Jessica’s Wonderland

So many things come to mind as I look at Jessica’s art, things that are seemingly disparate, but somehow brought together by her to form an elusive and surreal connection, a sort of dreamlike coalescence.  The writing of L. Frank Baum comes to mind, and the movie ‘A Return to Oz’, based on his second and third books.  I keep waiting for her sculptures to spring to life, much like Tik-Tok did after being wound up by Dorothy.  I imagine they are full of intricate gear work, and that if I put my ear up close I will hear them ticking.  They seem to me like they want so badly to run free and play, to interact with everyone and everything around them, if only someone would wind them up.


At the same time, I feel like I am viewing someones prize specimen collection.  Perhaps some travelling taxidermist from another place and time, who just happened to stop off here briefly and set up a tent.  I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and stumbled into his tent by pure chance, to find myself confronted by these marvelous creatures enclosed in protective antique wood and glass display cases.  They aren’t supposed to be here, and I shouldn’t be seeing them, so I am extremely lucky to have done so.  They are not from here.  They are not from anywhere I can specifically name or locate.  They exist in a limbo of the imagination, stepping in and out of time and place, and always with some paradoxical intermingling of strangeness and familiarity.


There is also something vintage about her work, like a well preserved (but clearly not within it’s own time) poster from some turn of the century circus.  Or like a well-arranged table of unique curiousities hidden away in the cramped confines of an antique shop; you can’t tell what their original purpose was, and you have no practical use for them, but you just have to have them, and they somehow fill you with nostalgia.  They somehow take the old, the fragile, the otherwise macabre, and combine them into a cohesive whole that is resplendent, resilient, and anything but repulsive.


Jessica says that she grew up wanting to be a zoologist.  “I didn’t have any sense that bones were considered macabre, I simply saw them as a beautiful clue to some mysterious animal that had once been there, the same as a seashell.”  The natural history museum was a favorite haunt of hers when young.  “The creatures in the exhibits felt like inhabitants of another mysterious world…  they were in beautiful old wooden vitrines, with tiny engraved brass plaques and hardware.  I was enchanted by the strange beauty of it all.”

17″x8″x9″ (Including branch)

Her creature creations range in size from tiny (1 inch in height) to large (6 feet in height).  Some of them are articulated, and some of them have hidden springs and levers.  There are no winding mechanisms as far as I know, but she does incorporate gears into some of them.  “It’s the P.T. Barnum in me,” she says.  “There’s much more going on than you can see at first.”

Clio and Loci

Each creation is given its own unique name too, helping to further imbue them with life and personality.  There’s Canto & Silva, Otto the monkey, Helmut, Cerise, Luca, and Ludwig, just to name a few.  “I do think of them as pets and friends, that is why I name them, rather than ‘title’ them.  At a certain point when building a new piece, they start to reveal their own unique personality.  They begin to breathe.”

And while a few profess to seeing something macabre in her work, Jessica has never seen it that way herself.  “In choosing to incorporate these materials, death is intrinsic to the piece… and yet it’s trying to represent life.  There is something viscerally unsettling about that for some.  To pull off this illusion, you need some magic to happen.  In my imagination, I always see the piece as breathing.”


Glancing back over her work, my thoughts keep coming back to something Jessica shared about her childhood.  “When I was a little girl, I fell madly in love with a room-sized case of articulated skeletons,” she said.  “It was like stepping through the mirror.”  There’s a certain point in all of our childhoods when the imagination is so powerful that it can overcome normal, rational thought and become an almost palpable bit of magic, much like what happened to Alice when she stepped through the mirror and into Wonderland.  That bit of magic stays with us forever.  Though we can never feel it with anywhere near the same intensity as we did in childhood, we do sometimes remember how powerful it was, how it was capable of  transforming even the most mundane and poverty-stricken of childhoods into something magical.  For Jessica perhaps, that moment happened in the Natural History Museum, in that little room-sized case of articulated skeletons, and the art she has been making ever since is her attempt at recapturing that magic and sharing it with the rest of us.

If you’d like to see more then be sure to check out Jessica’s website.  She has tons of beautiful images there (way more than the few I have shown here).  She also has a few limited edition prints, as well as copies of her book ‘Strange Nature’, in her shop!  You can find her on facebook as well.

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