An Encounter with Justin Jones’ MONEYBODEYBODYMONY @ Vital Matters

Photo credit: Sean Smuda

I wrote an essay a while back that broke open the term ‘art’ into five different definitions. It was for a Ph.D. seminar on art and leadership. I read thousands of pages, wrote papers and posts, and still, like most in my cohort, struggled with the question of what is art. So, rather than attempt to definitively answer a perennial question of art, I prefer to discuss works in a way that takes into account that I’m using words, and words aren’t experience.

So, in this description of my encounter with Justin Jones’ MONEYBODEYBODYMONY at Vital Matters dance festival, I’m going to continue with three definitions: review, critique, report. These verbs (that are essentially nouns) subject notions of art and performance to, well, our subjectivity. They (reviews, critiques, reports), and the people who employ them as action or objects (reviewers, critics, reporters) endeavor to communicate to an audience something about material and energetic bodies, perceived internal landscapes, participation, and observation. I’m sourcing my definitions from the Advanced English Dictionary app. Feel free to source your own.

Review = go over, survey
Critique = seriously examine and judge something
Report = inform, make known

No matter the nuances between these three words, they all stem from one particular observer’s experience. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of these three words best represents this piece about how Justin Jones’ MONEYBODEYBODYMONY prompted me to respond to it.

Jones’ MONEYBODEYBODYMONY was the last of a night of complex works. Engaging with the performances had been even more challenging for me after an afternoon of intense workshops that expanded my relationship to my spine, sensory awareness, performance, and other bodies. I was okay when he started bringing the tools on stage, then the lumber, plastic, and screening. Then the electric blower. I was curious as to how these materials would ‘dance,’ how he might perform with them. But then he requested our presence on the stage. I was slightly annoyed and I looked around to see if anyone else would protest and stay seated. There were a few people who tried to linger and, like me, maybe plot an early exit. However, we all found ourselves moving to the stage, eventually seated in a circle around Jones and the materials. I was still more curious than annoyed, but when he requested music and the House piped in Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” I settled in and invested in Jones’ performance and my participation on the stage with him and the audience-turned-performers. I opened myself to art as the possibility of sometimes not being readily able to see or understand something as art, as sometimes not even recognizing my own artistic participation in everyday moments.

He moved quickly, frantically, abutting 2x4s and nailing them precisely together while talking to the audience and moving boards back and forth, turning a partial horizontal structure to vertical. A micro-duet of sorts. There was precision in his movement: the unfurling of the clear, plastic tarps, the rip of the duct tape, it’s globally-recognized grayness uniting the wood and plastic. It was at this point that I could see the container he was building, that I could imagine myself inside.

Then, the raffle. Yes, the raffle. Pedro, an audience member, volunteered to walk around the circle and hand out blue halves of raffle tickets from a roll; what the lucky chosen to receive, no one knew. All the while Jones continued moving about the structure, straightening the plastic, reaching up, bending down, reinforcing open areas with duct tape. Two people in front of me successfully attached the hose to the electric blower as Jennifer-the-raffle-winner, and Jones with the electric blower convened at the structure.

With Jennifer is inside the container, Jones blows air into the makeshift booth, and dollar bills begin flying around, the occasional five-spot prompting “There’s a five!” from different people as they catch glimpses from various spots around the booth. Jennifer snatches money out of the air, securing it close to her body under her clothes. I’m fixated on her arms extending and contracting, embracing and procuring. To me, Jones has all but disappeared except for the occasional sight of him grabbing bills from the floor of the booth and tossing them into the air to take flight on the electric-blown air. There is something about this scene. Something is happening here that makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the transparency. That the booth is constructed, that we so-called “win” when we are selected to come inside, to be subjected to “hot air,” become a literal money-grabber while others sit by and watch.

I remember wishing it was darker. We continue watching, wishing we had left when we had a chance, or that we had been the one chosen to grab money out of thin air, that we had been cool, intuitive, and perceptive enough to articulate the layers of art in this presentation. We continue watching, and by the looks on some faces in the audience, perhaps even my own, wondering whether or not we need to know if this is art.

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