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Wherefore Art Thou, Penis?
Jacqueline Novak on her lyrical, epic deconstruction of the blow job in Get On Your Knees.
E. Alex Jung
THE LADY has lost her head. We don’t know when it happened, but she was found that way by two Egyptologists in a Paris shop in 1957 and has remained the same since, with liquid hips and an ankle-length skirt of sandy limestone. Her name is Tagerem, and she worked in the temple of Sakhebu on the southwestern delta of the Nile in a revered position known as “God’s wife” to the sun god Re. She’s about 2,300 years old—give or take a few years—and 16 and a half inches, roughly the size of a small newborn. She’s the ideal woman of the Ptolemaic period, described as “demure” yet “alluring.” Perhaps because her upper torso has been lopped off.

“I can’t tell what she’s thinking,” Jacqueline Novak tuts dryly in front of the broken figure. “It’s nice that these statues do tend to have a lower belly of some sort. It’s not a complete washboard, which I do find comforting.”

We step out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur and take a seat above the reflecting pools, just beneath the picturesque slant of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Novak sits cross-legged and empties the contents of her purse—a toothbrush, $31, a pair of black-andwhite Adidas soccer socks—to unfurl the gray T-shirt she bought during a Bloomingdale’s quest to find the perfect one for her show. She likes it—it’s heathered and doesn’t have that stripy effect under the stage lights—but it’s still not the Platonic ideal. Every night for her acclaimed one-woman show, Get On Your Knees, which is ostensibly about blow jobs but is really about how we think about our bodies, she wears a variation on the same monochromatic palette: gray shirt, washed-out black jeans, and gray-and-white sneakers. It is an attempt to “neutralize the form,” she says, meaning the female body. Her body. “Which is kind of an irritating thing to feel like one has to do.”

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September 16-29, 2019

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