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by Beate Bermann-Enn

(San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery, San Diego) Jim Jenkins is a master at art to look at, art to ponder and art that moves. Countering the predictable label of ‘whimsey’ to the moving, clattering, twirling and working figures with their close kinship to toys, Jenkins has incorporated in his latest series the additional stimulus of words.

Visually complex and intriguing is Questions, in which an exposed motorized mechanism, about seven feet above the floor, is pulling a knife up. Once it reaches the apex, the knife drops onto a wooden plaque on the ground with the words "Do" and "Die" carved out on opposite sides of the center line. Random chance will determine the dire choices. As the viewer's eyes follow the knife's upward journey prior to its next plunge, parts of the the sentence "Questions of Our Worth Persist Throughout Our Lives" are encountered on a drum, read through a lense on the mechanism above. The seriousness of that sentence, underscored by the forceful action of the knife below, straddles this work between the realms of art and philosophy.

Much more disguised by lightheartedness is the far smaller wall-mounted work Learning to Walk/Dance. In this work Jenkins alludes to the idea of the unseen puppeteer who holds the strings that make us act. He has given the puppeteer the beaked mask of the schemer, the wicked one, used in many other pieces. Here the beak-masked, dark, smooth stick-figure above holds the strings to the rough hewn wooden figure below. As the motorized puppeteer moves his hands, the wooden stick figure below dances/walks. Only the upper figure is motorized, so that the element of chance and random movement is alluded to in the jerky movements of the puppet below. Again, words add another layer of meaning: As the action proceeds, the lines "Don't Look at Me" and "I Am Going to Ring the Bell" roll past a little window. The first line refers to the embarassment felt when one is in the middle of learning a skill; the second one of triumph in the achievement.

“Questions”, mixed media with
motor/knife, 101 x 22 x 22”, 1996.




"Learning to Walk/Dance,"
mixed media.
Photo: Melinda Holden


"Image Maker," mixed media.
Photo: Melinda Holden

Similar to Learning to Walk/Dance is another small wall-mounted work which builds on the idea of the artist as an Image Maker, and those are indeed the words that flash at the viewer from a small sign as this work moves: A beak-masked pink figure below works a crank, which makes a helpless dark figure on a shaft spin around.

One of the most complex works, and the newest from Jenkins, depends entirely on words and word fragments, without the inclusion of the more ‘whimsical’ toy-like figures. The German sentence "Kunst ist Verhunst", roughly translated in colloquial terms to "Art is messed up,” spin and twirl around their own axis as they spin around a common center point. In that motion they form new word-fragment connections with even more mysterious meanings. The visual here is rather graphic and linear. The spinning, circular motion is reminisent of constellations in the sky.