Michael Jenkins 4:00pm
A slow ceremonial display of dressing in a crisp white suit and blood-red silk dress shirt set the stage for Michael Jenkins’ outdoor performance near dc3 Art Projects. A crowd of festival attendees and curious passersby slowly gathered behind him, overlooking a grassy, sinkhole-like vacant lot. In the centre of the crater sat a large, aged-looking book. Like a black hole, it pulled the viewers’ eye, its red cover swallowed up by the overgrown grass and simultaneously dwarfed by the two houses towering on either side. From the opposite side of the street, the empty lot among the row of cookie-cutter early-twentieth century homes looked like the gap of a pulled tooth from a mouth of jagged teeth.
Jenkins entered the book’s grassy arena, holding two ceramic bowls of paint, brushes rolling loosely inside as he walked forth. Standing to face the onlookers, his bare feet slowly maneuvered the cover of the book, opening it, feeling the contents with the soles of his feet and stretched toes. I was not surprised when his toes began grasping and squeezing the pages, ripping them out one at a time, yet my body was rigid with tension watching the sacrilegious action. The book laid open, willing, and vulnerable, becoming a plinth upon which Jenkins stood and slowly ripped away at for the next five hours.
Each time I went back to visit Jenkin’s site his body became more and more an extension of the book. Covered in black and red ink, it seemed as if the pages were being absorbed through his feet, bleeding out through his once white suit. His face had a thick black band of ink, framing his icy blue eyes–eyes that were as empty and vacant as the lot he inhabited.
For hours his feet ripped away at the pages and occasionally he would collect some of the torn paper, soak it and break it down further with his hands. The tactile sensations captivated myself and other viewers; watching him became a meditative process. Gusts of cold wind scattered the pages around him.
Towards the end of his performance, hundreds of pages from the book littered the alley behind him, caught in the fence, taking up residence in corners and nooks with other litter that had been collecting in the area. I saw a poetic visual–a metaphor for scattered thoughts, empty words, death of the author and physical book. As a bibliophile, Jenkins’ slow and contemplative book desecration was particularly poignant, leaving me contemplating isolation, gentrification and social segregation.
Jenkins’ final gesture: offering a bouquet of torn, ink soaked pages. Stoic and expressionless, he held the crumpled arrangement in front of him. Fellow workshop participant Thea Patterson quickly accepted his bouquet–the final action that released Jenkins from his intense, durational piece. As Patterson approached, there was a fleeting second where his eyes gave away a look of relief.
Written by Brittany Snellen.
Brittany Snellen has a master’s degree in art history from the University of Alberta. She’s spent the last five years facilitating collaborative exhibition projects between art historians and artists. In her spare time you can find her photographing births and writing about art.