The practice of Steffani Jemison uncovers vernacular genealogies for cultural practices and technologies like writing, drawing, and performance. How do we move? How are we moved by each other? How do we have the courage to pour ourselves into another without fear of depletion? Can this help us find an alternative to goal-oriented, hierarchical vocabularies of “teaching” and “learning”? The video work Sensus Plenior is a study of language, gesture, and movement through the practice of pantomime in the black church. The work documents a sequence of gestures as they unfold in the body of Reverend Susan Webb, leader of Master Mime Ministry of Harlem. By forcing the lyrics of gospel songs into chains of gesture, the mime’s body becomes a tool for channeling the meaning, but also the mystery, of the Word. Rather than clarifying language through language, Webb’s gestures situate interpretation within the affective register of the body, in a place where language cannot reach. Susan Webb rejects “performance” as a descriptor for her work—instead preferring the word “ministry.” Relay, echo, identification, and mirroring are central to the concepts of pantomime and mimicry. Ministers model the activity of opening the body to the spirit in order to make oneself absolutely receptive, allowing the body to be a vessel or medium that pours to another vessel that pours to another vessel.
The video was researched, rehearsed, and shot in winter-spring 2017 and completed in summer 2017. Sensus Plenior was co-commissioned by Osei Bonsu for CAPC Bordeaux and Jeu de Paume in connection with Bonsu’s curatorial platform Economy of Living Things. The work was recently shown as part of the 2019 Whitney Museum, Whitney Biennial in New York.
This video has been selected as part of a programmatic take over by independent curator, Daisy Desrosiers.
Note that the language on Sensus Plenior was graciously provided by the artist.
Featuring: Rev. Susan Webb
Sound engineer: Sean T. Davis / theHalfStyle
Music performed by: Mazz Swift (violin) and Brandon Lopez (bass)
Additional recording: Steffani Jemison and Sean T. Davis
Acknowledgements: Church of the Master Presbyterian Church; Memorial Baptist Church; Rejoice Ministries – The Church of Healing; Full Faith Christian Center; Master Mime Ministry of Harlem (Doris Collins, Sparkle Lee, Star Lee, Crystal Swinton); Rev. Patricia A. Reeberg; Minister Bernetta Rivers; Rev. Dr. Renee F. Washington Gardner
Co-production: Jeu de Paume; Fondation Nationale des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques, Paris ; and CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux