The right to bare arms and legs, and a Big Hula over Berkeley Pit 

It appears that the right to bare arms—and legs—in Ravalli County has once again triumphed over the forces of Victorian prudishness that would trample your First Amendment rights.

In 1994, Ravalli County voters passed three ordinances banning the sale and distribution of “obscene” materials, making it illegal to display them to minors and prohibiting public nudity in all its forms. But since the constitutional guarantee to the steamier side of speech has been upheld by higher courts for more than half a century now—from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer to the 2LiveCrew’s “Nasty as I Wanna Be”—it came as no surprise when all three ordinances were deep-sixed as unconstitutional by District Court Judge Jeff Langton.

Then, this March, Ravalli County commissioners, stymied by their own attorney’s unwillingness to challenge the ruling, agreed to accept free help on an appeal from none other than the Tupelo, Miss.-based Center for Policy and Law, a division of the American Family Association. The AFA is perhaps best known for its ultra-conservative Christian stance of essentially equating homosexuality with bestiality and kiddie porn (although their website includes a revealing account of one Christian soldier’s “fact-finding” tour through the gay bars, drag shows and bathhouses of Washington, D.C.). This week, the Independent learned that the Center for Policy and Law had pulled out of the lawsuit for undisclosed reasons. Lawyers for the Center refused to comment on their decision.
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Picture a hundred women, dancing. Picture a hundred women, dancing, outdoors. Picture a hundred women dancing, outdoors, above a pit filled with 30 billion gallons of sulfuric acid-water. Having a hard time fixing that image? Well, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be able to see it for yourself this July—live and in person—when unstoppable Missoula artist Kristi Hager stages her unusual, unprecedented aesthetic event.

The plan, Hager told us this week, is to present a sort of artistic cleansing ceremony of one of egregious lesions on western Montana’s landscape: Butte’s abandoned, acid-water-filled eyesore, the Berkeley Pit. It will involve at least 100 women, she explains, doing the traditional Hawaiian folk dance of the hula, on a stretch of private land overlooking the deserted pit mine. The Montana Women’s Chorus, meanwhile, will look on, singing a rendition of “Cool, Clear Water.”

It sounds funny, and also angry, and also quite elegant. And Kristi means it to be all of those things, and more. “It’s not a protest, really,” she says. “It’s an art action. There’s something I like about the idea of all these women doing this wonderful, fluid dance around the pit.” Plus, she says, there’s a certain irony in seeing hips swishing to the hula—traditionally, a rite of cleansing—around a basin full of acid-tainted groundwater.

All that remains now are logistics. The event, dubbed Cool Water Hula, is slated to take place Sunday, July 9 at Butte’s Granite Mountain Memorial. Rehearsals have been underway since April, but Hager is still looking for more people to take part in the synchronized environmental set-piece. “I feel like Busby Berkeley, Rachel Carson and Christo all rolled into one,” she says. You can call her in Missoula at 327-6681.

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