In 2002, Mathew Jones copied his horoscope for every day of his life to date from daily newspapers published in Melbourne, London, and Sao Paulo. These copies were packed in boxes, which were stacked on pallets, each pile a curious selfportrait of the artist if he had been born here or there. Most of the boxes remained sealed, suggesting archived lives in potentia, symbolic of latent hopes and dormant opportunities. Thus our lives might pass unopened or unrealised.
Jones has also painstakingly copied TV guides from three different cities for the nights on which gay-activist groups Act Up and Outrage were founded. Where were you, watching TV? Similarly, he has copied the entire edition of the New York Daily News on Friday 27 June 1969, the day before the Stonewall Riot, which protested the harassment of gays in New York and is widely regarded as the origin of the modern gay-rights movement. Text, pictures, ads, everything from the pages of these ephemeral publications has been rendered in elaborate ink drawings.
However, there is little explicit sign of impending upheaval, tumult, insurrection, or change in the course of the world. As Jones says, despite his attention to every detail, “the newspaper gives no clue to the enigmatic catalyst for the riot (since it had not yet occurred). But in retrospect every line seems pregnant with a meaning which can never quite be deciphered.” Indeed, the cover story, reporting an all-night vigil for gay icon Judy Garland lying on her deathbed, does seems strangely prescient.
These obscure textual remnants of the period are, of course, an insufficient account of impending historical events, highlighting our – and the media’s – focus on other matters at these turning points. Perhaps history is a subtext before it is ever written; so we must search between the lines or in the margins. Using a pink pen, Jones once highlighted the entire text of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, an absurd gesture identifying the entire text as being of special significance, perhaps also highlighting the invisible traces of the text’s supposed gay tropism, which arguably permeates every word.
Jones has sought the same fateful signs in the palms of his own and others’ hands, meticulously copying and enlarging the telling lines and folds, recording and interrogating the slightest difference in psycho-topography. Of course, no two paintings are the same, and this endless differentiation compares to our (ultimately confounding) individuation. Other paintings of apparently random numbers, like an unintelligible code waiting to be cracked, systematically record the telephone numbers of men he fancies but has never called.
Several of Jones’s ‘public’ commissions seem to work only in ‘private’. For the 1994 Adelaide Festival, he advertised and arranged for select respondents to be tattooed. The work was never publicly exhibited, but circulated in secret on private bodies. In 2001, he advertised for people to vent their grievances on video: jilted lovers, sacked workers. The tapes were broadcast by alternative means – unspooled and strewn around London’s public spaces. Rumour has it that modern covens record their curses on audiotapes then drape them in the trees near their enemies for the wind to convey the spell. Jones’s last public project was a map of two cities’ hidden dimensions. Advertisements in Melbourne and London called for tragic stories: the sad event and its precise location. Jones then proposed using a series of Palm Pilot city guides with GPS technology to guide users through the grief and loss on which every city is founded.
Perhaps all of these stories will never be told; the boxes brimful with accumulated lives will never be unpacked, like those people in our lives we will never call. These are the hidden secret meanings and possibilities of life, which Jones highlights through innuendo, rumour, chance, and whimsy, but never discloses with certainty. These scrawled notes on the underside of historical narrative and public knowledge tend towards invisibility. Indeed, now living in London, Jones has not presented work since 2004. He just left these notes and then a profound silence.