The work of Chris Andrew Jones demands a double take. It’s captivating, awe-inspiring - and yes, a bit eerie. The intense presence of his life-size sculptures emerges from the vicissitude of collaged subjects and flourishes from the detritus of the disseminated image. Travelers, Mad Max inspired motorcycles, and vanitas motifs create a Momento mori in Jones’ works as he advances that it’s the approach to the medium that informs the message. And here the message is one of breakdown as much as it is renewal.
We stopped by Space Studios around the corner from the gallery last week to see what Jones was working on for the exhibition The Future Can Wait, opening on Tuesday as part of a double bill with Saatchi’s New Sensations. Stacks of old magazines, encyclopedias, calendars, manuals, posters, models and toys were piled around the perimeter of the studio to make room for the new work taking over the centre of the room- so large, in fact, that the other half was being stored in the neighbouring space.
We sat down to ask him a few questions about his working process, motivations for material, and how he presently feels about the so called ‘future’.
GALERIE8: The title of the work included in The Future Can Wait is Old Raa Boh? Where is the title of the work taken from? You mentioned that you chose your titles post-production - why is it important to do at that stage?
CAJ: Well, that’s the working title, I dont think it will be the final one, its just a phrase that has been in my head while making it - it’s wikipedia’s phonetic interpretation of the call the rag and bone man made during his rounds, his cry being broken down over the years from ‘old rag and bone’ to this abstracted version. I like the way it sounds, like some mystical incantation. But is derived from this very mundane thing - which kind of reflects this everyday transmutation that the rag and bone man was involved in… Maybe it will be the official title…
The title for me is usually appropriated, collaged on often right at the end, not because it is unimportant, quite the opposite, a title must add something or there’s no point, and at the very least it should definitely not detract from the piece, and so getting it right can be tricky. It usually happens at the end because then I have a good idea of an atmosphere I want to suggest with the title, and also what I don’t. I think its important to not point at any specific aspect of the work with a title, it should just add to a flavour.
It shares some similarities to your previous work, Repair is the Dream of the Broken Thing. Is this a series? How do the two relate, if at all?
CAJ: I don’t consciously work in series, but of course themes repeat. They are related in as much as they both take historical, obsolete things as their starting point, their general form. The ‘Repair..’ piece was made in response to the specific place I was working at the time, Peekskill in upstate New York - i was interested in the history of the city and how it had changed over the years - and I approached this piece in a similar way.
Looking out of my studio window in Hackney I often see guys collecting scrap in trolleys, eking a living from the detritus - I saw an abandoned caravan stripped to a shell over a couple of days - and I began thinking about the more formal, previous incarnation of this trade. I’m interested in things that facilitate change, that exist in flux, especially when they themselves become redundant.
This previous title (Repair…) seems appropriate for all of you work, in some way. How do you feel about ‘the future’? Hopeful? Do you have a dystopian outlook or consider it an illusory concept?
CAJ: That title is a line from a song by The Silver Jews (Dave Berman writes some of the best lines and must be the lyricist most used by artists). It was playing while I was looking at the piece and it stuck - it summed up the feeling of that piece for me and on some level, the state of the world at the time. And yes, we seem to be returning to that place again - or rather, we never left.
I’m fascinated by concepts of time and space in general. The future is as relevant or irrelevant as the past - it’s all the same stuff. I like to mess with chronologies in my work, the photograph appears to remove things from their space-time, and there’s an unsettling absurdity that I like to play with. The pieces hopefully operate in between these different time zones, whether real, depicted, simulated etc.
In more prosaic terms of ‘the future’ I think it would require some hefty optimism to deny that we appear to be in the twilight of our current systems, at least as we know them. All systems breakdown eventually, give way to entropy, change being the only constant and all that… and even accounting for our persistent attraction to dystopian themes, I think it’s undeniable that we are living in some pretty unstable times.
Why have you been drawn to paper? Is it the fragility? Organic materiality? Or is it the way it carries a particular message?
CAJ: It’s less the paper and more the printed image, but yes the fragility is important. The papery physicality of this depicted space is key to the work - the permanence of the image is in a way betrayed by the flimsiness of its support, whilst at the same time it also allows the intangible to be very physically manipulated. So there is a dichotomy between what is represented and what it actually is, a large amount of the work is a play on this.
Why choose the mass produced image to begin a unique authorship of your own?
CAJ: I used to take my own photographs to make things with, but there came a point when I felt that it was unnecessary and actually limiting. I switched to appropriating images from books and magazines, mainly in order to add an unpredictability to the image selection. The random nature in which images appear whilst I’m making a piece is integral, the studio floor becomes a palette. It’s usually covered with images and the piece almost emanates from this overflow.
I also appropriate the forms as well, casting objects from life or scaling up patterns for paper models. It’s important that my actions are more of an appropriation and subversion of an existing thing than how well I could make something myself.
Who, or what, if anything has been an influence on your work?
CAJ: Well, everything - an artist doesn’t work in a vacuum, and a piece is just the distillation at that time of the experiences they’ve had and what’s going on around them.
But, more specifically, surrealism has always played a part – Ernst, Duchamp.
At college, I was really into Tom Freidman and Fischli/Weiss and more recently I admire the work of Thomas Houseago, Matthew Monahan, David Altmejd, to name a few. Also, working for Nigel Cooke after my MA was possibly the best education. Working for a painter while making sculpture really created a shift in my work.
I get a lot from films, books and music, often analyzing what makes a certain piece of music, for instance, so interesting can provide the key to resolving a piece. But yeh, everything…
-Jaime Marie Davis
Chris Andrew Jones is one of the artists exhibited in The Future Can Wait at B1 Victoria House Bloomsbury Square, 11 - 17 October 2011. His work, The First Years of His Reign, 2006 is also on view at GALERIE8.