Pumping Irony: Darren Jones on Fire Island
Darren Jones: Eden’s Remains at Illuminated Metropolis Gallery
August 15 to 31, 2013
547 West 27th Street, Suite 529, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, (212) 946 1685
Darren Jones is a New York-based Scottish artist whose work encompasses text, installation, photography and drawing. His work is concerned with ephemerality, the misheard, the pun, and the fragile systems of nature.
For his most recent show, “Eden’s Remains” at Illuminated Metropolis Gallery, Jones focused his attention on Fire Island Pines, a beach community off the southern shore of Long Island, internationally known since the 1970s as a Mecca for “A-gays” – that is to say, gay men who make loads of money and/or go to the gym a lot.
It is a perfect subject for Jones as it encapsulates several of his key concerns. An ecologically fragile spit of land, the island is reachable only by ferry and is prone to hurricanes and other ravages of nature. Added to which, the Pines community – renowned for its hyper-promiscuity in the 1970s and ‘80s – was decimated by AIDS. It remains a remarkably beautiful place and its current denizens are the top dog, hyper-functional, makers-and-shakers of the East Coast gay elite. It is like the Hamptons but with bigger muscles.
The show’s title, “Eden’s Remains,” refers to this paradisiacal location but also its mythic and sometime-tragic history. Jones presents seven small works arrayed around the gallery. They are quirky, poignant, precise in wit, and formally adroit. They are often presented on little Plexiglas shelves.
Several works are text-based. A series called “Anagrams,” for instance, scrambles gay-beach-resort-related phrases into surprising and revealing linguistic reconfigurations. The word “Paradise” eerily recombines into the phrase “Aids Rape,” and “Muscle Daddy” uncannily morphs into “Cuddly Dames.” Jones’ word collages are illuminating, elusively poetic and playful, and they also allude to broader unspoken social worries. His playfulness belies a deeper moral texture, suggesting complex histories lurking beneath the surface.
In another language-related series, “Pumping Irony,” Jones shows photographs of a series of witty graffiti détournements he made on a midtown Manhattan gym’s motivational blackboard. Subverting the gung-ho rhetoric of NYC gym culture, Jones cheekily chalks up the phrase, “Giving Up is an Option.” Another gym user amends Jones’ sacrilegious message: “Giving Up is NOT an Option.” The anonymous back-and-forth between Jones’ Scots down-to-earth wit and the gym member’s corrective rejoinders gently probes gym culture’s “Think Positive,” “Don’t be a Loser” jingoism. Jones, with his knack for finding unsayable language, catches the fleetingly awkward intersects of the transatlantic cultural gap.
The cult of the “body beautiful” and the passing of time are central themes of the exhibition. Another work features a sand-filled hourglass slowly running out due to a crack in the back of the timepiece, while nearby a delicate sketch renders a labyrinthine, hand-drawn map of all the paths through the “Meat Rack,” Fire Island’s notorious cruising zone forest. These two works, seen in conjunction, allude to the temporality of this fascinating but claustrophobic landscape, legendarily inhabited by the ghostly presence of generations of youth-obsessed gym bunnies who have spent their time cruising the forest in search of sandy trysts.
Jones maps the Fire Island community deftly in these seven small works, never overstating his point, creating subtle, poetic, visual meditations on a complex, many-layered society. The A-list beach town is both a natural paradise and an intensely competitive cultural watering hole, a microcosm of the shifting mores and dreams of American life. These works metaphorically address gay culture’s desires, its obsession with health and vitality, and its struggles with decline and mortality.
This is a provocative show on a quintessentially New York subject, a diaristic record made by a European artist wryly observing, but never judging contemporary East Coast life at an endlessly metamorphosing beach resort. And Fire Island continues to change. Now the first gay kiddy strollers are beginning to roll onto the beaches of the Pines. Jones’ show prompts us to consider how each wave of inhabitants re-sketches its parameters.