Myth and Machines

Andy Jones Moonah Art Centre Tasmania 16 - 28 February 2001

"Lucifer set to work, turned one of Xas's wings this way and that, studying its physiology, exploring the downy hollow where the wing joined the saddle of wing muscle across the angel's spine. He felt with his fingers and considered. He took a knife in hand, shrugged back the plait that slithered across his shoulder, then flattened the arching joints of his own top wings down so that they didn't obscure the light...The archangel made a cut, slid the knife in under the skin, leaving skin spare to seal a great wound where wing joined the body."
from Elizabeth Knox's novel The Vintner's Luck.

Denied flight for the rest of eternity Xas - a fallen angel allowed to roam earth and hell as part of a pact between God and the Devil - wrapped himself in a blanket and huddled in despair. Wistfully he remembered the thin spikes of pine trees seen from the sky and the pattern of smoke puffs made by opposing lines of cannon fire in the Napoleonic wars. A crippled immortal who yearned to fly, Xas participated in the first unsuccessful experiments to make flying machines; walked tightropes with gypsies and loved Sobran a vintner, from whom he would inevitably be separated.

As in Knox's novel which explores the complex unfolding of the relationship between Xas and Sobran, stories of thwarted flight and hopeless journeys, myths and legends, quirky tales, ordinary dreams and desires, human cruelty, eccentricities and foibles are woven together and embodied in Jones' mythical machines and whimsical objects.

A well-worn leather harness with adjustable straps and bedraggled seagull wings hangs from a nail on the wall like a comforting but futile gesture of hope. Nearby a shallow wooden coracle is becalmed on the polished floor. Inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci's failed attempts to design flapping wings, two spindly mechanical wings squat awkwardly at the back of the boat waiting to be lurched into an ungainly flight by an elaborate system of cogs and cranks. Eliciting desire, two pairs of old leather winged-heeled boots have been left on a plinth, laces undone, as if just discarded by fleet-footed messengers in order to run more quickly or splash bare-foot in puddles. (Amazingly, when displayed at the local St Vincent de Paul Op Shop only two customers requested to try them on for size.)

Asked about a beautiful silver spoon with a very long handle titled Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Jones replied that the piece had been named after the movie directed by Stanley Kramer, then mentioned the old adage that if one is invited to eat with the devil one should always take a long spoon. Jones also recounted a curious tale of a Chinese man who, in order to decide how to live the rest of his life, visited Hell where he was mortified by the immense suffering of the condemned who had to use ten-foot long chopsticks to eat and were starving. On visiting Heaven he was amazed by the vision of happiness due to the fact that the souls there had to eat using ten-foot long chopsticks and were merrily feeding each other.

Eclectic references to well-known myths and stories are at times explicit. Three chained dog collars and crumbs of honey cake are strewn across the floor as if abandoned by Cerberus and a cuddly 'Max suit' with claws made from scalpel-blades refers directly to the popular children's story Where the Wild Things Are. However, most of Jones' objects, inspired by found images and scraps of unreferenced texts, offer fragmented narratives.

A flotilla of tiny fragile paper boats drifts across the gallery floor. Snippets of a love letter are scrawled on their sides... you fascinate me beyond belief.... One has to carefully make one's way through the boats to try to piece together the meaning of the allusive scraps of text.... scare me half to death and drive me fuming to distraction.... I really did not intend to fall in love again, not ever.... Original texts which are destroyed, such as torn love letters and confessions, burnt personal identifications, bad lines of poetry, lewd books and stolen wills - according to Xas - go straight to Heaven where they are kept as transparent golden membranes for future reference.

In a silent memorial, Jones has copied a found photograph of two children, probably a brother and sister, standing side by side in front of an ominous band of twisted wire. Taken around 1942, the image captures a sense of euphoria and excitement as the youngsters grin with delight, perhaps in anticipation of a journey. It is not immediately apparent that on their chests, like badges, are stitched the Star of David. Jones has repeated the image two hundred and forty times and made each into a badge that tears at the heart. Like a secret heartbeat little whirring noises and tiny erratic taps emanate from an apparently solid cube of wood resting on a nearby plinth.

In this exhibition a vest made out of desiccated fish skins is endowed with as much significance as a weird true story or the bizarre image with the caption: Impression made in the ground at Billericay by Commander falling from a burning Zeppelin. One snippet reports the death of the editor of the Daily Watch, the world's only hourly newspaper, which apparently ran headlines such as "Three Dollars Mysteriously Found in Gutter," "Blob Grows Bigger by the Day" and "Roadkill Claims Another Pigeon." The ripples that disturb ordinary life - death, love, dreams, despair and cruelty - resonate with mythic proportions.

Other projects undertaken by Jones in recent years include an attempted flight from Sheffield to the West Coast of England using home-made wings; a sailing expedition through the underground sewers and rivulets of Hobart using a ten-foot long paper boat; and the construction of a large bird's nest on the roof of Moonah Arts Centre - to sit and brood in.

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