Last Saturday evening, before a small audience gathered in the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn, a man named Salty repeatedly slapped a man named Dan.
“Less on the chin, more on the cheek!” cried Dan Safer, a choreographer, standing inside the masking-taped square that had been marked off as the stage and steeling himself for yet another blow. With a red bandanna tied around his neck, Safer sported muttonchops, a handlebar mustache, and tattoos that ran the length of his arms.
The fellow named Salty obliged, smacking Safer again and again until Safer’s face turned bright red and he grew dizzy, widening his stance to stable himself. “I love you!” blurted Salty, a slight blond figure in maroon corduroys and a yellow-and-blue-striped tie, after landing a particularly fierce slap.
“How we doing on time there, Rob?” Safer now asked of Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House and the emcee of the night’s event, programmed by the French cultural institute Villa Gillet for an ongoing series called Walls and Bridges. Spillman had been conscripted as timekeeper for the current “piece.” He stood off to the side, a reluctant accomplice in this sustained act of public sadomasochism.