Anchorite at the Jamestown Arts Center. (Burning Down The House/Yellow Peril Gallery)


Jennifer Avery


For Burning Down the House At the James town Art Center curated by Robert P. Stack of Yellow Peril Gallery

performers: Jennifer L Avery, Valerie Cardenas, Shelley Gresko, Zac Costa, Michael Patnaude,  Mother Addie-line Mitchell, Chris Novello

Anchorite is a multi-media performance art piece by Jennifer Avery. Exploring notions of home and sanctuary, Gesamtkunstwerk studio practice, personal mythology, femininity and childhood Avery will recreate the abode and practice of an medieval religious hermit. If home is where the heart is, what is a place that is heart soul and body?

Historical Background of the Anchorite:

The anchorite's was one of the most extreme of the religious lives of the middle Ages: it inspired awe in contemporaries, and has held a morbid fascination for modern observers. It was a life of strict and irreversible enclosure, entered into in an elaborate ceremony during which the last rites were administered, and at the conclusion of which the door to the reclusory would be walled up. An anchorite who left their enclosure could be forcibly returned by the authorities, and faced damnation in the hereafter.

Is an intensive studio practice a contemporary Anchorage? What are the connection between a home and tomb?

Both men and women embraced the anchoritic life. However, women outnumbered men throughout the period — perhaps because of medieval prejudices concerning women (whose unruly bodies needed to be kept under strict control), or perhaps simply because the range of religious vocations open to women was more limited than that available to men.

Is an anchorage a feminist action?

The cell or reclusory was most often sited adjoining the parish church. A narrow window or “squint” looked into the church, and afforded the anchorite a view of the altar. A second window opened on the outside world (often into a parlor) and allowed the anchorite to converse with visitors. Some “cells” had several rooms; some had gardens attached to them.

Is the gallery a church? Is the gallery and/or church a home?

However, the solitary life of the anchorite could not be lived alone. A servant was required to bring food and remove waste, and to attend to visitors. Aelred of Rievaulx, who wrote an influential “Rule” for anchorites advised having two: an older woman, for her sober influence, and a younger, to do the fetching and carrying. Material support had to be in place before the authorities would sanction enclosure: anchorites had, therefore, to be of independent means. They were also the recipients of alms and grants from all levels of society, from the king down to their fellow parishioners.

Is anything possible without money and friends? Is a sex-worker that different from a religious hermit or artist? What happens when art and pray are commodities?

In return, anchorites gave themselves entirely to prayer and meditation — interceding for the world and patrons, and occasionally (like Julian of Norwich) touching the heights of contemplation — having chosen, like Martha's sister Mary, “the better part”.

Does the anchorite/artist have a choice?

A few words from Avery on the artist as a contemporary Anchorite:

The artist as a medium or the artist is the medium.

Is the artist a portal do the unconscious and divine, or is the artist the work of art herself?

I did not choose to make art, I have to make art. I spend many hours alone in my studio, touching/getting touched by “the divine.“ I consider it my second home. I carry a portable studio in my pocket book, and instantly feel at home whenever I take out something to sew- subways, glamorous parties, beaches- oh anywhere.  With the sweet understanding of my partner we have converted my home into a series of rooms that serve my art practice, from libraries to instillation living rooms to a costume room. Not even my bedroom is safe as the sewing pins and rose petals in my bed can attest.

My practice is my life. My practice is my home. My practice is my sanctuary