1964 – Performance Artist using Robotic Props – John Fare (Canadian)

John Fare

Since the late 60's I have browsed all types of magazines for articles on electronic art, kinetic art, and robots. When I first came upon the John Fare article, I tucked it away, taking it at face value, for a future use.  Given the rise of the internet, it appears that the "John Fare" story has re-surfaced several times, with "The Coil Magazine" being one of the first. 

As I do for most of my articles, I perform a search on material to see what updates there may be. I, too, like most others, only find either repeat articles, and zero additional information on the parties involved i.e. John Fare, Gilbert Andoff, Golni Czervath, and not even the Studio International correspondant Graham Brown nor respondent,  Tim Craig.

So I can see why this is considered a hoax by some, in that none of the story can be corroborated or proven.

A recent article by Clair West (2007) goes further to suggest that John Fare, later known as JC Fare, was actually Jeanne Charlotte Fare. West's references to his/her school are unfortunately no longer online, or not easily verifiable. Further, refering to femme biker "Golni Czervath" as the cyberneticist is a new, unsubstantiated piece of information, as is the band "Congical Rights", and an unobtainable magazine reference i.e. Vazeeleen.  As such West only adds further mystery to the story, and maybe her's is the hoax!  So real, obtainable, verifiable evidence is required if West's variations are to be believed.

Anyway, I've uncovered the article that Tim Craig based his on. Below is the original Studio International article followed by my new finding in Insect Trust Gazette No3.

See "Studio International", Nov 1972 article here


[The letter below, and the attached comment by Tim Craig were held over from earlier this year from motives of distaste,and for checking. — Ed.]

John Fare you well
Presently I am researching my thesis and badly require information on `John Fahey' the American sculptor/performer who died knowingly as a fan of his work, as I understand it to be: and all this is hearsay: together with an Italian cybernetic sculptor, Fahey built a computer-controlled machine that performed amputations. Fahey was the patient — the computer functioned in a completely random way. The performances were advertised and tickets sold at £5 a throw. These performances take place in England. In total there were 6 amputations on Fahey by the machine. The final one being his head.
Do you have any information about these performances (they took place two years ago, the death of John Fahey was mid-November 1970), John Fahey, his life and/or his work? Failing this could you please let me know of anyone whom you think may have ? Failing that could you please print my request in your magazine asking for any known material on Fahey to be sent to me at the address given ? I do hope you may be able to help.
4 Cricketers Terrace 
Leeds I2

Tim Craig writes : The Editor of Studio International has been kind enough to call my attention to a letter lately received from Mr Graham Brown of 4 Cricketers Terrace, Leeds I2. Mr Brown in his letter seeks information touching the life, work, and performances of 'John Fahey, the American sculptor/performer who … together with an Italian cybernetic sculptor, built a computer-controlled machine that performed amputations upon Fahey himself.' Questionless, Mr Brown has confused John Fahey, an American guitarist of surpassing technical skill, with the only person who could represent the real target of his interest: John Fare, Art's Gingerbread Man or, if you like, the Stepin Fetchit of self-slaughter. (Strange to say, each of Fahey's long-playing records has included the word death in its title.)

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, thus refurnished, 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 him (sic-RH) 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.

[Note: RH –  I’ve marked up the additions not duplicated by either article.] 

This is the  earlier "Insect Trust Gazette" (Issue 3, 1968) article that the Craig response in SI (above) was based upon. 

Insect Trust Gazette No.3 1968. p1-4 (pdf)


john fare
appearing at the isaacs gallery
sept. 17
8:30 p.m.

Hardly a conspicuous notice on its small 8 by 10 inch card, and not very widely displayed: I saw only two. One was in the window of the Rendezvous Bookstore on Yonge St., and the other at the Edward Johnson music building of the University of Toronto. It is the same notice that Fare uses in all the cities, European and North American, where he has appeared, changing only the place and the date. The time — 8:30 p.m. of a Friday evening — is a constant.
Yet despite the poor, practically nonexistent advertising, the gallery which is none too big was packed on the evening of the seventeenth with people willing to pay the price of admission. Fare has a peculiar underground reputation which does not run through the usual channels. The people who attended the Toronto appearance seemed completely unlike those who usually turn out for avantgarde events: there were quite a few who looked like businessmen (with their wives), clerks, and doctors. One wonders how, exactly, they got word of the appearance. Also, by listening to a nearby conversation, I gather that there is a group of hippies who follow Fare from city to city, trying to take in 'the whole performance… man, when he dies….' The type of audience is appropriate because Fare's 'appearance' is like nothing else on the contemporary art scene: resemblances and parallels abound, but no one and nothing else is like John Fare.
For instance. Cage, the American composer, writes silences that bring chance audience sounds into the music, employs electronic equipment, theatre and dance. The art-forms merge and join one another in a process of cross-fertilization. Scientific equipment and the mass media of popular culture dominate the atmosphere. Fare utilizes all these trends, but also something more: himself, John Fare, body and mind.
At 8:30 sharp, Fare entered the dimly-lit gallery which had been hung with large murals by Gilbert Andoff — chrome plating, delicately tinted plastics and glass — all designed to play on popular images of the laboratory or the space ship. Fare is a small this man with wispy blond hair, and a shy but contented smile plays around his lips. He was dressed in a simple white silk robe rather like a surgical gown. While the audience, seated on folding chairs surrounding a cleared space in the centre of the room, watched silently, Fare and his two assistants (Andoff and Golni Czervath) brought in skeletons of metal, tubing, wires and heavy anonymous boxes and assembled the equipment, piece by piece, in the cleared space in the midst of the audience. Their movements, graceful and sure, and the subtle lighting effects created a weird atmosphere in the small gallery, added to — not destroyed — by the fact that the lights were operated in full view of the audience. It requires a good sense of dramatic timing to bring this sort of thing off and Fare succeeded, employing all the cliches of science-fiction (the mad scientist touch) and creating the performance right in front of the audience.
The completed equipment stood in the middle of the gallery now. It consisted of an operating table on each side of which were two robot-like structures, each with two flexible hands. One held a tray of surgical instruments. Both robots were attached to the table, beneath which was the power equipment and a control site already programmed (minute by minute, cut by cut). The two assistants proceeded to strap several miniature microphones to Fare's wrists, neck and chest; the microphones were hooked up to speakers hung around the walls of the gallery and the amplified sounds of the man's pulse and breathing filled the room. Pulse regular, breathing regular. He was perfectly calm. The funny little smile still playing around his lips, Fare was helped onto the table and lay down; the assistants exited; Fare pressed a switch and the operating unit started up. A robot administered a shot of sodium pentothal and Fare became unconscious. The same robot sterilized the instruments (in a sterilizer beneath the table) and handed them to the other which immediately began the work. The operation scheduled for the evening was the amputation of Fare's right hand.
According to his birth certificate which was displayed under glass on a small table at the entrance to the gallery, John Charles Fare was born in 1936 in Toronto, Ontario. What other information I have about him I gathered from various contacts who wish to remain anonymous and from writing to the John Fare Vital Information Bureau on West 56th Street, New York. According to the Information Sheet I received from them, Fare attended Forest Hill Collegiate, Toronto, and then studied architecture in London, England. His family must be fairly wealthy. From London he went to Copenhagen where he began to experiment with different art-forms and developed his 'appearance' technique. I have heard that his first attempts consisted of such things as undressing in public; he was arrested several times and once committed to a mental hospital for observation. But then he met Golni Czervath the musician and electronics engineer. Together they developed the operating table equipment and, with the painter Gilbert Andoff, worked out the present performance, detailing each operation of the series. The schedule will not be changed. Fare and his assistants know when the final operation will be, but keep the information in strictest secrecy.
The first operation, in Copenhagen, was a lobotomy: the severing of the frontal lobes of the brain which results in a complete and unquestioning acceptance of the status quo, whatever that may be. In Fare's case, the status quo was the series of appearances he had already planned; the amputation of his mind sealed off whatever will he might have had to escape from that irrevocable sequence which is slowly transforming him with each part of his body that he loses.
The sound of his breathing became slower once the anaesthetic took effect. The robots worked slowly and efficiently, one doing the cutting, the other taking care of the instruments and applying the clamps and sponges. The robots also manipulated the lighting effects now, as if they were part of the operation: murky green, a dirt-tinged red. Thin beams of silvery light, coming from the robots themselves, played on Fare's body while blood dripped from the incisions into a revolving container of transparent plastic. The sound of cutting came across the speakers too now, faint and tickling for the skin, thick and dream-like for the flesh. The noise of surgical saw against bone is indescribable. Two members of the audience got up and left at this point, but quietly, still holding their breath. The rest hardly seemed to notice them; hypnotized eyes focused on the table where Fare lay.
And then the instruments were returned to the tray, the final stitches were completed — even the sounds of needle punctuating skin and the movements of the thread could be heard amplified — the operation was over and a flexible metal claw elevated the hand as the house lights came on one by one: the sickly pale fluorescent lighting. The hand dangled in mid air. The other robot produced a jar containing an alcohol solution into which the hand was deposited; the cap was screwed on and the jar handed to Andaff who had reappeared. He carried it to the table near the door. The operating complex had stopped. Nothing was heard from the one loudspeaker which had been amplifying the sound of Fare's right-hand pulse. Dead silenced. Andoff and Czervath removed Fare onto a pushcar which rolled out from beneath the table and moved him out of the room.
In the course of the appearances to date, the thumb, third and fourth fingers of the left hand, several toes, a number of moles and both testicles have been removed and replaced with stylized metal or plastic facsimilies. I am not sure about the right eye, but I noticed it had a peculiar glazed shine to it. This time however, Fare had decided (had known since Copenhagen, June 1964) that nothing but an empty space was to be left where his hand had been. They say that amputees often feel a ghost limb in place of the real one that has been lost.
The sound equipment was turned off. The audience started to move, got up, put on hats and coats with a minimum of noise and filed out. Several people paused briefly to examine the hand floating in the jar, which will remain as an exhibit until Fare leaves town.
By then it won't matter. Fare is what is important, and on the third day after the operation, fully recovered, he was on the move again with a busy schedule ahead of him, travelling by train or car from Toronto to New York to Ann Arbor to Chicago to San Francisco, changing as he goes until he completely realizes the work of art which he planned out for himself before the lobotomy. He is a slow-motion suicide, or a human metamorphosis. Something is happening. For myself, I cannot honestly say why I paid the price of admission, but once in the gallery I felt completely free from the qualms of consicence. The reason for that must be the same reason why, apparently, there is no legal justification for the police to interfere in the appearances, to stop Fare from pursuing a course that must end in his death, at least his death as a human being.
Andoff and Czervath were dismantling the equipment when I left. On the side of the jar, standing beside the birth certificate on the small
table, was a label:

john fare
right hand
Sept. 17

Further comments:

1. So Craig uses Shein's article as his own. He embellishes, but based on what – poetic license, other information he has gleaned?

2. The performance date of 1968 is derived by the publication of Shein's article in ITG. It's possible the event came from an earlier year. The person who may know is Bob Bassaro (Basaro) who was the main editor behind Issue 3 (see Jed Irwin interview here), which is some 3 year later than Issue 2.  Bassaro is still performing his Jewish harp somewhere. Someone may know of his whereabout.

3. As it turns out, Sep 17 1968 is actually a Tuesday. One has to go back to 1965 for Sep 17 to fall on a Friday. So most likely the editor's of ITG have had Shein's article since 1965 before publishing it in 1968. Issue 2 of ITG was published in the Summer of 65, so the article was not available for Issue 2.

4. There is a letter from Av Isaacs saying he is not aware of John Fare nor of him performing there in the late 60's. Again, if Isaac's was looking for records in 1968, he would not have found them. The Isaacs Gallery closed in 2001. Av is now 85 y/o as at Jan 2012. Further, there is an earlier letter from Av Isaacs stating: "I am afraid so much time has elapsed since the 'performance' of John Fare that we have no documentation of it. All I remember is that it was a bloody mess." The follow-up letter says "I'm afraid I was 'sending you up'. I know of no such person as John Fare. In the sixties I had a series of mixed media concerts in my gallery, and out of this came the myth of John Fare. Every five years or so, someone rediscovers the myth and writes me a letter such as yours."

With regard to the Isaacs letters from both sources (Coil Magazine, Devos), they are presented as is. There is no commentary from either recipient that they accepted these artifacts as proof of non existance. That is left to the reader. I also think they went to Av in the first instance to see whether or not the performance happened. There's no hint of "Hi Av, please show me the evidence that proves the event never existed." One would usually request in a neutral way. 

Av at the time was still in business, so the first letter could be damning for his business. So the second letter is produced to negate it.

During exhibitions, the artists themselves have to man the space and lock-up afterwards. Unless the gallery owner wanted to be there e.g. the artist was a notable, they would probably show up only on the opening night. Further, if hypothetically the show was scheduled to go on and Isaacs knew that a hand was to be severed, I would strongly doubt that he would allow the show to start in the first place given the potential consequences.   In my opinion, is the performance did happen, I believe Av wouldn't have been told the detail of the performance, he didn't attend, and that ""I am afraid so much time has elapsed since the 'performance' of John Fare that we have no documentation of it.", which is why any further attempt to contact Av Isaacs would be futile.

5. N.B. Shein is currently unknown – no hits on Google.

6. One must not forget Graham Brown, for he had heard of some earlier stories for him to instigate further research, back in 1972. If he is still alive, he may have more information.

Related material:

It was an article in one of the experimental music band Coil's magazines (first 1987 issue) that people re-discovered the John Fare story. This story is simply the Studio International version, along with two letters from the Isaacs Gallery stating they were not aware of "John Fare" in any shows at their gallery at the time.

A later band, Nine Inch Nails, were known to be influenced by Coil's work.   One of Nine Inch Nail's musical video release was "Happiness in Slavery".  It was the first music video that Jon Reiss directed for Nine Inch Nails. The entire video was banned from MTV when it was released and created a bit of a stir. It was inspired by Octave Mirabeaux's decadent classic "The Torture Garden" . And yes that is the late Bob Flanagan that is the star of the narrative portion of the video. John Reiss also produced much of Survival Research Laboratories robotic videos. 

**Warning** Adult content – you need to be 18y/o or over to play this video clip.

Nine Inch Nails: Happiness In Slavery (Uncensored) (1992) from Nine Inch Nails on Vimeo.

Adam Barnick has a similar theme in his movie "Mainstream".

Mike Parr:

In 1977, Mike Parr (an Australian artist) splattered blood everywhere and shocked his audience as he pretended to chop off his left arm.

Quoting from the shock book Apocalypse Culture by Adam Parfrey

John Fare and Bart Huges

"The strange legend of John Fare resurfaces every few years, much like the rumor of Rudolf Schwarzkogler's supposed self-castration (he actually jumped out of a window to his death). According to the myth, Fare was a wealthy and perhaps psychotic artist who, out of ennui, hit upon the ultimate bit of body art. He supposedly contacted a cybernetics and robotics expert who helped him construct a programmable operating table with randomizing auto surgery. At various performances throughout Europe and Canada, Fare was supposed to have had numerous body parts lopped off and replaced with bizarre plastic decorations. The legend goes, that between 1964 and 1968, Fare was lobotomized, and lost one thumb, two fingers, eight toes, one eye, both testicles, his right hand, and several random patches of skin. According to another version, he only had six amputations, the last being his head. Tickets were sold for each performance and the various body parts were carefully preserved in alcohol. It is a story that no one has ever successfully corroborated, but its perennial fascination demonstrates, beyond our natural morbidity and ghoulishness as a species, the hold of these atavisms upon even relatively sophisticated minds.

As bizarre and unreliable the John Fare story is, there is a well-documented and and undeniable example of auto-surgery. In 1962, Dr. Bart Huges…" [end of quote] , a Dutch doctor of sorts, came to believe that human ecstasy and happiness were directly related to the volume of blood present in the brain. He felt that the natural happiness of infants and children was simply due to the fact that the bones of their skulls had not yet grown together and fused, as they have in adults.

From Wiki Trepaning

The most prominent folk theory for the benefits of self-trepanation is offered by Bart Huges (alternatively spelled Bart Hughes and sometimes called "Dr. Bart Hughes", although he did not complete his medical degree). Hughes claims that trepanation increases "brain blood volume" and thereby enhances cerebral metabolism in a manner similar to cerebral vasodilators such as ginkgo biloba. No published results have supported these claims.

In a chapter of his book, Eccentric Lives & Peculiar Notions, John Michell cites Huges as pioneering the idea of trepanation in his 1962 monograph, Homo Sapiens Correctus, which is most often cited by advocates of self-trepanation. Among other arguments, Huges contends that children have a higher state of consciousness and since children's skulls are not fully closed one can return to an earlier, childlike state of consciousness by self-trepanation. Further, by allowing the brain to freely pulsate Huges argues that a number of benefits will accrue.

Aron Lee Ralston (born October 27, 1975) is an American outdoorsman, engineer and motivational speaker. [from Wiki]

He is widely known for having survived a canyoneering accident in south-eastern Utah in 2003, during which he was forced to amputate his own right arm with a dull multi-tool in order to free himself from a dislodged boulder, which had trapped him there for five days and seven hours. Even after he had escaped, he still had to climb down a 65 foot (around 20m) sheer cliff face to reach safety.[1]

The incident is documented in Ralston's autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and is the subject of the film 127 Hours.


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