Jessica’s voice comes to us over the PA. She explains the steps she takes to get dressed, how to prevent skin rubbing skin, how to straighten seams. These descriptions are punctuated with “power off, always off,” referring to her electric wheelchair. She is precise. It is made clear that she must be precise to avoid repeating herself, to avoid mistakes, to avoid injury. The mention of others’ hands in this speech is frequent: hands hold her wrists, hands lift her feet. These hands and the people who own them are the angels, she explains, not her.
Jessica enters the gallery. She is in a black and white dress with a large strand of pearls. Her nails and toenails are painted pink. Her hair is down. She has a bunch of badass tattoos. She stops behind a long white table with washcloths, toiletries and a basin. She asks if someone will assist her. Someone does — they follow Jessica’s instructions to brush her hair and put it up in a high ponytail.
“Thank you.” She moves down the table. “May I have another assistant?” They put their hands in latex gloves, and wash her face with solution.
“Thank you. May I have another assistant?” They brush Jessica’s teeth wearing latex gloves. They measure out mouthwash, spill. “Don’t be nervous.”
Another assistant. More latex gloves. They wash her face and behind her ears, “be sure to get under my second chin…I like it a little rough.” She is irreverent and caring. She is putting people who are nervous at ease and she is good at it.
“Would you undress me?” In front of the table, Jessica dictates this process to one and then two assistants. Pearls are removed. Legs are lifted one by one. The chair is maneuvered to an extreme recline, and the dress is pulled up to her thighs.
“Ow! Just joking,” and there is startled laughter from the audience. She tilts forward and the dress is pulled up from under her arms one by one. The dress is off. Her bra is removed. Her assistants leave and she is naked in front of us.
Jessica addresses us all directly. She expresses gratitude for the hands that help her. She explains that these hands allow her to be independent.
“My independence is who I am, my identity.”
The performance ends informally, but with the same deep grace of the previous actions. Jessica invites her assistants to stand with her. She learns their names. She asks everyone to applaud for them. She jokes about wanting to get clothes on and she exits to the back of the gallery.
RP14 performance photo by Sandrine Schaefer.
Mothergirl (Katy Albert and Sophia Hamilton) is a Chicago based performance duo whose work has taken the form of installation, durational event, and guided audience interaction. Mothergirl’s characters, and the worlds they inhabit, exhibit a strategically refracted or misrepresented view of current political and philosophical discourse, creating a space where viewers are challenged to think critically about their own relationships with feminism, consumerism, and representational visuality. They have performed at Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival (2013), MCA Chicago, Rough Trade II Artist Exchange, Out of Site, and Roxaboxen. They were 2012 ACRE Residents and 2013 Chicago Artists Coalition HATCH Residents.