Kelly Kristin Jones’ “We forgot the moon while holding up the sun” is an exhibition composed of a series of carefully staged photographs alongside a sculptural installation titled “Orders of Empire.” Jones’ black-and-white photographs in the ongoing series, “Untitled,” take on a painterly quality on the starkness of 062’s white walls. Images conjure themselves from the artist’s self-ascribed mission to identify and conceal iconographic sculptures or “personal memorials” in Chicago suburban neighborhoods. Under a veil of darkness, Jones started to photograph found memorials at night, disrupting master narratives of landscapes experienced in the day. With a practice that has centered on reimagining public landscapes, “keying out” or concealing public monuments has been a means for Jones to “heal communities,” both literally and digitally. What is striking about this particular series is the seeming quietude on the surface of each Piso print. Deep, full saturation shades of black are etched with glints of light as the artist undertakes the exercise of digitally and physically masking monuments in ways that make it near impossible to understand the scale and depth of each antiquity. What is presented instead are subtly lit edges, gestures that are drawn over and into an altogether familiar midwestern landscape, where Jones confronts private and public vulnerability through constructed photography.
As a new mother, Jones created “Untitled” primarily while driving through her newly adopted neighborhood of Oak Park, at night. She grew intrigued by neoclassical garden and patio sculptures in other women’s backyards, perceiving them as signifiers of class and cultural identity. Testing the boundaries of public and private access, Jones would “trespass” these spaces to examine, measure and photograph personal monuments. Returning the image to the studio, Jones then transfers images into Photoshop, dodging found monuments with the software’s “healing” tool, she then extends landscapes to digitally conceal these monumental forms. Printing the manipulated image, Jones returns to the site once more, staging a physical masking of these personal monuments with the intention to “fix” the landscape. What results is a series of seemingly abstracted landscapes, where the viewer can barely perceive the elemental form, now discontinuous from its landscape.
Presented as a linear series of images, “Untitled” juxtaposes America’s political history along with Jones’ autobiographical study of material time and space, combining the conditions of nesting as a new mother with the historical representation of class in suburban America. Uniquely occupying the interstitial space that lies discreetly between a woman’s role during the day and at night, she masterfully reconstructs the two-dimensional and three-dimensional nature of our built world, skewing intimate registers that are associated with our interior and exterior worlds. By explicitly presenting each photograph in an equidistant line, the series read more as a polyptych than individual pieces, making it all the more challenging to consider given the continuum of this country and its traumatic history.
Jones’ previous projects, “Poems for my mothers” and “Coverings,” took public monuments to task, questioning how photography could provide a counter memory by supplanting or replacing images of white supremacy from public spaces. In “We forgot the moon while holding up the sun,” we witness a return to the self, a more personal reckoning of sorts, that has come to the artist at a time where public spaces are devoid of publics and the private has returned to being sanctuary.
It is a known and accepted fact that many young couples tend to move to suburban neighborhoods around their first childbirth. Linked to the cost of housing, childbearing expenses and access to space, the move from a city to a suburb is often coupled with increased commute times, a search for a new sense of community and the mother having to renegotiate her role in labor force participation. In this specific series, Jones does not address white supremacy and patriarchal systems alone. Jones’ body of work points to the complex and intertwined nature of family building in the context of the relentless pursuit of freedom. Starting a family, moving and pursuing the active retelling of history, Jones draws on collective and individual experiences that speak of the trauma of womanhood. In the creation of these abstracted juxtapositions, the seemingly random images topple the visual hierarchy associated with photography, while her sculptural installation does much the same. In “Orders of Empire,” Jones employs the language of neoclassical architecture (classically associated with male “genius”), carefully presenting a body of columns collected by the artist over the course of the pandemic. Sourced in estate sales and online marketplaces, each symbolizes an interaction between the artist and a woman negotiating her identity in relation to the idea of America. For the purpose of this exhibition, the site specific installation at 062 can be seen as a critical study of the unfavorable structural conditions that dictate the allocation of power in relation to maternal labor, overturning a male dominant narrative on white supremacy to a dialectical confrontation between multiple forms and mediums.
While Jones’ photographs lead us to question the mnemonic experience of historical landscapes, the images highlight the tension between figuration and abstraction and serve as a constant reminder of the dispute between the referent and nature. Unveiling the banality of personal and familial histories, and the all-pervasive design of nationalism, Jones’ works seek to disrupt the landscape by speaking to who is silenced, unseen or overlooked, much like a mother tending to her child, while the busy men of the world lie in repose. (Pia Singh)
“Kelly Kristin Jones: We forgot the moon while holding up the sun” is on view at 062, 1029 West 35th, through July 23.