“IT’S EXERCISE TIME!”
I live in Hamtramck, a small diverse city of immigrants and artists inside Detroit. Here you’re apt to see more saris than Spandex on a daily basis. As a larger woman I have been striving, in the face of international foodstuffs, to lose weight for the past five years. Most days I drive to the suburbs to attend a fitness center because we don’t have one in town. Somewhere in all that gym time, I started to see the parallels between working out and making art. There is an undeniable similarity between being in the white-walled space of a gallery and the neutral space of an exercise studio, the daily dedication to the two practices, and the futility and small triumphs that come with both.
My new set of public performances, “It’s Exercise Time!,” are interventions that allow me to use my city, instead of a suburban gym, as my training ground. Dressed in full rainbow-hued regalia, I go through my workout paces at unconventional sites around Hamtramck, tossing sides of meat in Bozek’s meat locker, and lifting a huge bag of onions outside Al Haramain Market. A man in traditional Yemini costume watched me for ten minutes as I attempted to lift the bag over my head. When I finally did, he cried ‘Superhero!’ Though poking fun at my own struggle, they are honest feats of strength.
The in-town workouts resulted in a local gallery show where I was able to build the project as participatory “Jessercise” performances. In this version, I mounted a carpeted platform and led the crowd in instructional workouts with moves like ‘Pop and Squat’—which features a champagne bottle as ‘Hydration Weight’. A sprint around the gallery includes, as its objective, dipping into a bowl of potato chips with every lap. Backsliding is part of the exercise plan. Here the long tradition of displays of endurance in performance art is channeled with a lightness and hilarity that suits the bright palette and self-deprecating humor. Each performance is different, just as exercise routines differ. Each comes with a monologue of my own struggle to fit into my pants as well as fitting into my chosen place. My body, and those of the audience in the gallery become moving sculptures. There is a recalling of the ‘proper’ body image, so ingrained in our culture, replaced instead by an embracing of the everyday and everyone.