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Jessica Grindstaff is co-founder of Phantom Limb Company, a performing art and design company largely focused on visual storytelling, puppetry/dance and the environment. She is a set designer, director, visual artist and educator who has toured and taught around the world. A recent recipient of the Asian Cultural Council’s travel grant, she will travel to Japan for 9 weeks in 2018 to work with butoh artists, ancient puppetry families and meet with people who have chosen to stay in the Fukushima region. For previous projects she traveled to the geographic South Pole and later formed an expedition to find the world’s oldest living tree.

Intensely committed to unique collaborations against all odds, Jessica acknowledges that the deepest beauty comes from the mysteries discovered through connection.

Jessica Grindstaff
is In Wild Air


Karl Ove Knausgaard

I hesitate to write this because I’m afraid that you’ll later resent me for looping you into the world of Karl Ove Knausgaard. I’ve fallen in love and hate with him several times over, more often the latter over the course of the past five years. His series of personal novels is called My Struggle (sound familiar?).

In these five novels, KOK writes plainly about his life, letting go of his previous attentiveness to stylistic choices in writing. Some people call him the new Proust - I’m not sure about that but he is a man who writes in a new way - in painstaking and banal detail about his life. As it turns out the details may be banal but the life is nothing but. He introduces us to the grandeur of intimacy and intricacy. If this sounds like an oxymoron it is. The whole series leaves me often confused and more often than not, reluctantly relating.

There are 6 novels and the more attractive paperbacks come out every summer and have traditionally become my “beach reads” which leaves most of my friends scratching their heads. They are very long books and by all accounts not “light reading”. Still I cannot imagine sitting by the sea with out them after Vol. 6 comes out next summer.

I am quite sure that I saw Karl Ove in the subway once, a year or two ago. He was holding a small Halliburton briefcase or suitcase standing at the bottom of the steps down from street level at the Union Square 6. It was a busy time, many people rushing past and he stood there looking lost staring out into what was surely his own interior. I had a moment where I thought that I might say something to him but like I said, I still haven’t made out whether I am in love with him or if I am horrified. I love to be confused.


Guests at
Our Cocktail Party

Erik Sanko and I have been having a conversation for 20 years about what it would be like if such and such (insert deceased luminary here) were to meet such and such and what would they talk about. We decided to make a short film that is a cocktail party where all of these people are invited and finally meeting. They are of course all marionettes on an intricate lush set. Their conversations are collaged from pre-existing recorded dialogue of their actual voices. The big surprise is when the camera pans up revealing the puppeteers, I won’t spoil it.  

These are the people:
Harry Houdini
Louise Bourgeois
Groucho Marx
Alfred Hitchcock
Hellen Keller
Frida Khalo
Vladimir Nabokov
Ernest Shackleton
Georgia O’Keefe
Diane Arbus
Jean Michel Basquiat
Bill Baird
Joseph Beuys
TS Eliot
Derek Wolcott
Claude Cahoon
John Berger
Salvador Dali
Pina Bausch
David Bowie
Paul Klee
Egon Schiele
James Baldwin
John Lennon
Maya Angelou
Zora Neale Hurston
Captain Beefheart
Oliver Sacks
Joseph Campbell
Billie Holiday
Virginia Wolf
William S Burroughs
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Pablo Neruda
Italo Calvino
Maurice Sendak
Edward Gorey
Charles And Rae Eames
Charlie Chaplin
Buster Keaton
Nina Simone
Frank Lloyd Wright
Samuel Becket
Groucho Marx


The Architecture of Peter Zumthor

I want to take a pilgrimage starting with Thermal Val and stopping along the way at the Zinc Mine Museum, Brauder-Klaus Field Chapel, The Saint Benedict Chapel, the Steilneset Memorial… or maybe the other way around.

Peter Zumthor to me feels as if Anselm Keifer became an architect. He is an architect who has a deep and poetic understanding of materials, environment, and earth.  I have only seen photos of his work but it is very clear to me that I must visit some of the sites because the feeling of actually being in the spaces he has designed is a sensory experience that you cannot gather from a photograph.

There is an attention to “presence” in space that I try to create in performance and I have never seen an architect who so clearly holds this forward in his design values. Zumthor says: “Presence is like a gap in the flow of history, where all of [a] sudden it is not past and not future.” There is a stillness here, a halting. It would be amazing to create a performance in one of his chapels like Brauder-Klaus.

Also, Denmark.

My heart belongs in Denmark.  My favorite people are there. Danish people are not materialistic, they are present, they love to discuss things and bake bread in the forest. Their values run deep. The food and design are tops. The colors of the buildings in Copenhagen cheer you up even when it has rained for two weeks straight. You swim in the sea when it is cold and that is normal. People are fair, they are beautiful and they honor children.


Ceramics, Fragrance, & Soap

East Fork Pottery
I recently met a charming family at an alumni gathering at my beloved progressive boarding school (Buxton School). As it turns out, Alex Matisse is the grandson of Henri Matisse and he has a gorgeous pottery studio. Their sense of color and scale and lifestyle checks all the boxes for me of things that I would like to live with. Minimalist, elegant, handmade. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Douglas Little
My longtime friend and sometimes collaborator Douglas Little is one of those people who can kind of do anything.  One of the things that he does best is create fragrance. He takes a personal and emotional approach to perfume where he is both intuitive and exacting- a rare quality in an artist. He has just launched his own line Heretic. I once got a client because of one of his fragrances.

PELLE Folly Soaps
Soap inspired by architectural follies and natural ingredients. Who are these people Just look at them, I want to live with them in them and make a set design out of them all at once.


Dark Mountain Project

Over the past decade I’ve been working on a trilogy of large-scale theatre works involving puppetry, dance and installation with my partner Erik Sanko and our company Phantom Limb. Each piece is tied to climate change and nature and has started with an expedition to a desolate place that is hard to get to. First Antarctica, then the Eastern Sierras to find the world’s oldest living tree, and for the final instalment I will travel to Fukushima in January of 2018. While creating these pieces I read all the climate literature that I could get my hands on and through this research came across the Dark Mountain Project.

This is a collective of people that are facing the truth about climate change head on and allowing space for grief and connection. It is not a giving up but an acknowledgement that we have failed to maintain balances that we never even understood.  hey publish a journal available on their website - by the time it arrives from the UK you will forget that you ordered it but it is still worth it. They also have a kind of mini burning man that is about climate crisis and connecting off the grid in rural England. Their website is a bleak yet poetic rabbit hole that I keep jumping down.

In their words: “Climate change, which threatens to render all human projects irrelevant; which presents us with detailed evidence of our lack of understanding of the world we inhabit while, at the same time, demonstrating that we are still entirely reliant upon it. Climate change, which highlights in painful colour the head-on crash between civilization and ‘nature’; which makes plain, more effectively than any carefully constructed argument or optimistically defiant protest, how the machine’s need for permanent growth will require us to destroy ourselves in its name. Climate change, which brings home at last our ultimate powerlessness.”



My greatest inspiration comes from witnessing and sometimes interacting with nature and poetry. I could tell you a lot of stories about interactions with animals like the time a crow saved my life and how I returned the favor 30 years later, or how I saved a shark from near death overcoming my manic fear of them at the same time or how a deer approached me on the beach just at a life altering sunrise and reached down and gently touched my head with its antler as I was reliving a certain kind of heartbreak while simultaneously recovering the greatest love I’ll ever know… I could go on at length about natural phenomena and reflections on life but instead… a poem, choosing only one is painful.

By Ocean Vuong

It’s more like the sound

a doe makes
when the arrowhead

replaces the day

with an answer to the rib’s

hollowed hum.
We saw it coming

but kept walking through the hole

in the garden. Because the leaves

were bright green & the fire

only a pink brushstroke

in the distance. It’s not

about the light—but how dark

it makes you depending

on where you stand.

Depending on where you stand

his name can appear like moonlight

shredded in a dead dog’s fur.

His name changed when touched

by gravity. Gravity breaking

our kneecaps just to show us

the sky. We kept saying Yes—

even with all those birds.

Who would believe us

now? My voice cracking

like bones inside the radio.

Silly me. I thought love was real

& the body imaginary.

But here we are—standing

in the cold field, him calling

for the girl. The girl

beside him. Frosted grass
napping beneath her hooves.