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Things that... provoke some thought: book of drawings philosophically questions the relationship of 'things'

Groups of pictures are assembled on the basis of word association—but not everything in this graphic novel makes good sense

Lochlann Jain, Things that bleed (2019) © Lochlain Jain

Lochlann Jain, so we are told in the press release that accompanies his book, is a man of many parts: bi-racial, non-binary, queer, transatlantically employed (UK and US), a university professor, an anthropologist, a medical journalist and an artist, among other things. His book (the ungrammatical title is no doubt meant to provoke or intrigue while the subtitle is contrastingly deictic, an odd touch, given that the author purports to be a category-buster) consists of a series of cute little coloured drawings of “things”. Each “thing” is carefully labelled (in case the reader cannot recognise the object pictured). The individual drawings are grouped in boxes by the relative pronoun “that” followed by a defining clause which explains the collection.

For example, we have Things that bleed (shown above: heart, wound, tie dye, teabag (?), laundry, investors, road kill, nose), which is one of the more obvious word associations, but also Things that abstract (lamb chop, one nation under god, stereotype, medicine, anatomy, warning, economy, sperm bank), that, like the title, is far too abstruse for my comprehension.

Jain tops and tails the book with an introduction and a post-script, and three contributors have written essays that punctuate selections of the cartoons. It must be said that Jain is very fluent at word association, even if his drawings are not always clear. His contributors are not always so lucid. One, for instance, tells us “…Things That Art insists upon the breathing room provided by a wrinkle of difference, a difference that art can make in how we imagine the ways of being available to us once we surrender the expectation that we could separate the ‘things that are’ from ‘things that aren’t’”. I say: things ain’t what they used to be.

  • Lochlann Jain, Things That Art: a Graphic Menagerie of Enchanting Curiosity, University of Toronto Press, 128pp, £20.99 (hb)