To pick one’s way through Gareth Jones’ Cabinet show, is to perform a kind of mental soft shoe shuffle. Looking at your feet in the exposed front and carefully angled mirror of ‘Open Plinth’ (1995 – 2000) gives a clue as to the footwork that needs to be done, the nimble balanced movements that need to be made in order to make sense of his loose matchmaking between historical reflexivity and simple elegant formalism.
At a glance, Jones’s work is an exercise in geometricism. Cubes, and their constituent parts – rhomboids, triangles – predominate and seem to be the basic building unit. Simply fabricated from mainly found materials, ‘humble’ or ‘quiet’ are the somewhat inaccurate adjectives floating about ones’ first impressions. Yet, more Richard Tuttle than Gabriel Orozco, the works have a casual confidence that avoids the false modesty and mawkish poetics found in the latter’s weaker pieces.
Discreet objects these are not – that would almost relieve them of their meaning, and to pull apart the mechanism at play. Perhaps more a strength than a weakness, each piece speaks more of the way the others can be read, rather than themselves. "Cork Box Plus Ingredients’ (1998) makes this process explicit. A small cork box (funnily enough) is filled with audio tape, black and white patterned Fablon, and polystyrene. Each object in the box can be found in the rest of the show; for example the Fablon of ‘Sliced Cube’ (2000), or the tape from ‘Tape Loop (Diamond)’ (2000).
Although wearing his references lightly, the work in the show is undeniably historically savvy. Arte Povera, minimalism, Beuys – they’re all clearly present and put to work in various ways within the exhibition. At this point, suspicion could set in. It would be easy to write ‘Cork Box Plus Ingredients’ off as a rather heavy handed device that links the pieces together, and then dismiss the show altogether as an artistic conceit, a jigsaw puzzle.
True, it’s a show that leads the viewer on a merry dance, providing clue after clue about each work and artistic intention, yet it’s Jones’s light touch that pulls it back from a smug brink, remaining refreshingly undogmatic. It lulls its audience into a false sense of their own cleverness – here a neat art historical allusion, there a smart connection. Before feeling too comfortably privy to an elite literary puzzle, Jones dumps the audience back where it started, uncertain as to whether they have really made any interpretative journey, or arrived at any conclusion. The pieces, mutually supportive both in composition and the possible readings they suggest, teasingly make no grand claims, and stand as aesthetically pleasing objects. There’s an appealing insolence about his method, like a warning shot fired across the bows of over-interpretation.
Three pairs of shelf brackets are fixed to the wall. Standing on the floor beneath the lowest layer are three (blank?) audio cassettes. The tape from the cassettes has been pulled out and threaded over and around the brackets in the manner of a cats cradle, forming a simple diamond-shaped pattern. ‘Tape Loop (Diamond)’ (2000) is a frustratingly silent work, stubbornly full of musical potential, as if it were some kind of unplayed Steve Reich tape composition. Like the sound of fingernails against blackboard, it’s almost painful to imagine the inevitable rasping scrape that the dull metal would make against the tape they can’t read. ‘Tape Loop (Diamond)’, is a piece that is meant to function over a period of time, like music, but is instead gagged, and rendered immobile by its own physical makeup.
‘Cape’ (1996), a string and cardboard robe hanging from the wall, looks like the kind of simple superhero costume a kid might make. Decorated with numbered raffle ticket feathers, it also has the strange aura of reliquary, as if it were a strange fusion of holy Beuysian object and the ceremonial garb of a bizarre Women’s Institute cult. Put on this magic robe, and all will become clear, ‘Cape’ suggests. Or maybe just take a raffle ticket and see which reading you can win. By alluding to a history of grand claims, over-interpretations and conclusions in such a self-effacing manner, Jones subtly replaces pomposity with an appealingly fresh open-endedness.