Barbara Jeanne Jenkins

June 20 – July 4, 2021

Enid Smith, “Dove Dance: an activation of 100 Days 100 Doves,” 6/30/21

“100 Days 100 Doves”

by Lynne Warren

The Beating of the Wings

Tethered by a thread
of man’s making
the hen sparrow perished,
dangled on a fishing line she’d 
brought to bind her nest.

The bird dangled for days
until, even in the cold days of spring, she stank, 
unnoticed in the porch’s eaves—
The humans bound tight in man’s afflictions
were stupidly unable to glance upwards.

Now think of prayer
and of things dropped into voids but trapped
like the bird, helpless, fluttering on her filament
until she died.
And our kind, who, with no trouble at all,
could have snipped the string,
did not see, nor hear her pleas or
the beating of her wings.

A poem for a dead bird that touched my heart and made me feel small, inhuman, to allow such needless suffering. The death happened long ago, but lingered in my mind and with the convergence of our pandemic experiences and viewing Barbara Jeanne Jenkins’s “100 Days 100 Doves” came to the forefront of my consciousness. How many of our human actions or inactions inflict cruelty on creatures we don’t see, or can’t even imagine? Yet our own suffering, through sickness, fear of sickness, pulls the gaze inward as the lockdown placed focus on the close-at-hand in a way unprecedented for many. The compact balcony planted with flowers and vegetables that became the gallery Bird Show is such a space, examined closely because of confinement at home. In “normal” times, it is liable to be mostly ignored and certainly not explored for every surface, nook, and vista into the environment beyond. Its transformation into a public space for art invites others to experience it. Placed all about the small balcony, the birds gleam even in the dusk light, and multiply any viewpoint with upturned beaks, outstretched wings, and implied motion.

Jenkins created her  project in the confinement of the pandemic, inspired by the notion of creatively staying at home and by the actions of close neighbors, in particular a young person who had rescued some doves. Jenkins’s doves are not of the common variety seen in Chicago, the mourning dove (so named because of its mournful call), but are plump and white with bright yellowish-orange beaks and legs. Many have a friendly, comical feel about them, while some are awkward, misshapen, or even twinned and fused together. All are unique and individualized, not how we big clumsy humans often perceive birds. Most of the time birds fade to the background of our perceptions, present mostly for their vocalizations which mainly go ignored. But not for Jenkins. She calls her hundred birds totems, and refers to the dove’s ancient association with peace. For me they are inspirational objects, pulling up personal memories, causing me to reflect on what is at hand, and understand more than ever the importance of close bonds, community, and awareness of the world around us.