BENJAMIN LEE RITCHIE HANDLER: Jerking off on a Dash Snow
When I was in grad school at UCLA, I worked as an archivist at the now defunct Kim Light Gallery. One day while I was typing at my desk, Dash Snow walked in with his entourage and offered me a few hundred dollars to jerk off on camera for his upcoming exhibition at Peres Projects (back when it was in Chinatown). I was reluctant, but Kim, my boss at the time, was there, and said, "You have to. It's for art!"
That evening I went downtown to Peres Projects with my German girlfriend. My girlfriend was asked to wait upstairs, while I was directed to a basement "green room" with a bunch of other nervous dudes who were pacing around, trying not to make eye contact with one another. There was a television and VHS player on the ground playing grainy old pornography. It smelled like sweat and mold. I couldn't handle it and bailed.
I ran upstairs and directly into my friend Kathy, the space's director. She laughed, "they made you wait with the Craig's List folks?" As with everything else in the art world, there was a caste system. The top caste included friends of Dash and the gallery. Next were the professionals: porn stars and prostitutes. Finally there were the people recruited online. They were paid next to nothing and sent to the basement.
Kathy brought me into the kitchen with the "friends" group, where I was reunited with my girlfriend and plied with beer and cocaine. My heart was beating through my chest. Dash ran into the room: "WHO'S NEXT?" I volunteered.
The exhibition was titled "God Spoiled A Perfect Asshole When He Put Teeth In Yer Mouth." It featured a negative review of Dash's previous exhibition from the New York Times blown-up to be about fifteen feet long over a lightbox of the same size in a dark room. The review would be drenched in semen, and displayed next to a projected video of men depositing their fluids onto the lightbox. I yanked my t-shirt over my head to obscure my face, walked up to the lightbox, dropped my pants and started at it. Nothing was working; I was flaccid, impotent. I tried stroking harder. Five minutes passed, ten minutes. "NEED ANY HELP WITH THAT, HAHAHHAHAHAHAHA," my girlfriend shouted in her thick Bavarian accent, followed by a chorus of SHHHHHHHHs from those filming. I switched to my left hand, but was barely hard—it's difficult to achieve an erection while on cocaine with a room full of people staring at your naked lower half.
After about fifteen minutes, I closed my eyes and tried to envision myself somewhere else, anywhere else, and settled on a soft memory of vanilla, missionary sex in a comfortable bedroom with no one else around but me and my partner. My heart rate slowed and my phallus rose to the occasion, and I was finally able to make art all over the the desired surface. I pulled up my pants, and ran to the nearest bar.
Mr. Snow died the big death a couple years after that, but the piece is immortalized in the exhibition catalog. There are a few pages featuring my silhouette—t-shirt pulled over my head, dick in hand— hovering over a lightbox.
Benjamin Lee Ritchie Handler in conversation with Nathan Ihara for Collecteurs