Jules Buck Jones: Animal Again

Champion, Austin

Anthony Arroyo

Jules Buck Jones, Owl (still), 2011; digital video; 6 minutes; edition of 4; courtesy the artist and Champion, Austin

Jules Buck Jones, Hawk and Owl Masks, 2011; mixed media; dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and Champion, Austin

In Animal Again, Jules Buck Jones’ solo exhibition at Champion, the artist extends his investigation of animal imagery into thrilling new regions. An immersive installation screens two videos: Fox (2011), which depicts the artist in a cardboard fox costume stalking haltingly through a snowy forest, and Owl (2011), in which a cardboard owl nervously flaps its wings. Both videos feature a brutally restricted palette of black, white and gray that continues into the viewing environment. Jones surrounds the flatscreen monitor with a butcher-paper-and-ink forest that mirrors the videos' stark set design. Falling back on the trope of childishness common to depictions of animals in contemporary popular culture, the artist's paper sets and cardboard costumes recall the make-believe theater of American youth, but without narrative and color.

In works such as Pay-hay-ohee (2010) and Anura (2009) in Champion’s back room, Jones evokes ideas and images of taxonomy only to frustrate them. The former is a scatter of small drawings of animals atop glow-in-the-dark dots connected by chalk lines, together forming unlikely constellations on a circular blue panel. In the latter, a paper work with drawing and watercolor, Jones offers another array of imaginary constellations, here with named frog species arranged in inconclusive genealogies spanning a watery blue circle. Both works resemble infographics and encourage the viewer to seek a pervading system or find connections between divergent images of animals. This effort is futile but nonetheless irresistible; an interesting comment on the insufficiency of categorization in the face of the natural world.

The childishness of dress-up and the implicit critique of scientific classification serve as counterpoints to Jones’ freshest insight, found in Hawk and Owl Masks (2011). His paper and mixed-media owl masks and accompanying eyeless owl illustrations harness the terrifying quality of the animal mask as an artifact and bring together two powerful means of negation. As a symbol of unspoiled nature, the wild animal signifies the absence of mankind. Moreover, masks offer us a means to hide, not only from the predator but also from ourselves. The mixed-media palimpsest of jagged lines and geometric patterns in these masks draws the viewer into the creatures’ empty eyes; an invitation to oblivion, a descent into animality. Works like these, which seek to reinject the otherness of the natural world into the depiction of the animal, against the urge to domesticate and idealize, are the show’s triumph. Some may see in a mask a disguise, but Jones reveals that masks are always a means of self-obliteration.

Anthony Arroyo is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas, Austin. He also rants about music, art and Nietzsche’s moustache at Anthonyarroyodotcom.com.

This exhibition will be on view through April 16, 2011.

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