Jen Smith “Oh I Limp Concise Sadism”

Jen Smith "Oh I Limp Concise Sadism" at Commonwealth & Council

Jen Smith "Oh I Limp Concise Sadism" at Commonwealth & Council

I watched Jen Smith’s video at the closing party for Link Arms and Listen at Commonwealth & Council on Saturday. Oh I Limp Concise Sadism (click for YouTube upload) shows Smith wearing a paper mache horse head, lots of silky colored ribbons suspended from the horse’s neck (making for Smith a tangled,  floating gown),  and dragging the beast’s hind quarters behind her. She’s barefoot and walking on the grass of an isolated lawn at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. With her head covered she’s blinded and mostly deaf. Gretchen Hildebran’s beautiful videography captures the simplicity of the green lawn and the regal white buildings – for the opening shot the Washington Monument and the Capitol are just left of center and several layers of traffic pass by on different roads. Jen Smith in her horse goddess cladding enters from the right. The various crisp whites, greys and greens and her many-colored ribbons make a beautiful passage as her feet feel the way and she probably is hoping not to stumble.

Not the same installation, but certainly the horse I saw on the Mall! Hmm. the legs are different. Maybe a close relative?

Not the same installation, but certainly the horse I saw on the Mall! Hmm. the legs are different. Maybe a close relative?

She moves on to the World War I Memorial, a small round domed and columned building, and finds her way around and up the stairs then around the inside; finally lying in repose near a fluted column – devoured by her ribbons and making a perfectly lovely picture. Daily life on the mall continues in the distance – evident in the sounds of passing cars and sirens.

I say all this because I don’t have images. If you’d like you may follow the above link to see the video for yourself.

Imperialism, blind followers, an unnamed Roman or Greek mystery, visual poetry – all these things come to mind as I watch. btw D.C is Jen Smith’s home town and we discussed feeling free in that place filled with coded and not so coded meaning, with buildings designed for reverence, awe, and respect. I commented how great it must have been to get stoned among those white, hard spaces – giggling with her friends and running through corridors of power that would usually host a more stately procession.

Of course that discussion led to statements of regret on both our parts at the current security-filled aura surrounding so much of our public space. I can hear Satan’s clickety little heels dancing triumphantly down those halls of power where Jen and her friends used to trip.

Planning this performance Smith had the temptation to make use of some more charged sites on the Mall. What troubled her was the necessity that in those spaces her performance would become about confrontation and directly about protest. There would be little room for a light heart and no room for a viewer to interpret her performance anew.

Smith told me she enjoyed feeling sightless and sound-proofed – that the grass felt great under her feet, and that she likes bodily experiences; growing up she always wanted to be aware of her body moving and for her body to feel things. “At one point I might have sky dived except that felt too… grandiose – too big a statement.”

Jen Smith "We Make the Rules"

Jen Smith "We Make the Rules"

Other parts of Smith’s artistic practice – which include her canning business Full Moon Pickles and her role as a community activist – make evident a desire to engage the people around her and make use of the means at hand to bring ideas, products and political questioning to the table, to our table if we choose. On her residency at C&C Smith constructed a banner that reads quite simply and quite emphatically “We Make the Rules.” Hear, hear.

Jen Smith interview with Heather Taylor on Huffington Post.

A quote from Jen’s Full Moon Pickles website, “I am an artist and a cook. I make pickles. These practices inform each other. I aim to negotiate a synthesis between my formal aesthetics, my social practice project of pickling, my day job as a caterer. As an artist, I am looking at the way that an object can signify a larger social, political history — the discursive field that surrounds it. This is how I think about pickles. Often artists obscure the labor we do for pay, which can be very distinct from the labor we do for art-making. Artists, caterers and picklers are expected to professionalize, to have a product that is readily consumable. In the tradition of artists like Mierle Laderman Ukeles, I hope that this blog, and this art that I practice, can blur those distinctions and in so doing, make something that is critical, joyful and improvisational. Follow me!”

Thanks as always for spending time with me, here inside where it’s warm. The sun is glittering outside in the street and the rain took away anything between the light and our eyes. As Dusty Street might’ve said on the radio (a long time ago), “We must have been good. God put the mountains back.”


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