by MAX KING CAP
The enormously popular silent film star Harold Lloyd lost his right thumb in a special effects accident and afterward wore onscreen a special glove to camouflage its loss. It did not alter his penchant for mad, physical trials. The prosthetic can be clearly seen in one of the most famous images in cinema, the daredevil comedian, high above the city, hanging from the hands of a clock. Performance artist Jeremiah Barber has yet to meet such a bloody interruption in his work but he is well on his way. The assorted sunburns and abrasions, strained muscles, sprains and cuts are simply the fine print of his job description. All of his works, however, do not involve extreme physical mortification. They are sometimes elegant and lyrical. His I Spend the Day Walking Through Clouds, and Walking the Earth (2007) is as tender a rendition of Thoreau’s ethos as might be conceived. The artist walks the more industrial precincts of the city, barefoot and gunny sacked, tossing into the air and walking through billows of flour as if adding his meager homage to the majestic sky. He, of course, becomes covered in white, transforming into a cloud himself. With his wife and collaborator, Ingrid Rojas, he inserts himself into nature as if attempting to reclaim a lost membership, a camaraderie abandoned but now deeply missed.
Unlike the traditional genus of performance art based on endurance, exhibitionism, and transgression Mr. Barber, with and without Ms. Rojas, creates works that are resonantly
contemplative, despite the strenuous methods sometimes used to achieve them; theatrically engaging—there are no mundane actions elevated to mock poetry—and richly charismatic—the works possess a wit and complexity that delivers pleasure to its audience instead of demanding an ascetically virtuous and unrewarded patience. Old Growth (2008) pictured here was featured at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and is reprised in these photos in a Michigan forest. Through a sequence of athletic trials and errors the artist raises and vaults upon a heavy log until he manages to sit atop it, finally balanced. Conjuring thoughts of both industrialization and a return to nature Old Growth is a struggle with our desires and the consequences of our achievements.
Most ruminative of the recent works is House of White Water (2008), a tandem work with Ms. Rojas where she is both ship and siren. On a California shoreline staring into the setting sun the couple contort themselves into a historical tableaux of mythic vessel and mariner. Ms. Rojas, belly on the sand, reaches back to grasp her ankles, forming a bridge deckfor Mr. Barber to helm. He sits athwart her, protected by her gunwale arms; she, a fierce figurehead, pointed brazenly out to sea. When the waves come they are deluged but resistant. Even the camera that documents their action is upended, filling with salt water, but they persevere, fully dedicated, indulgent in their madness that together they can circumnavigate the globe.