Jayne Cherry at Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, 5 August – 27 September 2017


As many of my readers, I have not seen this exhibition. Jayne Cherry kindly sent me  a link to the video  made  with sensitivity to mute poetry  by Stu Calvin.   She also emailed  two related  still images that  in her judgement capture the intention of her performance.

Bbeyond has that video on their website, 22 August,  2017. It openes with a citation  of reports  that a woman is assaulted on average 35 times before  her first call  to the police.

Thirty Five I Cant’s”
Performance by Jayne Cherry
Glass Slippers by Alison Lowry
Video by Stuart Calvin
on show as part of (A) Dress: Alison Lowry


It is confessional, autobiographic visual art with cultural roots in feminist analysis and  in the art practice  that came to the fore some 50 years ago. It does not make the practice dated, rather it makes the prevalent ways of improving life dated and easily deformed by the slow application. Consequently her “complaint” feels actual, of now and here.

Art traditionally “complaints” of hazardous relationships, power struggles, injustice etc …Jiri Kolar used to say that art is to wash the society’s dirty linen.  If that idea is still entertained, it is a proof of art tiny impact or of people paying no attention to it whatsoever.

Cherry  walks  in impossible glass slippers  using two fragile (glass?) looking sticks, with head covered in a mass of tulle – possibly – from  her own  wedding headdress.

Her face invisible and her body appearing  as  small as the corner  she appears to merge with,  grey on grey, rather than a real body an apparition  resists a solution.  She moves unnaturally slowly, crippled by  non-visible harm that governs all she is or could be. Her slow, slow progression, accentuated by the insufferable angle of the glass slippers  which she is unable to take off, feels fatal and tragic.  There is no safe ending. Only cries. Luckily the sound comes after the long silence, which mirror’s the statistics mentioned in the title of the performance.  And when the voice comes – it lightens the sadness  too much, almost crossing over to the theatre codes.

The locus of performance art  is in the interaction, it is in the meaning which viewers abstract from the experience of observing.  Cherry does not present an abuse directly. Instead, she  engages  my empathy.  She is not reclaiming herself yet … ending on the last scream repeated twice.  She reveals  no answers.

Artists grappled with the ways to ask questions instead of resolutions and final  answers. One of the most sincere and well known ones is a 1967 neon and tubing  statement by Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967, neon and clear glass tubing suspension supports; 149.86 x 139.7 x 5.08 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art) (photo: Giulia van Pelt, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Bruce Nauman’s neon sign asks a multitude of questions with regard to the ways in which the 20th century conceived both avant-garde art and the role of the artist in society, it questions universal statements.

. With regard to this work, Nauman said:

The most difficult thing about the whole piece for me was the statement. It was a kind of test—like when you say something out loud to see if you believe it. Once written down, I could see that the statement […] was on the one hand a totally silly idea and yet, on the other hand, I believed it. It’s true and not true at the same time. It depends on how you interpret it and how seriously you take yourself. For me it’s still a very strong thought.


Indeed, Cherry’s performance is also true and not true  at the same time.  She chose a powerful greyness that minimises danger of  multicolour  to seduce the mind of the viewer. It also contains a danger – of something happening every day in ordinary lives.

Later this year, her performance in  St Martin Church,(East Belfast, 18 August 2017) contrasted multicolour with the power of grey.


Both performances relate to her life experiences. To avoid illustrative narrative, Cherry zooms on “objects”  charging them to tell the impossible.  The glass slippers abandon their fairytale  role to find the truth  and become a torturous tool  to tell that walking away from deep loss is hard, nay impossible.

Her cherishing of a crown of growing ivy is like a KOAN – resisting a solution. Hakuin’s well-known koan comes to mind:  “Two hands clap and there is a sound, what is the sound of one hand?”


Images: courtesy the artist and  Heather Dornan Wilson

About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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