Some thoughts from DC:Linda Hesh in Chicago

Two summers ago, I spent a hot day winding through a neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia leaving doorknob hangers on every home. They said, “Art is to See,” “Art is to Feel,” “Art is to Know,” “Art is to Do.” On the back of each hanger was social media info and an explanation that this was a part of one of Linda Hesh’s sprawling public art pieces.

I have a soft spot for works with physical take-aways, like Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ candy pieces. Everytime, I melt with the plain generosity in these not-common-enough gestures of giving. Linda’s doorknob hangers take this notion of gifting another step, right to your door.

Now in its fourth iteration at Rapid Pulse, Linda’s doorknob hanger series each have a distinct character. The “Art is…” hangers in Alexandria were playful, well suited for the old bungalow community and a city-sponsored project. By contrast, “Desolation Doorknob Hangers,” was painful and poetic, but also critical of the quickly gentrifying 14th Street NW in Washington, DC where the project was installed. Statements such as “I want what we had,” “I feel so lost,” “I need time to think.” are both pointed and universal. The wording is direct, like a punch which seems sudden but the impact grows over time. In fact, Linda is pretty direct. She isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.

I’m disappointed that we are going to just miss each other in Chicago, I will be there the second week. I remember when I met Linda for the first time, her fabulous and colorful outfits alone are hard to forget. She came to Soapbox, a performance art series I had just started to program, and I’ve seen her almost weekly since at openings and art events. She has been a great supporter of my work, always sending me opportunities and introducing me to people. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to show her work as a part of Supernova Performance Art Festival last year, her “Trust and Doubt” version of her “Opinion Benches.” Participants have their photo taken on the bench of their choice and asked what they trust, or what they doubt. Like the doorknob hangers- the work is concise, which shouldn’t be confused with being simple.

Last Sunday, Linda invited me to her cabin in southern Maryland. The cabin, in an area called Scientist’s Cliffs, has a medical theme. The decor and the artwork are a fantastic balance of kitschy and profound: oddities, toys, and a thoughtfully selected collection of artwork by friends and established artists. There, Linda gave me a stack of the new doorknob hangers for Rapid Pulse.

The new “Directional Doorknob Hangers” gave me a chill. “Not here,” “be quick,” “behind you,” “very close.” It was a warm afternoon and I stood in front of a picture window overlooking the bay, and I felt a shadow of the terror I’ve known too often- walking alone at night, being followed, being threatened. And yet, there is also a playfulness, a sort of tease. I tried to imagine the neighborhood I don’t yet know, arriving to my destination to find on the door a hanger which says, “next door.”

Eames Armstrong is the founding editor of PERI0D Art Journal and the director of Aether Art Projects, a free form arts organization. She curated the 2013 Supernova Performance Art Festival in Virginia, and has organized and facilitated numerous performances and events around DC as well as at Grace Exhibition Space, Brooklyn. She has performed at the Houston International Performance Art Festival, and all around Washington, DC, including the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Her work deals with systems of revealing, both physically and conceptually, through layers and disclosures. She believes in an honest and embodied practice of writing about performance art.