The Monthly Ekphrastic: Jessi Reaves’s Watertight Shelf With Zippers

Each month, Dilettante Army’s editors choose an exhibit or art happening for resident poet Molly Jean Bennett to address in a poem or short series of poems. For this installment, Molly addresses a new work of sculpture by Jessi Reaves: Watertight Shelf With Zippers, which is currently on view as part of the Whitney Biennial.

In Biennial curator Christopher Y. Lew’s essay for the exhibition’s catalogue, he calls Reaves’s sculpture-furniture hybrids “the artistic corollary to Bob the Drag Queen’s ratchet drag. Like Bob’s drag style that spins ghetto into gold, Reaves’s work is a hyperbolic take on the artisanal aesthetic that pervades while simultaneously riffing on iconic modernist pieces.”[1] According to the wall text, Reaves uses “found objects, industrial products, fabrics, and foam”[2] to create pieces that “summon a lyrical—rather than functional—association with the body.”[3]

In Watertight Shelf With Zippers, Reaves has applied sawdust mixed with glue to the joints of the wooden shelf. This substance is usually used to repair irregularities in a piece of furniture, but Reaves uses it instead as a “decorative flourish.”[4] Here is how the wall text interprets the gesture: “Rejecting the sleek craftsmanship of ‘iconic’ midcentury design, Reaves exaggerates markers of construction in an almost aggressive abundance.”[5]

With aggression and abundance, our correspondent responds to Reaves’s work in free verse.


Watertight Shelf With Zippers
After Jessi Reaves

From a very young age she was taught to want
things. The language of want came just after

fluency in the language of need. She was good
at both, it turned out. Milk, warmth, touch, then

the grabbable snout of a plastic hippo. A lustrous
shred of gardening twine. The tight waist of her

sister’s favorite doll. She grew and acquired
objects, soon too many to hold. How should one

keep one’s things? If only it were possible
to zipper them inside the body like organs—

the liver the spleen the left lung the right lung—
everything in its proper, mortal place. Buttressed

and breathing—liquid, solid, gas. She wished for
a life like a sousaphone case or a lockbox

for well-kept recording equipment—each
thing fitted to its own foam nest. Snugged.

Getting makes the want grow bigger. Bigger
begets longing begets snugging begets getting.

Build me a home for all this, lord, she would
pray. Goddess, give me a strange dry place.



[1] Lew, Christopher Y. “All Together Now (You Better Work).” Whitney Biennial 2017 Catalogue, edited by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks. New York, NY: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2017.

[2] Whitney Museum of American Art. Museum label for Jessi Reaves, Watertight Shelf With Zippers. New York, NY, 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.