Review: Everything I’ve Got by Jess Dobkin
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(Désolé, ce blogue est seulement disponible en anglais.)

As the Montreal premiere for her first full length feature, Jess Dobkin’s “Everything I’ve Got” certainly lived up to its namesake by spilling out idea after precious idea of unrealized and unborn performance ideas from years in the making.

Continuing her startling and heartwarming approach to the concept of vulnerability, Dobkin opens up her notebooks with a palpable sense of urgency and unleashes a flood of one liner ideas from “borrow dogs” to “buy stocks, and sell them” and constructs them into a modern day living shrine.

While perhaps on paper they seem precocious, in live execution, Dobkin’s unwittingly trademark deadpan openness and lack of personal filter brings you into a world of the utmost intimacies and vulnerabilities that any human should hardly be able to stand. From the opening image of a hoodie-clad Dobkin stripping away her layers to reveal the unfleshed dream of a human mirror ball, to the intricate shadow puppetry via a visual presenter for the fable of the unicorn–which arguably stands in for the livelihood of contemporary queers–Dobkin goes on a journey of self-investigation that ranges from dildo-borne alter egos to video-based worm holes, escalating the dreamscape of audience participation into a nexus beyond the expectations of endurance-based performance art.

While the imagery and concepts were at times disjointed, there were powerful moments of narrative that brokered the darkest of black humour and the most honest of self-doubt. The piece as a whole has a feeling it sits unfinished, and as the third showing, it is arguable the piece remains shifting in how it approaches the tedious subject matter of “what is performance?”
If we are to understand the construction of images as performance as two fold, one of which questions where the image comes from, and one which questions where the image is intended, Dobkin’s performance would come up unfinished as the ideas presented are not fully processed by the artist for what they could mean within a larger frame, namely, within the frame of historicity. They currently stand as valid ideas, remaining in notebooks, poignantly shared on stage with such an earnest rawness that it’s difficult to judge, but as a captive audience, there must be a reason for witnessing this performance, and that communication is not yet clear in its execution, but the sentiment to engage is there.

Some of the most interesting elements were the use of diegetic sound, where the rustling of paper was heard off stage, but unseen on (yet unexplored), and the use of prerecorded video altering our live perception of performance was cleverly employed to further expand the limitations of the body on stage.

While her use of dildos is certainly not shocking, nor is it meant to be, an audience question afterwards reminds me that Dobkin’s curiosity with her body, especially her orifices as a performance tactic, remains uncommon in its no nonsense delivery, and is truly an uncommon treat to witness as most other performers hold onto an unfitting ideology or routine when their efforts are actually unnecesssary or blasé in its delivery.

Certainly resembling a suturing of moments easily lost and an exploration of what is “allowed” in the realm of live performance, “Everything I’ve Got” stands as one of the bravest demonstrations of performance I have ever witnessed, avidly asking the stunned audience in a matter of utmost vulnerability, “Do you know what I mean?”.  We may not, but perhaps that is the point, as the lingering question of how we share our most intimate moments is more a question to the audience of how we accept such intimate moments, and unfortunately, it does not appear that we yet know how to embrace intimacy and vulnerability without prefabricated judgments and expectations.

Amy Fung

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