talen said. “He has no way of seeing such a storm of creation.”

Speaking of storms, Talen has also jotted down his visions of nature overwhelming and ultimately destroying the golden edifice.

“There is the terrorism of the natural world that comes up again and again as I write,” he said. “The Trump Tower will suffer a slow-motion explosion as nature pours in, salamanders, bacteria, bats, bacteria, coyotes and ravens will fly in here and the place will be blown apart by life. It will take centuries; it will take moments.”

Talen has almost filled up his first composition book. Prior to the tenth writing session, he and Savitri went public, and it seems that others now want to join them for this timed writing.

As it turned out, Arizona State University Professor Mathew Sandoval, a former New York University performance studies student who has been following Talen for years, was coordinating a “New York Experience” trip for A.S.U. honors college students. Their first full day in New York, they meet Talen and participated in this writing experience.

“It’s what comes to you and through you,” Talen explained, “from the first word to the last, all kinds of things come out.”

Some Sun Devils from A.S.U. listened as Reverend Billy talked about the write-in project.

And, it’s not just a meditative exercise. He emphasized that he is rooted in direct action from the free writing. Talen and choir have sung in Walmarts and other commercial venues,  proudly owning the stat that he’s been arrested more than 50 times.

“Culture is so dark,” he said. “It’s that Yeats moment. We don’t know what to do now. We’re like a water buffalo with a lion biting its spine. They go for the basic nerves.”

It’s not just Trump that is the lion — it’s the 1 percent, generally, the banks, armies, big religions, big corporations, he added.

“There’s a tremendous grouping of deadly power right now,” Talen warned.

Bill Talen, a.k.a. Reverend Billy, feels the spirit move him in the Trump Tower garden / plaza space as an Arizona student looks on. There are a many dark forces at work in the world right now, he warned.

He mentioned the Dadaists and the Wovoka Ghost Dance as moments in history when new culture must take place. It begged the question, which he asked: How do you start new culture?

“The largest blocks of power all started with just a notion,” he reiterated.

So Talen with his creative partners that also include other groupings and organizations are nurturing the public of the Trump Tower public space.

Write on! Arizona State University students pose for a photo with Reverend Billy in one of the Trump Tower POPS, privately owned public spaces.

At noon, an Art Rising public performance will take place in this space, organized by #TakeTrumpTower.com and curated by Caterina Bartha — the latest in a series of direct actions at Trump Tower. Art Rising bills itself as a living lab to educate voters and elected leaders about the risks of Trump’s presidency. The Church of Stop Shopping Choir will open and close the hour-long the performance.

The Radical Ritual will be taking place at varying times in the coming weeks on Tues., June 20, Thurs., June 22, and Wed., June 28. Check the event calendar at http: www.taketrumptower.com for the times and other events that, as Talen put it, “put back the people into public space.”

With reporting

by Lincoln Anderson

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