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  • Writer's pictureJason Jenn

A Jester’s Illumination

“GRID” – by David Jester (a work still in process)

Jesters and Fools can reveal harsh truths in a manner that we can process.

I experienced a masterpiece of art this week, and I have seen enough phenomenal art in my days to recognize one when I see it and can call it out when so moved. The painting “GRID” by David Jester continues to haunt me with the series of intense and profound emotions it conjures. The painting’s scale and composition compels the viewer in with its luminous beauty that envelops a completely devastating and heartbreaking message upon further contemplation. I sat in its glow enraptured as if staring at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, as its dream-like images stirred up so many profound and complicated feelings that have been culminating inside me during the past several months.

It depicts thirteen men submerged in a pool, as if floating simultaneously in water and in the heavens. Indeed, the heavens, for the figures are swimming and drowning, serving as a powerful metaphor for those who died in the AIDS crisis. Meanwhile, above the surface of the water, fancy dressed viewers either watch idly by doing nothing or looking away, ignoring the problem.

David has transmuted an emotional tsunami into a work of art with so much beauty that one can look into the dark void and contemplate its horrors without running away. It’s a powerful and important work (even in the unfinished form that this poor, quick cell phone image shows), and one that belongs to everyone. In fact, David explained the piece is not for sale, but is intended in the future to be given to an AIDS organization that can display it for all. It is, in every sense of the word, a gift. You may, as I greatly encourage you to do so if capable, acquire other works at

I have been reminded a lot lately that while my generation and I did not experience the full trauma and devastation of losing so many friends, colleagues, and loved ones that many of my older friends had during the AIDS epidemic, that we experience the loss through the lives and stories of our friends and mentors who lived through it and survived with scars, and we experience the loss of never having met some wonderful and amazing people that we would call friends were they alive today. There are missing people in our lives and most of us are unaware of the full impact.

Watching the AIDS crisis unfold on television and witnessing the complacent inaction and holier than thou attitude of the political leadership kept me in the closet as a child, scared to death of expressing my true self. While I am grateful that has changed and I am so very out these days, we as a society and culture have yet to learn the lessons of that era and evolve. The toxic cocktail of religion and politics continues to fight for its right to judge others and doing so much wrong, while professing it possesses righteousness.

Today, a whole new generation of fat cats, on-lookers, and do-nothings exist as one after another crisis of humanity and compassion takes place at our borders and within our very neighborhoods, on the streets and in our cupboards, as the unseen ripple effects of our economic choices ravages the environment. When any group of people are dehumanized, we all lose our humanity. When any animals and plants are seen as Other and we separate ourselves from them, we alienate our own souls. People and animals are “drowning” at an alarming rate across the world – and if we don’t take some serious action, we’re all in that pool together, not just one by one or two by two, but like lemmings sliding off en masse.

I still hold on to a sense of hope to get through this current calamity, but I know that hope can be quite the opiate, keeping folks inactive when we should be fighting and doing something to make a difference. We HOPE someone else will deal with these complicated issues that are way beyond our abilities. Some savior figure will come again to save the day or some scientist will deliver a break through and fix the problem. A fairy godmother might as well wave her magic wand and make it better. But we are losing things every moment that we can never get back.

We cannot give into despair though, as that is an equally paralyzing force. Recently, I performed a new piece “Qreatures: The (w)Hole Story” for the closing reception the glendaleOUT exhibition. I prefaced the piece explaining to audiences that my inner child was frightened by everything going on in the world today, and the performance addressed the mass extinction of animals that is taking place on this planet due to human overpopulation and our vast consumerism. But I dealt with the issues as if Mister Rogers were guiding the process.

In the end, I used the tried and true metaphor of how caterpillars turn into butterflies via the process of imaginal cells, and aptly named natural phenomena. I ended the story by blowing bubbles and asking audience members to keep blowing more as I passed around bubble makers. Bit by bit, bubbles popped, but more appeared to take their place – floating to provide a bit of whimsey.

The imaginal cells appear in the body of the mass consuming caterpillar and are systematically wiped out by the caterpillar white blood cell defense mechanism. But eventually after a long struggle, the imaginal cells fight back, join with other imaginal cells, and finally overwhelm and take over. The caterpillar stops its mass consuming ways and eventually inside its cozy little chrysalis, is broken down into goo, before emerging anew as a butterfly. We can only “hope” that our greedy, hungry capitalistic caterpillar society can be reformed as well – but it will take a massive amount of imaginal cells and a lot of action to overturn our current plight.

Team Imaginal, let’s keep fighting for life.

imaginal cell bubble – photos by Andrew Adam Caldwell

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