Jessi T. Walsh’s Entertaining Miss Comfort

Jessi Walsh Installation1

Jessi T Walsh’s peep show, As Deep As She is Tall: A Peepshow in 3 Acts, is part of Constellation: A Faculty Show, at the Hyde Park Art Center until September 16, 2007. An online viewing can be seen here on YouTube.

Born in the sand of a Gulf Coast Florida town in 1974, Jessi T. Walsh expected she would become a marine biologist until the unsatisfactory mark she received in a class at Florida State University (FSU) gently urged her to rethink that path. Being raised by two (unconventional) artist parents did not deter her from jumping right into earning a BFA in Studio Art at FSU in 1996, and, from there, she promptly moved to Austin, Texas. In Austin, Walsh began regularly showing her drawings, photographs, and mixed-media sculptures and installations at local galleries and venues. It was there that she also began her work as a teaching artist, a practice she happily continues since moving to Chicago in 2003.

Walsh teaches performance and visual studies in the public school system through the Hyde Park Art Center, CAPE (Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education), and other arts organizations. In 2006, she began graduate work in the Interdisciplinary Arts Program at Columbia College and embarked upon seriously pursuing her natural theatrics as “intentional performative endeavors.” Committing to her interest in “performing on purpose,” Ms. Walsh has created what she terms “Grotesques” — small peepshows, reminiscent of a Southern Gothic twilight conjoined with the tease and satire of burlesque. These Grotesques are facilitated by one charming character by the name of Miss Comfort, a persimmon-headed creature who is fond of swampwater lemonade, hand-kneaded bread dough, and self-thrown pies in the face. A restless traveler, Walsh could never be bound to just one locale, and so she aspires to spread the entropy by touring as Miss Comfort and performing her one-woman traveling Grotesques.

Jessi Walsh Installation2

Absurdity of circumstance, visual preposterousness, and improbable juxtapositions direct Miss Comfort's Grotesques performed by Walsh. These small burlesques merge Southern Gothic imagery with the eager expectancy of a naughty-but-nice girlie show where the timeless predicament of the body politick is set to a sultry soundtrack and tactile acts are made untouchable within and without the peepshow curtain. A toil-based movement vocabulary is steadily sustained in its execution of task: a slowed dig betrays the shovel and the work is consequently made more difficult. Denying the force necessary to activate the work cycle, grace and quiet determination are substituted, and Miss Comfort's handiwork takes shape through her body's creaks and pauses in form. In the tease of these Sisyphean tasks, the traditional burlesque reveal is transformed as we witness Miss Comfort finally resting atop her efforts. Although the piece has ended, the cyclical nature of the act lingers, and the audience is left wondering if this task will begin anew even when they are not present. A major premise of a Miss Comfort Grotesque is to engage the audience into the performance itself. As audience, we watch the eyes of others ingest the performed act across a circular peepshow curtain; we stare at the floor during a peepshow veiled only by the outing of a light bulb, momentarily very conscious of our complicity in the piece; we throw catcalls or birdcalls in response to Miss Comfort's movements and she tosses a shoulder back at us, smiling.

Jessi Walsh Installation3

Jessi T. Walsh can be contacted at jessitwalsh@gmail.com.

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