Cheating Rat Loses Rematch of Legendary Chinese Zodiac Race

04/16/2012 2:05 PM |


Thousands of years ago, according to legend, the Rat and the Cat tricked the gullible Ox to carry them across the river in the race that would determine the order that the 12 animals would appear in the Shengxiao, the Chinese zodiac. The dirty Rat then pushed the Cat overboard and jumped off to cross the finish line first.

On Sunday night, Duke Riley, the Brooklyn-based artist who made headlines in 2007 for navigating a replica of a wooden Revolutionary War submarine within 200 feet of the Queen Mary II at the Red Hook cruise terminal, and two years later reenacted a Roman-era naval battle for the Queens Museum of Art, staged a rematch of sorts on a canal in Zhujiajiao, China, a water village on the outskirts of Shanghai. Twelve traditional gondolas, each powered by rowers from the community and carrying one of the 12 animals (with at least one stand-in: dragons are somewhat hard to come by) as well as a local opera singer performing songs praising their passenger, raced a short distance past the arches of the town’s Fangsheng Bridge.

In conjunction with the event, two live broadcast viewing parties took place in New York, one in Manhattan at the Magnan Metz Gallery and the other at the Egg & Dart Club in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. At the latter, costumed volunteers representing the 12 “contestants” strolled through the crowd before the race, convincing partygoers, encouraged to dress in their “Shanghai casino best,” to give a suggested donation in the name of their animal to support the displaced residents of the former Shanghai private zoo. There may or may not have been some unsanctioned gentlemanly wagers placed on various animals to win. Drinks with names like “Tiger’s Blood” (a Bloody Mary with homemade pepper-infused vodka) and “Rat Stew” (whiskey, birch beer and vanilla ice cream) were served.

“Think about it,” said Jason Engdahl, wearing a giant rabbit head, out on the roof deck. “The Rabbit should win. It’s all about short sprints. Sure, a dragon’s fast, but it takes a long time to get started.” Dakota Kim, representing the Dragon, disagreed. “2012 is the Year of the Dragon. This is my year.” “Pick the Goat,” someone else chimed in. “The fix is in. We have a man in Shanghai.”

The race itself, projected on a wall, was over in a flash, with the Ox and Horse neck and neck down the homestretch, and everyone in the room cheering on their favorite animal. After some deliberation, during which time a mock fight between the Goat and the Horse devolved into a dance-off (“I think the Horse is definitely winning the dance contest,” conceded the Goat), it was decided that the Horse crossed first. But with no one to confirm the outcome, attendees turned to more pressing matters. The DJ was given the nod, and all the animals and their supporters settled their differences on the dancefloor. Even the Rat.*

[*Apparently a Chinese opera song was performed by a woman in a dragon costume toward the end of the night, but this reporter was so dismayed that his animal—the snake—did not win that he left before it happened.]

Photos of the event on the page 2…

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