“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.
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.
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.