The Uses and Misuses of Animal Spirits (2009)

5 Traverse Gallery, Providence, RI

The Uses and Misuses of Animal Spirits is Jo Dery’s imaginative exploration of the economic crisis of 2008/2009 and its affect on the personal notion of home, as well as a poetic examination of the mind as a kind of shelter. Both themes are framed by whimsical interpretations of economist John Maynard Keynes’ and philosopher Rene Descartes’ use of the phrase “animal spirits” – spun into a narrative about a frustrated chimney sweep, the tortoise he finds in a dream, and the family of raccoons who live in his chimney. Drawing, printmaking, book arts, animation and sculptural objects combine in an installation that aims to create a myth for our times, as well as a summoning of the “animal spirits” for help with our current predicaments.



From Art New England, Jan/Feb 2010


Jo Dery is a storyteller.  Working across disciplines, the Providence animator and printmaker uses short films and books to tell her stories, often incorporating animal characters and visual language found in children’s books to tell fables for adults.

Dery’s current installation at 5Traverse Gallery, an exploration of home as shelter in light of the economic crisis and the more poetic notion of the mind providing shelter of a different kind, is based on a narrative involving a frustrated chimney sweep (as a vehicle for Dery’s voice), a family of raccoons squatting in his chimney (acting as his conscience) and a tortoise emerging from his dream and helping him to move house (representing his unconscious).

This narrative is broken down into a fractured installation, presenting a moment of the story frozen in time, depicting the chimney sweep’s living room, complete with a table, an overturned chair, prints and drawings – by Dery, with imagery extending form the narrative – on the wall, a soup bowl indicating that the turtle has met it’s fate before we enter the story, and a fireplace, doubling as a screen for a vision encountered by the chimney sweep and providing a clue as to why he may have left the scene.

On the cracked mantel, next to copies of a book entitled ‘The Uses and Misuses of Animal Spirits’, a companion to the installation, containing drawings and text and intended to be taken home by the viewer, sit hand-embroidered busts of the economist John Maynard Keynes and the philosopher Rene Descartes.  Both presumably represented here because of their oft-cited quotes about animal sprits and, in Keynes case, its relevance to a tale offering commentary on the economic crisis.

Dery’s stories often start with an image or sound as “a twirling glittering nugget in my head” which she then spins into the fabric of a narrative, grounding that initial impulse in intentional articulation while leaving room for coincidence and chance in the process of letting the story unfold.  By framing the narrative in a tableau and presenting it in a gallery setting, Dery encourages the viewer to explore the multiple layers packaged in this modern tale to draw her/his own conclusions.