by Brian Kerstetter

DINNER ON EASTER ISLAND

 

When we decided to go to Easter Island and photograph the moai statues, O. wrote a few emails detailing his project to a number of travel agents on the island about how to get the necessary legal permits for the project.  Since the statues and the island are strictly protected by international cultural organizations, none of the agents was helpful.  In fact, most were downright offended by the idea of using the ancient, spiritual moai in a contemporary art piece.  History and culture, it appeared, is chiseled in stone and not to be trifled with.

 

One of the nicer responses from a travel agent politely informed us that our plan to put rabbit ears and big red clown mouths on the venerable statues was inappropriate and bordering on disrespectful.  Another response stood out by its intensity and brevity.  A German woman who owned an agency on the island and who clearly thought much of History and Culture simply wrote: DON’T COME TO EASTER ISLAND!

 

After 24 hours of travel, we arrived on Easter Island with armfuls of homemade rabbit ears and big red mouths falling out of our baggage.  On the evening of our departure from New York we had our traditional glass and a half of red wine at the Savoy.  The Savoy is a corner restaurant with a wall of glass windows that in the Summer are flung open to the SoHo street life.  We are on familiar terms with the bartenders and every Friday you can find us propped up at the horseshoe bar, like a couple of old men, clinking glasses of red wine.  On the night we left for Easter Island, Chuck the tattooed bartender told us a story about going to Hawaii to visit his fiancée’s family and how the mother was a bitch to him and how he almost drowned while canoeing in the Pacific.

 

It took three planes to get to Easter Island.  When we disembarked from the plane it was night.  A handful of Polynesian natives were on the tarmac in jeans and t-shirts with wreaths of fresh flowers they put around our necks.  The flowers were so bright and soft – orange, yellow, red – that they seemed to be made of cool rubber and glow in the dark with little electric light bulbs inside them.  At the hotel reception they served us fresh mango juice.  With flowers around his neck and mango juice in his hand, O. said, “Maybe someone can come paint us red, so everyone on the island knows we are the fresh batch of stupid fucking tourists with our cameras all ready to have our exotic cultural vacation.”

 

The first day on the island the daylight was yellow and purple, so we decided to take the photograph immediately.  The set-up of the photo consisted of humiliating a row of seven 500-year-old moai by strategically positioning rabbit ears and a big red mouths in front of them with a handmade iron and string construction, which gave the illusion of the statues having bunny ears and red mouths.  We didn’t actually physically touch the statues to complete the photo, so we had no reason to feel guilty.

 

While we set up the photo a Spanish couple on their honeymoon and their guide came over and looked through the camera at the silly statues with ears and mouths and laughed.  O. said that seeing statues with rabbit ears on their honeymoon was good luck and that they would have lots of “beautiful childs.”  The guide looked through the camera lens too, looked harshly at us and walked back to the Jeep.  When they had left, I took the opportunity to tell O. that we are bad people.

 

After the shoot we went into the only village on the island to have dinner at one of the local restaurants that specializes in fresh tuna and Chilean red wine.  We were seated next to a German lady and her Chilean husband.  O. and the lady started a conversation, while the husband and I politely buttered our bread. Here is their conversation as I remember it:

O.: Why are there so many German tourists on Easter Island?

Lady: Well I’m a travel agent, I book a lot of flights for Germans.  Germany helped restore some of the statues, you know?  Germans care about culture!

O.: What’s the name of your travel agency?  I wrote to several agencies about my trip.  I’m a contemporary artist.

Lady: Contemporary artist?  You’re not… you’re not the one from New York with the rabbit ears?  Oh my God!

O. (smiling): Yea, I wrote you explaining my project, about the rabbit ears and red mouths.  You see, I DID COME TO EASTER ISLAND!

Lady: But those are sacred statues, they are the work of ancient peoples representing their tribal leaders and God.  How would you like…

O. (drinking a glass of wine): I remember your email with the big letters DON”T COME TO EASTER ISLAND!!!  But here I am!  Here I am on Easter Island!

Lady:  I mean … how would you like someone to put rabbit ears and a red mouth on Jesus?

O. (taking a bite of tuna): Yes, I would like!

 

At that point the husband laughed unexpectedly but stopped when he looked at his wife.  The lady asked for the check and, because she is a civilized European, did not forget to say a serious ‘goodbye’ when she left.

I have found that whenever you meet someone you take a real dislike to, you inevitably run into them more frequently.  Before the night was out, we ran into the German travel agent again at an ‘authentic’ Easter Island bar where there were only natives and us sitting at long tables drinking bottled beer and waiting for the band to start.  She was seated at the bar doing her best to ignore us, happily engulfed in the scratchy salsa coming out of the speakers.

 

I have found that whenever you meet someone you take a real dislike to, you inevitably run into them more frequently.  Before the night was out, we ran into the German travel agent again at an ‘authentic’ Easter Island bar where there were only natives and us sitting at long tables drinking bottled beer and waiting for the band to start.  She was seated at the bar doing her best to ignore us, happily engulfed in the scratchy salsa coming out of the speakers.

 

 

 

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© 2017 Studio Olaf Breuning