Tax Time Blood Bath
You are standing in a darkened room with a large group of people who, like you, have come to see Tax Time Blood Bath.
In front of you are five translucent plinths each glowing with a white light. On each plinth is a transparent table and chair. To the front of each plinth is a person dressed in a nondescript business suit. They stand with their back to you, waiting.
To the right of the plinths, on a bed of white sand, is a large galvanized bathtub. It looks like the sort of thing people used to have on ranches but bigger. There is a transparent lectern standing in the bathtub.
At the other end of the line of plinths, to the left, are a group of people queuing. Rather than a straight line, the queue snakes back on itself via a series of poles and barriers similar to airport or bank queues. Flanking the queue stands another five people in similarly nondescript business suits. Like the people on the plinths, they are also waiting.
Suddenly there is activity at both ends of the line of plinths. To the left, the people in the nondescript business suits take one person at a time from the queue and escort them towards the plinths. As the people from the queue walk by you can see they are holding sheaves of paper, Manila folders, and stuffed envelopes. Some of them carry laptops, others cardboard shoe boxes.
At the other end of the line of plinths, and to the right of the galvanized bathtub, a group of people sweep in. At the front of the group are what look like journalists with cameras and microphones. At the center of the group is a man with the commanding presence of a politician. He is dressed in a well tailored business suit. Around him is a coterie of attendants fussing about, whispering in his ear, attaching lapel microphones.
Last minute preparations complete he detaches himself from his handlers and stepping into the bathtub he takes his place at the lectern. The journalists form a semicircle around the bathtub. They crouch down training their cameras and microphones upwards towards him as he gives the assembled audience a winning smile.
At the plinths, the five people from the queue have been escorted to their designated plinths. As they take their seats the people in the nondescript business suits already on the plinths attend to them, helping them get settled. Laptops are opened, shoeboxes are upended onto the tables and their contents, which look like receipts to you, are ordered into rough piles as each person begins the work of completing their tax return.
The reassuring baritone of the politician fills the room as he begins to speak. His face is a mask of practiced concern. It’s hard to understand exactly what he is talking about because he seems to use ten words where one would be enough.
The two groups seem oblivious to each other. The journalists take no notice of the activities on the plinths and no one on the plinths seems to notice the impromptu press conference.
The floor attendants bring each of the plinth attendants a metal frame of some sort. It is about two foot long in a half-pipe shape with a leather strap at either end. A metal rod protrudes from the side. The plinth attendants use the metal rod to attach the frame to the right side of the tables the people are doing their tax returns on.
As the attendants are attaching the metal frame the people doing their taxes almost distractedly start rolling up the sleeves of their right arms. They place their bare arms into the metal framework and the attendants fasten the leather straps around the biceps and forearm of their arm holding it in place. The people continue doing their taxes with their free left hands.
The floor attendants have now come to the front of the plinths and each holds a coil of transparent plastic tubing. Once the plinth attendants have secured the people’s arms they take one end of the plastic tubing from the floor attendants and attach a needle to it. They then insert the needle into the arm of the person doing their taxes. As this happens the people surrounding you and what feels like the whole audience seems to strain forward trying to get a better view, to actually see if what is happening is for real.
From where you are standing you can see that it is. These are real needles, going into real arms and as you watch you can see real blood start to appear in the plastic tubes.
Shocked, you check the literature you picked up on the way into the installation. It says that as well as being tax professionals, all the attendants are trained nurses.
The plinth attendants fix the needles in place with surgical tape then clip the plastic tube to the side of the table. As they do this the floor assistants clip the plastic tubes to the front of the plinths. The attendant at the first plinth trails their tube to the right and passes it to the next attendant in line who adds it to their own tube and passes the two tubes to the next attendant. This continues down the line of plinths so that the last floor attendant ends up with a thick cable of the five tubes from each of the plinths. They attach the ends of the five tubes into the back of what looks like a largish faucet, then crouching down they hook the faucet over the side of the bathtub the politician is standing in.
The politician doesn’t miss a beat as all this is going on and his rambling speech has now drifted into talking about some vague conflict in some nondescript country. As the first drops of blood come out of the faucet you get the feeling he is talking about civilian casualties but it is hard to tell because he keeps using words like, “hostiles,” and phrases like, “collateral damage.” He continues on undisturbed as the bathtub begins to fill with blood. None of the journalists notice the blood or the bathtub. None of the cameras drift downwards from the politician all stay focused on his mannered face.
At the other end of the line of plinths, the person on the first plinth has finished giving blood. The plinth attendant has withdrawn the needle and the man is now gathering his papers and receipts. He looks shaky. A floor assistant escorts him from the plinth and brings him around the front of the plinths where the floor attendant spreads some old looking cardboard on the ground and encourages the man to lie down on it. He is then given a plastic bag filled with what looks like other plastic bags to use as a pillow. Once he is lying down the floor attendant covers him in what looks like a dirty old blanket. He is then offered a choice of drinks either cheap cider or fortified wine. Before the floor attendant leaves him they place a paper cup at the man’s feet.
While this was happening another floor attendant has taken another person from the queue and delivered them to the empty plinth. The plinth attendant has thrown the needle from the first person in what looks like a waste paper basket and added a new section of plastic tube. The new person is assisted to begin their taxes, then blood is taken and the process repeats itself.
What follows is a ballet of people being escorted to plinths, doing their taxes, having blood extracted, then being escorted to the front of the plinths where they join the previous people on the ground with more dirty blankets and sleeping bags. All the while the politician continues to drone on as the bathtub fills higher with blood. The level is well over his ankles now.
You begin to notice a smell, faint at first, but stronger as the bathtub fills. It has an earthy iron tinge to it. As it gets stronger you know it is the unmistakable smell of blood. Beside you, a well dressed woman in her fifties starts swaying. She looks pale. Her eyes are fixed on the bathtub filling with blood. Her face looks clammy. Just as she looks like she is about to faint, two floor attendants appear from behind with what looks like an armchair on wheels. They help her into it.
Initially you think they will bring her to the back of the room to some antechamber where she can recover but instead they wheel her to the front of the plinths. She looks from one attendant to the other confused as they encourage her to lie down on some cardboard they have laid out for her beside the last person to come off the plinths. Hesitantly she lies down. She too is covered with a dirty looking blanket amid the growing number of people lying at the front of the plinths.
As the proceedings continue all eyes begin to focus on the bathtub as it gets to the point of being full. What will happen? The smell of blood is strong now, the waste paper bins on each plinth are filling with the bloody remnants of needles and tubes. The queue of people seems undiminished. The growing mass of people at the front of the plinths with its dirty blankets and paper cups grows ever larger as the first drops of blood lip over the edge of the bathtub. Will the journalists take note now?
They don’t because the blood never reaches them. As the blood drips from the tub it lands on the white sand making a very striking impression — red blood on the white sand. But as the blood seeps into the sand, the red turns to pink which turns to light pink, which turns to white again, and it’s gone. You can’t see how it is done but the blood is simply absorbed by the sand.
The politician is gesticulating as he talks now and a big swath of blood splashes over the side of the tub. Surely this will leave a mark on the sand but no, it doesn’t, within a couple of minutes there is no sign of it at all.
You check the literature again, it says no human blood is wasted in the process of the artwork. You also notice that the politician’s speech is made up of excerpts from actual speeches made by real politicians.
After half an hour the last person has given blood. The politician winds up his speech. As he steps out of the bathtub all eyes are on his trouser legs and shoes. You sense the collective hope is that the blood will have soaked in but as with the sand it drains away as he stands on the sand so that before he leaves there is no trace of blood on him.
He leaves to the right. All the attendants leave to the left. The performance is over. What is left is the bathtub of blood and about thirty people lying in front of the plinths. Some of the audience go to see if they are all right. They help them up and talk with them. They are not performers they are just people who answered the call to participate in this artwork. Yes, they really were doing their taxes. Yes, they really did give blood. Yes, the needle did hurt.
You walk back out into the light of the gallery blinking. Unsure of what you have just witnessed.