J.J. McCracken

Thirst, and the Martyr 2011 performance  image: Margaret Boozer

Washington, DC


·         eating clay casts of vegetables in large quantities

·         hauling water in vessels that spill

·         wearing a steel gag and using the body to thaw text frozen in a sheet of ice

These are some of the challenges J.J. McCracken's performers face as they activate the installations she designs and builds. Characters are desperate for nutrition, but consumption is empty (non-nutritious) or altogether foiled. Workers build, and their product decays in front of them. Any sense of achievement is only momentary.

"I don't set out to make work about suffering. I don't love asking my audience to watch me suffer. But I am so angry at my own impotence—I feel too small to make a difference. From inside my own perspective, my labor is huge and taxing. But it makes little dent in the wider world, and I have yet to find another way to apprehend these terrible observations of things around me... I am looking for triumph (and beauty) in the grimy, snotty reality of perseverance." 

J.J. McCracken received a B.A. in Anthropology from The College of William and Mary in 1995, an M.F.A. in Studio Art from The George Washington University in 2005, and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2012. McCracken is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, recently including a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award, and a grant from the Puffin Foundation.

J.J. McCracken teaches at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. and has exhibited at venues across the United States. She is currently building large scale projects with the generous support of a position as Artist-In-Residence at Margaret Boozer's Red Dirt Studio in Mt. Rainier, MD.

the still point 

J.J. McCracken will perform "the still point,” beginning at 5 pm on Friday, June 7 and running through 5 pm on Saturday, June 8 in Dark Star Park (1655 N. Fort Myer Drive, Rosslyn, VA). 

"the still point" is about cyclical time—Earth spins daily on its axis and annually orbits the sun. That it is a full 24-hour durational work is thus important. That it is an endurance performance is also important; I want to shoulder the weight of the hours as I mark their passing.

I am calling this new piece “the still point,” in reference to T.S. Eliot's 4 Quartets— specifically “Burnt Norton,” the first of the four. Lucy Lippard mentions the line "the still point of the turning of the world" in an essay on Nancy Holt. And Holt occasionally references Eliot as an influence. The poem is, in part, about time and perception, human relationship to time, awareness of that relationship, awareness of perception itself.

Some of the planned activity includes:
• filling a funnel with sand that drains out completely every hour, in order to mark the hours as they pass
• climbing one sphere in order to reach that funnel's height and fill it
• pushing a cart with another performer on it around the periphery of the park, in order that they, as a semi-static observer, may orbit the park itself while observing it

The act of observing will be highlighted as part of the activity. 

The very ability of the performers to engage in their labor for 24 straight hours is a focus. I use the funnel because it is one-directional, finite, and requires an operator. As a tool, it gets at what I want to explore in the maintenance of human-imposed time structure.
I read Dark Star Park as an observatory. First and foremost, as a station for observing time itself. I am interested in the years August 1 arrives and the shadows don’t align until just after 9:33 am (instead of the usual 9:32 am sharp). Astronomers attribute this to Earth’s wobble on its axis. I am thinking about the slipping accuracy of something so seemingly huge and (unchanging?) as aligning our structuring of time on our relationship with the sun, and about what we learn during misalignment.
Nancy Holt reminds us that all things are flexible. She reinforces this notion with her title, Dark Star Park. A dark star can reference the darkening of a heavenly body, such as in an eclipse (Holt’s interest in perception and bodily movement certainly pulls this into our focus). One body may occult another, obscuring our view, as it is from our particular and relative positioning. A dark star can also be a “sun” that has burned out, reminding us of the finite nature of physical things and the length of time until that information reaches us. And a dark star can be a body akin to a pulsar (an artifact of a SUPERNOVA)—a body so big and devoid of light that it is mostly invisible to us; we may only perceive it through its effect on other bodies.
Perhaps in my human activity, I will fail as Timekeeper.
Endurance performance has a long history, as a genre within an art genre in this fastevolving contemporary artworld. The "grandmother of performance art," Marina Abramovic, has received considerable and wide attention in the past several years. Between her relatively recent retrospective at MOMA in New York City) "The Artist is Present," and the formation of the upcoming Marina Abramovic Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art, the medium has found sound footing/acceptance. Institutions now teach performance art as a discipline, alongside painting, sculpture, photography, ceramics, etc., granting it a certain academic validation.
I personally gravitate toward this medium because, for me, the performed action provides an entry point into an artwork like no other. A body’s simple presence touches the personal. Its activity suggests finite connection: inside our decision to be witness or participant, we may locate testimony to our being. Weaving bodily activity into a multi-sensory, immersive environment allows me to construct a new, hyperphysical reality where we find ourselves suspended, fully engaged, and newly opened to the ideas set forth. That performance art is time-dependent, like Dark Star Park, provides poignancy and solicits our full attention, lest the thing we are trying to ascertain disappear when we look away, and be lost.


photo: Thirst, and the Martyr 2011

performance image: Margaret Boozer