Joslin and Black mechanized nature

Lisa Black

Everyone dances with every­one” – an idea from a recent sci­ence fic­tion movie describes the gen­eral concept of post­mod­ern­ism. Anything can be attached to any­thing. All com­bin­a­tions are pos­sible, best model doesn’t exist; there is no pat­tern to indic­ate, how art is sup­posed to be. Therefore, appeared com­bin­a­tions, unusual both in mater­ial and concept. Today I will talk about a com­bin­a­tion, which attrac­ted me from the first sight by hardly com­pat­ible ele­ments, merged to pro­duce a play­fully queer result.

Lisa Black
Jessica Joslin

On the one side we see steam­punk, with all it’s nos­tal­gic Victorian aes­thet­ics. Complex steam powered machines for ground, air and water, trav­el­ers with indis­pens­able attrib­utes – com­passes, goggles, cor­sets and monocles, their decent atti­tude and cre­ativ­ity more or less define the fun­da­mental part of steam­punk. Steampunk, the des­cend­ant of sci­ence fic­tion, at some point has evolved to cyber­punk. This quite pop­u­lar sub­cul­ture is ana­lyzed by Cory Gross, who con­stantly asks if its present form is just a feast for eyes, is it all about the appear­ance and the ideo­logy left out, just like in the major­ity of other sub­cul­tures, or is the unfad­ing spirit of an inventor/​traveler hid­den some­where nearby steampunk’s DIY philosophy?

On the other side stands a body, but this time it is not ordin­ar­ily mod­i­fied by people, who try to find their pas­sion. Lisa Black’s and Jessica Joslin‘s works in dif­fer­ent ways talk through “improved” creatures – stuffed anim­als or skel­et­ons, recre­ated with steam­punk ele­ments. These artists merge not only taxidermy/​osteology and steam­punk, they try to merge nature and mech­an­ics, and in this way cre­ate new life forms. Of course, tech­nic­ally these creatures are not alive. But the artists look at this from a a broader point of view.

The line between nat­ural evol­u­tion and tech­no­lo­gical evol­u­tion is already ser­i­ously blurred. I don’t see the dif­fer­ence between vaccines/​antibiotics, robotic limbs, and embed­ded RFID track­ing chips. – Lisa Black

So the improved anim­als are just a part of a net­work, based on Trans-​humanist ideas, which refers to a hypo­thet­ical human, whose phys­ical and men­tal capa­cit­ies are at the largest due to the use of tech­no­logy. This pro­cess has already on the peak – from the abil­ity to con­trol health and play with genes, men­tioned by Black, to the cre­ation of arti­fi­cial (non)life forms. I‘ll always believe that robot revolu­tion is more likely to hap­pen than zom­bie apocalypse.

Coming back to their works – is it eth­ical to use creatures, that have once been alive? Certainly, neither Joslin’s nor Black’s works are as con­tro­ver­sial as, let’s say, Damien Hirst’s. However, isn’t it inter­est­ing to know from where the artists get mater­ial for their works?

J. Joslin. Dog Happy

Since she was a little girl, Jessica Joslin, together with her father, used to visit Harvard Museum of Natural History in Boston, where she got fas­cin­ated by Victorian col­lec­tions. While study­ing pho­to­graphy, she star­ted mak­ing her own col­lec­tion of bones and animal remains. At first, the only way to get mater­ial was to wander in the forest or by the road­side, look­ing for dead anim­als and wait­ing for the Mother Nature to clean their bones. A little later Joslin star­ted col­lab­or­at­ing with “bone traders” – people, work­ing in the field of osteo­logy, because bones can­not be used if one is not able to explain where they came from (animal rights act­iv­ists need to be sure that no animal has been killed for some extraordin­ary limb). Sometimes she receives mater­ial dir­ectly from people, desir­ing a more inter­est­ing des­tiny for their pets than being simply wrapped into a cloth and put under an elm tree in the yard, just as it happened for the dog Happy.

Joslin is clean­ing the bones her­self, con­sid­er­ing their tex­ture and fea­tures. Lisa Black uses old stuffed anim­als, found or obtained in online auc­tions or in yard sales. Usually these stuffed anim­als are not in the best con­di­tion, but that’s what attracts Black — in the series “Fixed” we see an army of fluffy vin­tage ter­min­at­ors. Some of the mech­anic parts (for instance, in a turtle depic­ted below) are actu­ally work­ing. Wires, chains, screws, parts of clocks, old metal art­icles are used to achieve the effect.

However, the mater­ial Black uses sets some lim­its to her. She can neither shape the poses of the fixed anim­als, nor cre­ate stor­ies for them. They simply become steady show-​piece - surely, dif­fer­ent from the ones that can be found in any museum of nat­ural his­tory. Jessica Joslin‘s con­nec­tion is more act­ive, she places her works into a macabre, dec­or­at­ive bes­ti­ary, of which every mem­ber is pre­cise – from minor exter­ior details to its name. The author claims to be gath­er­ing names just like all of the other details. Although this gives her works com­plete­ness, Joslin is not likely to send hid­den mes­sages, as well as she‘s not work­ing only for the visual pleasure.

In the visual arts, there is the poten­tial to com­mu­nic­ate ideas and to make layered asso­ci­ations, which lan­guage can­not tidily con­vey. My work encom­passes a broad range of my interests, span­ning the many years that I’ve been mak­ing these sculp­tures. Those lay­ers are there to be excav­ated, but that is not strictly neces­sary for appre­ci­ation of my work. I make my beasts because they are what I dreamed of dis­cov­er­ing, but they didn’t exist any­where, so I had to make them myself. – dur­ing an inter­view states J. Joslin.

J. Joslin
J. Joslin
Clockwork cir­cus”

This per­spect­ive seems more legit than “I do it like this because it seems lovely to me”. Especially when you know that Joslin’s pre­ci­sion is not incid­ental – since eight years old she has been obsessed with sci­ence (bio­logy in par­tic­u­lar). Anatomy, as a source of inspir­a­tion, goes together with cir­cus, which the series “Clockwork cir­cus” is ded­ic­ated to. Lisa Black has always been inter­ested in the nature, too, but her way to embody this fas­cin­a­tion changed when she real­ized she is not able to save all ants, which were drown­ing in the rain.

The only ques­tion which needs an answer is do these authors absorb only the aes­thet­ics of steam punk, or do they look deeper? Lisa Black named steam punk among the other influ­ences to her works; Joslin remains neut­ral and avoids assign­ing her­self to a par­tic­u­lar sub­cul­ture. Yet both of them con­sider trans­form­a­tion and mech­an­ics to be accept­able altern­at­ives for a lim­ited body. Endless curi­os­ity for nature and discoveries/​inventions smoothly work together with fant­ast­ical motives, which are neces­sary for idea that has developed from sci­ence fic­tion. The last emphasis falls on dis­tinct­ive way, which both of the artists have. The union of all these ele­ments pro­duces dif­fer­ent vin­tage res­ults — rough one from Black, and eleg­ant from Joslin. You need to look really closely to fully appre­ci­ate it. For this task it is bet­ter if you put on your monocle.

Ilona Klimaitytė
About author:
Ilona Klimaitytė
From the very beginning, Ilona had a passion for event management, writing and a cold glass of beer. These three forces fit perfectly together with interests in postindustrial music, anthropology and weird cinema. At the moment, she is finishing her cultural history and anthropology studies and is writing thesis on the subject of industrial elec... Read further >
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