Catalogue essay by curator, Simon Gregg

Publication: Chimera,  Gippsland Art Gallery, 2011

Peculiar Biologies

A pronounced concern for all living creatures inhabits the work of Claude Jones. Based in Sydney, she is at once a sculptor, printmaker, and mixed media artist. The strangeness of her work resides in the interstitial spaces between different animal species, which become cut and spliced together to create bizarre and fantastical mutants.

Here we observe dogs, cats, birds and rabbits, whose heads have been mounted onto human torsos, or which, incongruously, have been cut in half and joined with other animals. These biological engineering experiments result in new life-forms, which Jones classifies within a new scientific taxomony: Langomorph Canidaes, Equine Filidaes, Cattus Equus, and so forth. These crossbred creations exude an otherworldly pallor that speaks of science experiments – chemical, psychological or biological – gone horribly awry. The hybrid mutants reflect our changing biological and psychological relationship to nature, in the face of increasing biotechnology.

The effectiveness of Jones’ imagery stems from her blurring of aesthetic boundaries. Each work functions at once as a dissertation on the ethical treatment of animals, and as a whimsical pastiche of fairytale illustration. Cumulatively, they form a plaintive and tender appeal to our moral sympathies. Jones questions the domination of humankind over all animal life, and our assumed right to meddle with the natural order of other species. She imagines a world behind closed laboratory doors, whose inhabitants are as horrific as they are comical.

Jones’ hybrid sculptures are composed of a variety of materials, including clay, doll parts, feathers and paper mache. They range in appearance from awkward, misshapen newborns (the Neonates) to elegant and refined (the Lagomorphs). At first seemingly harbingers of spellbinding wonder, the fruit of some Frankenstein-like process, the works slowly reveal their secrets. In Equine Filidae (2010), which proposes an unnatural melding of cat and horse, we observe a coat composed of pictures of bear traps. Rather than fantastic imp, the quirky creature reveals itself as a talisman of human mistreatment of animals.

Elsewhere, we encounter similar signs of malcontent. A mixed media work shows a monkey pointing a rifle at the head of a mother rabbit, her three children huddled around her in terror. In another work, we see a caged baby monkey being handed between rabbits, while another image shows a family of birds poking fun at a caged owl. All animals have human form, suggesting a breakdown in cosmic order, and ever present is the apparatus for capturing and quantifying wildlife: traps, cages and leashes. The aura of scientific curiosity is purposefully allayed by the bright colours and childlike juxtapositions of form, but throughout an uneasy mood is in place.

In what might be termed Sci-Fi Fantasy Realism, Claude Jones’ hybrids elude easy description. Each is imbued with a unique personality and behaviour, just as each occupies a different tier in the taxonomy of life. Jones inverts the natural order by rupturing the gene pool, and suggests instead what a world governed by biological misadventure may look like. The results are sometimes troubling, but are never short of being explosively imaginative. There are few facets to enable a collective summation, except to advise alertness, not alarm. While fabulously fantastical in form, these schizoid creatures occupy a world that is unerringly analogous to our own.