Blog Salon #3 “Extremely Basic” by Jefferson Pinder

Salty South Carolina coast
Sand everywhere. In the grass, in my clothes, in my boots, in my nose, in my food.
Steamy, wet hot days of experience and agony.

You can smell the tropics in the air.

Trying to understand what brought me to this small East Coast Island.
It’s too hot. I can’t stand. I can’t lock my knees.
Trying not to fail. Trying not to break down.

Watching stronger people collapse. Does that make me stronger? Wondering
Who will be next?
I want my uniform, I want my dress blue uniform.
Don’t send me home. Don’t let me go, not without the uniform.

“What makes grass grow?”
“Blood, Blood, Blood.”
Is it true? Laying here on the ground I wonder, will it be my blood?
Are they talking about my blood? Or somebody else’s….
I hope the grass dies.

I stand.
“Hit the deck!”
I drop. I feel the sand against my face.
This is the routine.

Back up, and down, Back up and down.
The Instructor watches, I’m thin and athletic.
I bounce off the ground and rebound to my feet.
I’ve got this thing. I could do it all day.
My body is too young to hurt.

No matter what they make me do,
I enjoy showing off.
I’m only 130lbs but,
I’m stronger than they think
My body was genetically prepared for this work, falling, getting up.
But my mind was not, that’s how they got me.

Everybody has a breakdown on Parris Island. It’s inevitable. The environment is designed for it.

This was my finest performance piece. I can’t remember how we marched to the grenade range. I don’t remember how I had a live grenade in my hand.

“If you drop it, boy, I’m gonna put your body on top of it! I’m not dying for you.”

This was the mantra of the instructors. We weren’t worth dying for. We were recruits.

We knew very little.

You’d think throwing an object like a grenade would be easy.
“Pull the pin, throw the Explosive and duck.”

Easy. You can’t fuck it up.

My finger was wrapped around the pin.
I couldn’t breathe. I hooked it good with my index finger. It was sweaty.

The grenade dropped. The sound was metal on concrete.

The Drill Instructor threw my body on the grenade.

I could feel the baseball shaped explosive under my flack jacket. Near the center, to the right of chest.

I waited to die. I had failed. It was going to explode. That’s a fact.

I was on the grenade, my instructor was on top of me. I waited to die.

The longest ten seconds of my life. Silence. Was I dead?

No. I can still feel the pressure of the metal against my flack jacket, against my chest. I can still feel his knee in my back.

No explosion. 15 secs, 20 secs

We both get up. The pin is still in the grenade. Barely.
The instructor grabs the grenade, pulls the pin and throws it.

It explodes down field and my heart drops. They pull me up, take me aside and quickly place another in my hand. They gather everyone around.

I must explain. I cry. I collapse.

Miracles happened on Parris Island on a regular basis.

Such a strange a peculiar moment that not a day goes by that I don’t think about that experience in one-way or another. I would go as far as to say, that everything I needed to learn about performance, I learned in Boot Camp.

I embraced the extreme experience of subjugation.

Learning to fall is something that is often rehearsed repeatedly in the military and in acting conservatories. For learning to fall is something that can be done naturally if you disable thought. Actually a great theatre professor told me that your body knows how to collapse intuitively when you pass-out. Unconsciously, your legs fold up and allows for a rather poetic and slow motion breakdown.

In the Marine Corps being horizontal on the ground is often considered to be a position of power. They call it the ‘prone’ position. You’re situated belly down on the earth and it is the most stable of all rifle firing positions. How do you garner strength in a fallen position? You make a plan so that when you spring back up, you are stronger than before, or at least you try to create the illusion.


 [box]Jefferson Pinder – Jefferson Pinder’swork has been featured in numerous group shows including exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw, Poland. Although he considers his work to have a regional style and flavor, he stresses the universality of his themes and travels around the globe to seek inspiration. Pinder has spent time in Dakar, Mexico City, Khartoum and Hanoi working on projects that deal with race, identity and social mobility. Mr. Pinder’s work was featured at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery exhibition “Recognize”. Currently he is showing new work in the traveling exhibition “After 1968″, which originated at the High Museum in Atlanta. In the Spring of 2012 his performance piece ‘Ben-Hur’ was featured at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Pinder is represented by G-Fine Art Gallery in Washington, DC and Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco.

Jefferson Pinder, a Chicago based video/performance artist, seeks to find black identity through the most dynamic circumstances. His experimental videos and films feature minimal performances that reference music videos and physical theatre. Pinder’s work provides personal and social commentary in accessible and familiar format. Inspired by soundtracks, Pinder utilizes hypnotic popular music and surreal performances to underscore themes dealing with blackness. Jefferson received his BA in Theatre from the University of Maryland, and studied at the Asolo Theatre Conservatory in Sarasota, FL. In 2000, Jefferson returned to the University of Maryland to receive his MFA in Mixed Media. Pinder was an Assistant Professor of theory, performance and foundations at the University of Maryland, College Park Art Department from 2003-2011. Currently he is an Associate Professor in the Contemporary Practices department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Next Public Appearance: Miami Art Projects, December 2012, Patricia Sweetow Gallery – Embracing the FARB: Modes of Reenactment, Glass Curtain Gallery. November 15th, 2012-February 9th, 2013

Current Projects: Presentation of Escape Artist Research at Embracing the FARB: Modes of Reenactment, Glass Curtain Gallery. November 15th, 2012-February 9th, 2013. Participating artist for Du Bois Project at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Fall 2013 [/box]




  1. I appreciate the moment half way through the first section/performance text when I realize you are talking about being in boot camp. I also like the choice/surprise of your photo coming after that first section. The moment of lying on top of that grenade becomes an instructive figure. Also the trauma of it becoming housed in the body. I also like the title. “Extremely Basic” referring to basic training, and the “basic” skill of learning how to fall. I wonder whether it is the falling that is basic, or the learning how to get up over and over again? I’m also struck by the relation between “prone” and “power.” And the kind of basic, normative figure of the soldier at war. Solider figurines in the hands of children. Shoot-em-up arcade/video/computer game controls in the hands of anyone. To gather power from being close to the earth, blending in, being stealth, snipers picking people off from unknown locations. To duck for cover, to drop in fear, to drill it in like an instinct. The contractions. The muscle memory.

  2. I am floored by what unites us and informs our Black American-ness.
    I know not everyone can fall into the rhythm of these words and be pulled into a memory of cousins, fathers, uncles, and brothers as I was. I never defined myself as coming from a military family but these words resonate along multiple threads that nudges me to believe that our shared history of training for combat, whether direct or felt secondhand via a family member, alerts me to a subtly different reality.

  3. Thank you for this potent piece. I swear I felt that same grenade poke into my ribs too as I read it. Terrifying to wait for the annihilation. I connect with your words “my body is too young to hurt.” Thinking about how pain and the call to endure it is transmitted from our families (also calls to mind Xandra’s piece). The part that really kicked me in the gut was about embracing extreme subjugation. One time I was at the Berkeley Marina and a guy on a bad trip from the nearby raid attacked me while naked and desperate. I knew he was just trying to come up for air. I calculated the distance, and knew I could not achieve velocity in time, so I lay down and waited for him to land on me. Then I kicked him in the chest with both legs and felt badly while he got cuffed and saw his face being ground into the dirt. Stayed around to make sure he was ok….Body being genetically programmed to get back up, but not the mind – this I can also relate to. I have until recently experienced my body as capable of doing anything I willed it to do, but heading towards 50 (and the inscription of effort that it leaves in my muscles, bones, discs, nerve pathways) is showing me how resilience really lives (if anywhere I can summon it) in my heart and soul. The men in my family who served in the military all died of broken hearts and cirrhosis of the liver. Not the resilience I hope to tap into. Your words make me want to find what warrior might really mean.

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