In Protest and Performance
By. J. Matthew Thomas
Originally printed in Taos News, Tempo: June 10th, 2021
In 2015, she rolled eight miles in her wheelchair following a popular route of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit, or MARTA. On that rainy Friday, Jessica Blinkhorn, along with reporters from her community, stopped at all nine stations on the route. They were protesting the system, voicing their frustrations, demonstrating through wheeled action for the simple right to be included in the ability to ride public transportation.
It took that action to get MARTA to discuss the issue with Blinkhorn. “That is when I learned that I needed to talk about these issues. I like to be a small increment of change.”
Curating the first year of Paseo, I remember that I was asked to not “get political.” But over the years I’ve realized that to create is to share a perspective, and art therefore is inherently political. There’s more than the inherent to Blinkhorn’s work, though; she explicitly seeks to initiate and encourage change.
“I think art is really at its highest point when it can cause a ripple effect in the world, where it can make an impact,” Blinkhorn shared with me in a recent conversation. “I think art should help facilitate change and offer a narrative that delivers a different perspective to outsiders of that world, or that existence.”
Blinkhorn is technically trained in drawing and painting. She would draw the human figure, creating beauty found in the human form. But she always drew other people, never herself. That changed when she attended graduate school and started to include herself. “That is how I got on this pathway of truth-telling and storytelling as a way to speak to the injustices that I face,” Blinkhorn explained. “But [the work] also spoke to my triumphs. I think you need both—some of the triumphs and the injustice; you need that duality.”
Blinkhorn didn’t get into performance art until a professor in graduate school encouraged her to become a part of her art. “I made fun of it; I didn’t consider it performance art.” It wasn’t until Blinkhorn realized that her magnetic personality was an opportunity to address issues people shy away from that she stepped fully into her own work. “People have questions,” she thought. “Why don’t I answer those questions in my work.”
Jessica Blinkhorn will be in Taos for the month of June, premiering “Reverence: We Three.” In this work, Blinkhorn uses her body as an object of reverence. “These performances ask people to stop and think—not only about the disabled community but about how, in an instant, they too can be a part of this community. It just takes one accident.” Blinkhorn sees this work as one way for us to remember our own mortality, “…and remember how beautiful life can be and how dangerous life can be.”
Blinkhorn is dedicated to the evocation of social empathy and advocacy for individuals with disabilities, the aging community, and the LGBTQ+ community by way of visual works, performance, and writing. She uses her form in the American landscape to call into question the barriers we face. An instructor in Fine Arts for Georgia State University, Perimeter Colleges, and Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, her work has been hailed as “abrasively insightful” and “satirical sadism.”
“One thing that helps me maintain visibility is that I’m just one of those loud, abrasive, witty, and sassy people covered in tattoos, and I make my presence known. For a long time, I wanted to blend in, I wanted to feel normal, and then I stopped trying to be that way.”
Blinkhorn likes to create a stir. She likes to stand out and state her opinion. But she knows that doesn’t always lead to a resolution. “Sometimes you have to be hyper-vocal. But that, in fact, can lead to more conflict,” Blinkhorn shares. “Sometimes quiet reflection can say a lot more than angry spoken words. That is what these performances are meant to do. They are quiet reflection with an unspoken narrative.”
This June, “Reverence” is offered as a form of engagement for Taos. Blinkhorn asks that the community see the performances not as acts of conflict or confrontation, but of dialog and communication. The artist encourages us to embrace it as an opportunity.
“I think we all, at times, have felt invisible. I think that is a very human emotion and thought. We can walk by someone and never acknowledge them; that isn’t anything unique to a disabled person. The difference is, we need that acknowledgement because we are underacknowledged, or we are acknowledged for the wrong reasons.”
Blinkhorn doesn’t want any of us to feel invisible: “Don’t be afraid to speak your truth when it comes to what you need in order to maintain autonomy as a disabled or aging individual.”
Because it is 2021, Blinkhorn reminds us that “People need to exist. All people need to exist in this world … there needs to be a lot more talking and a lot more listening.”
J. Matthew Thomas is a founder and director of The Paseo Project. As the 2021 Artist in Residence for The Paseo Project, Jessica Blinkhorn will be performing in Taos every Friday in June, with locations to be announced on social media. The entire community, including the disabled, aging, and aged community of Taos are encouraged to come to these performances and interact with Blinkhorn by bringing a flower.
Taoseños may be familiar with Blinkhorn from her PASEO 2019 performance “Lay With Me,” where she performed a live transfer, inviting the attendees to join her in a hospital bed located in the middle of Civic Plaza Drive. Her work speaks of inclusion as much as it speaks to exclusion.