Escape from Flatland
I was easy to control, I didn’t even know there was a war…
The impact of Kim Jones’s work is visceral, it’s the kind of stuff we resist putting words to; often the moment we do they seem to reveal their limits as inadequate to all that the work evokes.
I was taken aback when I entered the front room of Pierogi and saw the string of mines and "Sled" with its stuffed and covered forms that evoke the burned limbs of a partial corpse. "Oh," I thought to myself, "these are the bodies that are coming home now, the ones that must be buried in silence so as not to arouse us from our patriotic consumption."
During the last Gulf War, Jones’s work drew attention with stories of his experiences in the Vietnam War. The same strong resonance is happening again, it’s just that now it’s a different war. The cumulative effect of Jones endeavor points to the evidence of war as a perpetual state, a condition of the human psyche, perhaps as vital for men as menses is for women.
In fact Jones invented the War Drawings as a kid while recovering from an unusual illness. It started out as a game with two different sides, the x-men and the dot-men vying to capture territory. He played both sides himself by erasing and redrawing areas of the drawing as the war progressed; the tracings of movements visible beneath the newly drawn lines record the history of each battle in the never-ending war.
In what seems at first to be one big installation piece, three sheets of a "War Drawing" are pinned to the middle of the back wall. From it’s edges, the drawing is extended in pencil to cover the wall’s expanse with a complex labyrinth of curved T-shapes, what appears to be the plan of an old city or encampment complete with store houses and sleeping quarters, open areas, closed off areas, territory immersed in a plethora of trajectories both soft and hard and the tracings of what has gone before. It encompasses the wall’s thermostat and electrical outlet as part of its total strategy: the portable war game enlarges itself by conquering a fixed local territory.
From out of the periphery of the newly conquered territory a series of freshly drawn lines extend to connect individual vehicles, a sled, rocket and tricycle, to the large "War Drawing." In so doing they create an overarching context for these hanging sculptures that implicates their forms in the game of war. This shift from the perspectival overview of the schematic plan of war to the same point of view looking at "Sled" and "Rocket" hanging on the wall is loaded. In the transition Jones sets up here we seem to be looking down on the charred fragments of human remains; the perspective we would hold if these were bodies being lowered into a grave. The authenticity of Jones’s additive methodology, reminiscent of the design of early exploratory spacecraft like the Mars rover, allows us to trust Jones’s search for the truth. There is a survival instinct at work here.
"Tricycle" with its kite shaped structure aboard and obscuring the three wheeler reminds us that it’s all pretty basic stuff. We are about to launch on the shit colored smeared surface of an eagle headed form with all our memories intact. The tour de force of Jones installation ends on the footless Christ-like form aboard "Rockets" triangular wooden armature. I never understood how trinity and triage were bound until my eye skipped from "Tricycle" to "Rocket."
Where to go from here? Work on the "War Drawing" will continue throughout the exhibition.
Come on back to the war, don’t be a tourist…
In the back room a series of painted-over photographs and photo-books serve as a reflection on various aspects of wars, superheroes, and Jones’s previous performance works. The marriage of the hand-painted and the photographic has always been a difficult one; Jones shows us one version that might work.
The Playboy calendars are not so much about sex as the war between the sexes. The breast here is caught up in a tangled web of snares; the female body painted over with the iconography of Jones’s war games in one and surrounded by a sea of looming phalluses their faces laughing with one another in another. Jones isolates the breast in this context to reveal the possibility of its nurturing aspect even as it evokes the complex emotional landscape of a juiced up GI’s on his way to god knows what. It’s a minefield.
In "Foam House" painted over a photograph of a painted-over photograph of an installation on Venice Beach in the seventies, Jones created a two-headed skeletal figure over his youthful reclining body, his leg still emerging from behind one of the heads. This mythic creature seems to be looking both beyond to the spirit world and into our world. As an image it envisions death as the moment one can see into both from the same vantage point. In this context it provides a counterpoint to the play on perspective in the front room installation as we move from the scheme to the individual encounters of the war game.
Other works each reference pieces of Jones’s oeuvre while giving us a closer look at aspects of the whole. Here we can revel in the intricacy of the interlocking forms that cover many of Jones’s sculptural and planar surfaces: maze and brick patterns, grid and lattice work, endless entrails that celebrate the lyrical and compulsive idiosyncrasies of an individual sensibility.
The relation of the one and the many emerges as central to Jones’s work. Like all work in which a rich formal vocabulary has been put in the service of ideas it demands engagement. If there’s no driver who is going to crash the car?
JOAN WALTEMATH is an artist who lives and works in New York City. She writes on art and has served as an editor-at-large of the Brooklyn Rail since 2001. She has shown extensively and her work is in the collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, the National Gallery of Art, the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. She is currently the Director of the LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting at MICA.