There seems to be an ever-growing trend to both humanize animals (particularly pets), to the point of giving them organic food and worrying about their health care perhaps more than our own, while simultaneously continuing our eradication of species that we don’t see as necessary (go research the blob fish). Jessica Joslin ruptures that binary with her haunting, yet delightful hybrids. Made of bone, brass, and found objects, Joslin re-forges fantastical creatures that are at once curious, frightened, mounted or performing—being caught between use value and sentience. Take for instance Stardust, where a cat-like skeleton beings to crawl out of its mount. The ears appear to be screwed onto what might be kitty armor, and though the nails are filed down from being claws, still, its gaze is as if seeing its prey close enough for the kill. Or is it a futuristic steam-punk construction stepping out of a time portal, wary of what it will encounter?
Jared Joslin notes that her hybrids are made of objects “that you may have stumbled across in an antique shop, perhaps been drawn to aesthetically, but probably wouldn’t know what to do with; tarnished teaspoons, bits of antique brass, broken drawer pulls, or even an old silver teapot with no spout…Bullet casings become the toes of a parrot, a silver toast warmer transforms into rib cages and plumes, musical instrument parts take…form the curve of a spine or the arc of a wing (40).” The trinkets we throw away because they have served their usefulness now turn into macabre reminders that all objects retain something of their magical essence, despite the lack of human validation. But neither does Joslin’s work reinforce a binary between the mechanical and the natural world, as seen in Tower. Here the structure of the tower–a symbol of human invention and progress–forms the creature’s torso. The massive, bat-like wings chained to the tower are spread as if ready for flight, and the tension has caused great cracks to form. But we don’t know if this strange hybrid is trying to escape its prison, or has seen some oncoming threat that it must now go and fight (surely the head on top of the tower is its lookout?).
These interstitial, adorable monstrosities also have a carnivalesque joy about them. Joslin says that she was influenced by artists such as PT Barnum, Guiseppe Arcimbaldo and Matthew Barney as well as the 16th-18th century Curiosity Cabinets and natural history museums. The theme of the side-show freak is prevalent in most of her sculptures, such as Lazlo, who tries to remain balanced on a ball while keeping watch over his birdcage. The birdcage is open, though, so it is unclear whether the creature contained in it has escaped or if it is performing its act. Lazlo himself is a rather slaptstick hybrid, with the ears of a mouse (or other rodent), a monkey tail, toes of a sloth, and a heart-shaped nose. It is both doll and skeleton, with eyes that, taking into account the folded hands, emote a pleading look. Our enjoyment then is complicated by the way in which Joslin has rearranged this “object” to indict society’s relationship to all objects. That which we merely wish to use and throw away is resurrected into an interstitial construct that begs for some kind of answer that is better than the animal as glorified human (which doesn’t honor their animality) nor the beast as thing to be domesticated and used ideology. Perhaps somewhere in this brass and bone menagerie lies that freak-show door, which, should we choose to step through it, takes us into an Othered universe we’ve barely begun to imagine.
You can view more of Joslin’s work by visiting her website: http://jessicajoslin.com/jessica/. I’ve also posted a gallery of selections from Joslin’s body of work, which you can view below.
Joslin, Jared. “Jessica Joslin,” Dangerous Ink 1.2 (2009): 39-42.
Joslin, Jessica. “FAQ.” Jessica Joslin. Jessica Joslin, 2013. Web. 14 Jan 2013.