Closed Fist, Open Palm
There is a particular kind of energy generated within the body; to speak up, to take up more space, to dance without being touched, to ask for more. For me, it builds from within my chest and spreads across my back and down into my hands. It makes my hands shake. This energy, the energy of reaction, is triggered externally by an expectation of a kind of existence I don’t belong to.
Aaron Jones’ body of work simmers with the heat of this kind of energy. Bodies and hands on the cusp of reaction radiate through his work; an athlete poised and slick with sweat surrounded by a cheering audience, energy restoration extending from a muscled arm and fists poised to fight. To react is to make a choice to perform an outwardly imposed, predetermined script; to be a loud woman, to be a thug or a thief. All for an audience’s convenience, so that the onlookers may pick a favourite, a hero or a villain and treat you accordingly.
The energy of reaction is emotional energy. To refuse to react under the gaze is a conscious decision. My mind keeps coming back to Olympic athlete Ben Johnson who in 1998 after being banned from ever racing against other humans, raced two horses and a race car. Oppression as the super-human. The audience doesn’t want to know about Ben Johnson’s inner life, they are there for the erotics of spectacle. The expectation of the audience is for the athlete to perform a script, to win or lose, to “shut up and dribble”. To not transgress the social contract that the audience as paying viewers have come to expect. For a Black athlete or Black artist the myth of exceptionalism is threaded through the scripted narrative of their performance. The best body, the hardest worker, the cleverest, the most winning smile. Everything can be asked of them under their objectification and the pretense of getting paid for their work. To engage with the body or the work of a Black person without taking any responsibility for their humanity. Jones’ body of work is a meditation on the refusal to react. Jones asks, what happens when the objectified stares back or refuses the gaze of the audience? The viewer, the objectifier, is called to account. What are you expecting to see? Jones revels in this conscious choice, energy prepared to respond without fear of reprisal but resisting performance. My dance isn’t for you. – Lillian O’Brien Davis
Aaron Jones is a multi-disciplinary visual artist based in Toronto. His practice surrounds ideas of self-reflection and character-building, as a way of finding peace. Often using found images, videos and lens-based media, he works with different forms of collage to build characters and spaces that reflect upon the complexities and nuances of his own upbringing. Recent exhibitions include Propped at Oakville Galleries (2017), Under Mine presented by the BAU Collective at 187 Gallery (2017), Ragga NYC at Mercer Union (2018), Bending Towards the Sun at YYZ Outlet (2019) and From the Ground Up at NIA Centre for the Arts (2019). Upcoming exhibitions include Three-Thirty at Doris McCarthy Gallery for the 2020 CONTACT Photography Festival and a solo exhibition at UGLY Gallery in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated with a BA from OCADU in 2018 and is an active member of the BAU Collective.