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Jonathan Crimmins

first performed on January 03, 2020
performed eight times in 2020


Michael Costagliola, Jonathan Crimmins, Anne Cecelia DeMelo, Lance K. Lewis, Ash Mayers, Jeannipher Pacheco, Bryce Payne, Rava Raab, Jorge Sánchez-Díaz, Izzy Sazak, Priscilla Villanueva, and Jenna Zafiropoulos

Brooklyn, NY


“Term of Art” draws on Supreme Court transcripts to examine the relationship between two contemporary instances of US American injustice: the inhumane and ongoing detentions of refugees and immigrants inside our borders, and the torture and indefinite detention without trial of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

A cast of four speakers performs a series of fugitive, fragmentary scenes tracing subtle shifts in meaning. The speakers take on many voices—of immigrants, lawyers, detainees, parents, children, judges, artists, reporters, teachers, and guards—as their movements oscillate between artful and mundane, coercive and loving.

Onstage, a transcriptionist struggles to do justice to the material of injustice. Near the end of each performance, she reads her transcript—a partial rendering of a partial rendering of legal arguments that were themselves partial, both biased and incomplete. A microphone records her voice, manipulates it, and plays it back as she continues to read, accompanying herself.

The piece began as an adaptation of a painting by Mexican artist Martín Ramírez, who immigrated to the US in 1925 and spent much of the rest of his life detained in US facilities. It is deeply informed by the works of writers and artists Mansoor Adayfi, Moath al Alwi, Khalid Qasim, and Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who are or were detained at Guantánamo. It became a cry of outrage at the detention of refugees in the US, and the use of art as a therapeutic means of helping children adjust to what ought to be unthinkable.

Ramírez pieced together envelopes, paper bags, and other scraps using a paste made of potatoes and saliva. Khalid Qasim uses gravel collected from the prisoners’ exercise yard to add texture and dimension to his paintings. A child in a Texas detention center used a “Female UAC” restroom sign as the base for a model of a church from home. By manipulating the materials of their surroundings, these artists reclaim, to some degree, their agency. They change the terms of their confinement.

In drawing on Supreme Court transcripts, “Term of Art” emphasizes the materiality of the law, the fact that, like the works of Ramírez and Qasim, it’s made of what happens, what’s at hand. Though we like to imagine law as smooth, whole, and unbiased, it’s more like a canvas pasted together with potatoes and spit. It has been and can be manipulated—which also means it can change.