2014 - 2016 Martha Jager: "One, two and follow through?"
Excerpt from Martha's 20 minute presentation for Speaking Without Thumbs - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2016
Unadorned by props or any additional visual elements, the artist gave a stripped-to the bare minimum version of the performance lecture format. She read a text in a low-lit room in front of a blank screen. Taking the form of a gradually morphing personal statement or universal narrative, the words, read in a rhythmic and unending flow, seemed to originate from either a collective voice or an individual one. Martha developed this ambiguity by following a relatively simple, repetitive sentence form throughout the text and regularly alternating pronouns. The audience, held captive by this focused reading and uncomplicated format, was given plenty of room to think, dream or otherwise reflect on the text as it was being read. When she finished reading, Martha made her way through the audience to greet every single person in the audience, shake hands and personally thank each one.
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung thought this lecture performance was “fantastic,” saying, “I will leave this place tonight with that feeling of the very high quality of the works.” He praised Martha’s “poetic mastery of words” and said it was “well done and well read, and well written.” Bonaventure found the (over-)use of the “I” slightly problematic “because the “I” begins to speak for many “I”s.” At the same time, he said, “this poem could be said by many people who are no longer with us – oppressed people – people who cannot breathe. It seemed like some of these people were talking.” He found it very musical and thought that it touched on some religious aspects.
Ekaterina Degot was impressed by this “mature work that has crystallized” and found it successful. She was less enthusiastic towards the end even though it was a strong piece. Degot wondered if this lecture-performance format was ideal for Martha or whether she would rather just write? She was amazed by the rhythm and, in response to Bonaventure’s comment, she said she did not have a problems with text written in first person and in past tense. For Degot, this makes it sincere. She observed that this piece is somewhere between lyrical poetry and conceptual art, but that it sometimes switches too much in the direction of lyrical poetry. One minor criticism of it is that it sometimes loses a sense of play. She was surprised by the performative ending and was did not know why the artist wanted to do that.
Bassam el Baroni wanted to thank Martha for “proving that great work can be done with words.” For him, “poetry of this type doesn’t lend itself to analytical reading.” He liked how the “handshake played into the narration from a kind of future of a human condition that is pondering its successes, evolution. The handshake read that way is something precious and sincere.” It works on an emotional register and affirms a need to connect at the most basic level. In short, el Baroni was surprised by how Martha could “do so much work with so little.”
For Marina Vishmidt, Martha’s performance lecture struck her as poetry and she took it as a poetry reading. It recalled Faith Wilding’s feminist performances (also passing through a life cycle), and Ann Boyer’s work. For Vishmidt, the handshake part was “almost like a second piece” and recalled the “Touch Sanitation” piece by Mierle Laderman Ukeles in New York (1978-1980).
About: Speaking Without Thumbs