On The Walls - Diving with Bree Jonson
They wiggle, wring, wrap, and writhe…
Anemones and other sea creatures of the deep spread their tentacles for art aficionados, critics, and curious wanderers alike in OUR Art Project’s latest curation of artwork by Philippines-based artist, Bree Jonson. Slowly moving across the seabed, these mysterious creatures with their writhing tentacles, thorny spines, and alluring, yet alien-like figures made the white walls of OUR Art’s Project’s gallery space their home last June (02.06.2017 - 24.06.2017). Featuring an experimental range of styles used to explore Jonson’s thoughts and perceptions on sex and the female body, this brief showcase consisted of works made from oil on canvas, ink and graphite on paper, and spiky wooden installations.
Like so many of the creatives featured on Around The Block, Bree Jonson is not your typical artist in that she isn’t what many would call an “artist with a pedigree.” Initially armed with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Ateneo de Davao University (2012), she dove into the world of art. From her early life experiences with animals, many of her works depict animals as a form of human reflection - after all, aren’t we all animals inside? Be they winged, furry, or scaled, if they do not resemble Ryan Gosling, then it’s on her canvas.
From the land, Johnson takes us into the mysterious world under the sea. The white walls of the gallery was painted in all shades of blue and dotted with vivid imagery of wiggling tentacles, half-eaten fish, and… a vagina? (Or is it?) We’re continuously left wondering if that was intentional or merely the creative’s lewd joke, but like the oddly shaped anemones and dangerously spiked sea urchin (yet delicious once removed), Jonson highlights another side of femininity and womanhood beyond the typical damsel in distress.
Culture, history, and the media have depicted time and time again a particular version of the female folk - weak, meek, alluring, and lustful. Although these stereotypical identities are slowly changing, to be sure, on these canvases, these deep-sea creatures tell a different story. Jonson’s depiction of sea creatures reflect the allure and potential "danger" present within women, in that they are equipped hidden threats to ensure their continued survival in such a masculine and male-dominated world. Her use of an "underwater" landscape adds a layer between these creatures and us, the viewers, while the abundance of “spikes" and “stinging tentacles” present throughout her work further distances these entities from any other man or fish that may do them harm.
With half-eaten fish in their crevices, the apparent predatory nature that Jonson attempts to highlight of these sea creatures highlight her view that greater respect (vis-à-vis distance) be given to women. These artistic representations speak for a woman who reveals her skin only for her own sake and not for the sake of being plucked from her habitat, stripped bare, and taken advantage by a wandering Seaman. That said, unlike many common foils of beast and men, where a man is compared to being as strong as King Kong or as courageous as Simba, Jonson’s use of anemones and sea urchins as a comparison to the women suggest a more passive form of “danger.” Unlike a lion whose fierceness is seen as active and combative, an anemone does not have the faculties to target and actively seek out the destruction of their “prey.” Rather, they lie in wait and slowly wrap their writhing tentacles around a wandering fool who ignored the dangers present in the mystique and fascination of these wriggling beings slowly swaying to the whims of the ocean current.