By Jenna Jacobs
The first time I walked I observed a sign spinner on the street corner. I thought to myself, “how is his work any different than what I am doing?” He definitely had more freedom in his actions, but all he was doing was a series of moves that he had already mastered, repeating them in different arrangements. Like myself, he had to spin even if no one was around to see. However, unlike myself, he could interact with his viewer. He received car honks out of praise and people waved at him.
I also thought to myself “man, I am tired and I’m only walking. I can’t imagine doing all that spinning for four hours!” But we both had work we were assigned to do and it was work that did not directly yield a hard product. Both of our labor is a form of service.
I serve DiverseWorks, the artists, and the viewers with my performance. But how does my performance serve these people? The sign spinner serves the people who pay him first and his audience second. My performance served me first. It was a practice in discipline and endurance. Staring at all the red was just as intense as the walking; I found myself studying the patterns of screw holes and seams. I tried to ignore the soundtrack. The boredom ruminated thoughts of how to make the time pass. The thoughts made me question the work, all the work.
When people were present, I was listening to their discussion and not allowed to interact with them. I was the subject of conversation while not being in the conversation. People were literally talking about me “behind my back.” This was the moment that I felt like an art object. My presence was part of this greater work that was made to communicate to the public.
The biggest difference between the sign spinner is that his work only creates an impact when people are around to see it. When viewers aren’t present to view my work, it still creates an impact within me. The performance is emblematic of the work that is done when no one is looking. The necessary work done by people who are seen and not heard is the work that keeps the world “spinning.”
Jenna Jacobs is a visual artist from Sugarland, TX who teaches at Lone Star College in Tomball, TX. She completed her Master’s of Fine Arts at Indiana University in Textiles. She is one of fifteen performers in Kate Gilmore & Heather Rowe: Only In Your Way.