Lochlann Jain playfully turns categories on their head in her new book of original drawings

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Lochlann Jain playfully turns categories on their head in her new book of original drawings
Through humorous, relevant and undeniably unusual illustrations, award-winning anthropologist, writer and artist, Lochlann Jain, urges readers to delve deep into their imagination to question why we categorise things the way we do.

TORONTO.- Things That Art: A Graphic Menagerie of Enchanting Curiosity is a playful book of original drawings that explore the possibilities and pitfalls of categories. Stanford University professor Lochlann Jain turns categories on their head to show their wonderfully multi-faceted and often irreverent meanings. From words we use to demean other people, to soften the blow of death, to describe the uncanny functions of our body parts, and even words that allude to our capitalist society, Things That Art combines linguistics and art to create an inquisitive pool of new categories that may have never crossed your mind until now.

In a world where people are desperate to seek clarity – whether it’s gender and sexuality, politics and religion, or simply how we go about making choices at the supermarket – we are subconsciously categorising all the time. While categories may appear to bring objects and ideas together, in many cases they are dividing society and nations apart. Lochlann Jain focuses on the gaps and inconsistencies in the process of categorisation that shine a light on the way in which humans obsessively categorise everything and the everyday assumptions.

Through humorous, relevant and undeniably unusual illustrations, award-winning anthropologist, writer and artist, Lochlann Jain, urges readers to delve deep into their imagination to question why we categorise things the way we do. As a non-binary, queer person born and bred in the UK, Jain questions how to live outside of a category and in doing so dissects categories and their meanings to break down some of societies entrenched categories.

Categories have their uses: they need us, and we need them. Defined as a framing device for a set of things with shared characteristics, categories order things and perceptions, establish those who devise them, those who are fascinated by them, and the worlds in which they move together. As visual poetry meets graphic philosophy, Lochlann Jain offers new ways of understanding how we recognise ‘things’ and group them in relation to one another.

Ever wondered about the relationship between an onion and body mass index? Shrapnel and a sandwich? Or abstraction and a lamb chop? How about pirates and a dissenting vote? Things That Art is a game of visual mapping of the mind and its numerous connections.

Things that Art offers something different as it unpacks the strange familiar histories that are often taken for granted: relationships between word and image, category and individual, hand-drawn and mass-produced lines, and label and collection. Comical, random, yet also logical, the images are attractive, disturbing, witty, compelling, funny and upsetting - sometimes all at once.

Lochlann Jain’s hand-rendered colourful drawings reflect the unpredictability of art and bring the skill of illustration to the forefront as a discipline that deserves greater recognition. The sophisticated yet simple effect of the line drawings allow for clarity and encourage investigation.

In Things That Art, there is no such thing as ordinary as we see recurring motifs used in different ways and taboos that are too gross or private to talk about in polite company. For example, ‘Things generally mentioned as insults’ features a drawing of a pig with the word ‘swine’ alongside a princess and square. In the category ‘Things that you may kiss’, Jain draws an arse, the ground, a crowned frog with the word ‘prince’, and a tattoo above the label ‘and tell’. Additionally, in ‘Things that have spots’ we see the chicken pox, dirty specs, swiss cheese, a hyena and the Japanese flag.

Jain Lochlann says: “In my bailiwick as an anthropologist I study people and stuff: cars, laws, viruses, for instance. As an artist, I create things, things that sometimes have no discernible purpose other than attracting an eye or evincing a chuckle, and other times offer a way to process questions in ways not available through traditional scholarly methods. Initially curious about the sorts of juxtapositions that emerged unbidden from my pen, I also came to see that this graphic menagerie enabled me to reimagine and revision engagements with ageold philosophical questions about the relations among word and image, category and individual, hand-drawn and mass produced lines, and label and collection.”

Things That Art includes three written commentaries by leading academics including award-winning author and architect Dr. Maria Dolores McVarish, author and poet Elizabeth Bradfield, and leading academic and musician Drew Daniel. They offer further insight into the artwork and discuss how Jain’s aesthetic decisions and strategy bring us to question our reliance on these sorting mechanisms on their own terms, with depth, nuance, delight, and surprise.

Lochlann Jain is a non-binary British academic and Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University and Global Health and Social Medicine at King’ College London. Jain has studied art at the Slade (London) and the San Francisco Art Institute. Whether in art or scholarship, their work aims to disrupt ways of knowing. Jain’s work has been praised as “a remarkable achievement,” (TLS), “a whip-smart read” (Discover Magazine), “brilliant and disturbing,” (Nature Magazine), and having “the phenomenological nuance of James Joyce.” (Medical Humanities) Jain is the author of Injury (2006) and Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us (2013). Jain has won numerous prizes for work in anthropology and medical journalism, including the Staley Prize, June Roth Memorial Award, Fleck Prize, Edelstein Prize, Victor Turner Prize, and the Diana Forsythe Prize. The work has been supported by Stanford Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and the National Humanities Center.

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