Mary Jones: Attachments
September 24 - November 8, 2020
By ANDREW PAUL WOOLBRIGHT, October 2020
An X-ray of a mouth, adhered to the top of the canvas, floats over a blossom of acrid nickel yellow. Revealed on the X-Ray acetate, a dental implant glows white; depicting a screw shooting upward into the gums, farther than you’d think it would. It makes me taste metal looking at it as I think of foreign insertions drilling deep into bone, metal pins and screws holding spines and joints together. Large black and white marks are done with criss crossing paths of overlapping paint roller swirls. They spin and carve into each other underneath the X-ray, doing donuts on the surface. Their undoing of each other mimics the language of the X-ray. Disassembling it this way lets the viewer adjust to the shift between visual languages, unraveling the image slowly in the stomach of the painting. It creates a hole. Underneath, a shock of phthalo blue glows- a void or water or a pit. It looks like a big flower with a skeleton mouth with roots in the underworld. The piece is titled 2020.
In Mary Jones’ solo show at High Noon Gallery, the internal and active body are forming relationships through a series of abstract paintings by incorporating gel medium images and X-ray acetates that are transferred or glued onto the surface of the paintings. The paintings are often gesturing towards bodies (Cat Person goes so far as to construct a human/animal skeleton over the painting surface). This conflation of images and painting provides a sensory shock- an abstraction felt in your nervous system, joints, and bones that connects the phenomenological uncertainty of abstract painting to the psychic space of a late night WebMD visit.
The show title, Attachments, operates in multiform. Initially, it could be interpreted from the viewpoint of a painter: the attachment of our own connectivity between our bodies and hands to languages of abstraction through its traces-our inability to cover our own tracks. Where the AbEx body fulfilled the athletic gesture, Jones’ work feels internalized, traumatic, and medically scopic- a presence felt more in the spine than in the eyes. It seems more akin to Wols exploring and reworking the exploding head, a valence of abstraction through the traumatized mind induced from torture and war. If this is the case, there’s a multitude of cultural traumas that Jones could be signaling. The shock to corporeality and the civic body, the internal/invasive fixation of self aberration, can open to navigating larger systems; the same way Jean Luc Nancy’s heart surgery exploded his sense of a delineated self thus allowing him to explore new conceptions of cultural bodies and the Cartesian mind-body dilemma in his masterwork Corpus.
Slightly larger than 2020, The Lookout replaces the mouth with a scan of a skull. Again, the affective shock of the skull embodies the viewer in the invasive experience of being medically unwell; of bodies lying still in the scanner bed; of that moment a person drifts between liberal subject and patient. Affixed above the skull, Pthalo green blurs into oxide orange red- it’s beautifully lurid. Again, there is the black and white disassembly of the X-Ray through rollers and paint. This time, however, it is wilder, larger, and churning like intestines. And below this, you see a series of brain scans floating in the darkness, suggesting the scanned head at the top is the lookout, presiding over the minds floating in the darkness below. But one could also interpret the lookout to be the CT scanner, the medical gaze, the artist herself, or even the language of abstraction itself.
With the dialectic between images and abstraction, there may be another helpful reference within Pierre Alechinsky’s sense of space and pictorial deconstruction. Unlike Alechinsky, Jones employs the the surgical, antiseptic scan of the body as the interlocutor, instead of the artist’s attachment to the image. This act of detachment entangles us in its’ medical/evaluative comprehension of bodies (as opposed to subjects) while we are engaged in a sensorial field of abstraction and affect. This gaze is one of the paranoid eye- an eye that is separated from our own body while looking back it. It is present when we become detectives towards our own health, on the trail of phantom pains and the pops of joints that pathologize our physical presence in the world- the fear of tumors, tears, internal explosions and crisis. It is a hypchondriasis; a reflection of the neoliberal mind turning inwards towards self-diagnoses when societal structures feel system shocks.
The smaller paintings in the gallery, The Assignment, The Slayer, and Chamunda in the House, depict Hindu celestial figures: Kali, a Goddess of righteous destruction, and a dancing Devata, an artistic dancer that would worship her. These paintings seem more representational and, at times, decorative. The goddesses are transferred through an acrylic gel medium process, with Swarovski crystals, wallpaper, and paint put towards the construction of spaces for the deities to reside within.
From a narrative standpoint, installed in the same room as the death flower of 2020, the emaciated Chamunda form of Kali could represent a violent and rebellious reaction to patriarchal rule. The images could be an ominous threat to those in power from those forever marginalized from it.
But attachments could also point towards the cultural form of acquisition between empire and colonies. The rift between our indulgence and seduction to the spoils of empire, and our repulsion to its ammassment. Without the X-Ray paintings, The Assignment may have been reduced to an uncritical celebration of a female god destroying gruesome rulers, a kind of matriarchal heroism in rejecting the phallus. But the larger paintings have a way of priming the viewer for introspection, for phobia, for internal anxiety, and delivering an awareness to the wobbly transference of Eastern Buudhist gods now forever in the acquisition of the Met Museum. Our attachment, and complicity to the benefits of empire, can also be our hold onto the aesthetic privilege of experiencing the storage vaults of civilizations, the viewing rooms of other peoples’ histories. Our own attachments as artists to the problematized history and languages we learn to speak in pictorial form: a body of self-analysis in desperate need of surgical repair. WM
Andrew Paul Woolbright is an artist, writer, professor, and gallerist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He is an MFA graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design in painting and has exhibited with the Ada Gallery, Nancy Margolis, and Coherent Brussels. His Shrinebeast series, which deals with sexual kafka and love, has been reviewed in TimeOut New York, Two Coats of Paint, Artviewer, the Boston Globe, and the Chicago Reader and is currently in the collection of the RISD Museum. In March 2017, Woolbright founded the gallery Super Dutchess at 53 Orchard, an artist run gallery on the lower east side in New York. He has taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and he currently teaches at SUNY New Paltz.view all articles from this author