Artist Spotlight: Jojo Hynes

Jojo Hynes is a multimedia artist whose practice explores representations of real and fictional women protagonists. Currently coming to an end of a four month residency at our arts and events space RAW Labs, we caught up with her to find about her work and upcoming plans.

Your work explores stories of both actual and fictional women, merging past, present and future as well as blurring fact and fiction. Are there any stories you are particularly inspired by?

Before I started this residency I was particularly inspired by an Irish Pirate Queen Gráinne O’Malley who was written out of history, despite her fascinating story and contributions. When I began my residency at RAW I started looking for stories specific to East London, like the well-known Match Factory Strike in Bow in 1888 and Ford Dagenham Machinists Walk Out in 1968. When my research got deeper, I started to find less well known stories like that of Josie Woods. Josie was a really inspiring choreographer, dancer and activist who lived in Canning Town in an area called Checkerboard Alley. She is credited with bringing the jitterbug dance to London as well as organising a strike for Black actors in when they weren’t paid in time. The Suffragettes of East London are also very interesting because they are so different from those in West London. East London Suffragettes were more focussed on working class achievements: for example they set up toy factories to help their community. People tend to imagine the Suffragettes as one monolith group, but I began to learn about their variation between those of East and West London when I looked more into the history of the area surrounding RAW. 

Your Friday night takeover at RAW Labs, ‘Temple’, was immersive and participatory. Can you tell us about the role collaboration and humour plays in your practice?

For a long time I found it hard to find my voice in art. There was a disconnection between what I would create and my voice. My work at this time would reflect my interests but didn’t have my personal voice in it.

I use humour a lot in my own every day character and personality, as well as in my street performance but it took me a while to be confident enough to bring that personality into to my own artwork. Without humour I am disconnected from my artwork. Sometimes it is assumed that art has to be left open to interpretation. However this just didn’t fit my work because I have a strong voice and opinion. The older I get the more confident I get to put my own personality in my art. My work tends to deal with serious issues: feminism, abortion, rewriting hidden histories and untold stories – but I don’t want them to be dry! I use humour to activate these themes and stories in the present, to make them interesting to me and to people hearing about them now. I have a childlike way of thinking with a big imagination. When I’m researching a particular story I try to imagine if I was that person now. I ask myself what would that look or sound like? In one my previous works about Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly to space, I filmed things from my own first personal perspective. I put myself into her shoes but applied the story to my present world and context. Most films have huge budgets and a team of people but with mine it’s just me and a story. I play with the idea of what it would be like to be that character – and that’s humorous because I can’t really go to space!

Collaboration with other artists is very important to me. Collaborators are a second pair eyes on my work and their input helps me let go of any preciousness I have about what I create. I don’t want my work to be precious. The stories and research I initially start off with at some point have to become an artwork – so the emphasis has to change for it to be visually interesting. Collaboration helps me to let go of the story in a way. It is important for me that the viewer is visually interested. I want them look it as an artwork rather than trying to force a story on them. Other artists help me achieve my visual aims and helps me understand what draws people into my work. Other artists remind me that your initial intention and artwork at the end don’t have to be literal. I need a story to inspire me to make artworks but it doesn’t have to be an exact representation of that story. The story it is a trigger. Collaboration frees me from that attachment to the story and research. It makes the process more free and fluid.

I have always separated the events I run and my own artworks. I always question the role of audience or participants in art. However, this residency at RAW Lab allowed me to align my events and workshops more with the content of my art and research. Previously I did skills-based workshops. One of the reasons I wanted to do this residency was to experiment with leading concept and process-driven workshops inspired by my research in history and women’s stories – and they have been going really well! I led a printmaking workshop inspired by the Suffragettes, a Friday Night Takeover exploring Future Heroines. Through this residency I have achieved a more cyclical relationship between my research, artworks and public-facing events and workshops – one feeds into the other and one inspires the other.

Your work crosses many different mediums including sound, visual art and installation. Does your changing mediums reflect any themes in your work?

It reflects my personality! I tend to research for a long time but I make the resulting artworks quickly. Working across different mediums helps me to concentrate and it also frees me up so I am more open to the particular story I am being inspired by. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into only telling stories in one way. I don’t try and tell whole story in one artwork – different parts of story lend themselves to different mediums. I might interpret it through a film with my own soundtrack because sound might be needed to tell that story. Other times I am way more inspired by moving image for one part of story but painting might tell another part of the story better. It all comes from the same research but the resulting works can be wildly different.

I also keep in mind that audiences are engaged in stories in different ways. We are much more multi-disciplinary today. I love movie trailers and how quick they get a narrative across but don’t tell the whole story. I see my work like that – if you think of a trailer – they don’t tell you everything but they incite you to find out more about the story on your own. They trigger audiences into looking into the stories themselves. With my work, especially by meeting locals in the East London area, people are triggered by the story and then come back and tell me something I didn’t know about the story. If I told the whole story in one artwork, I feel that I would be closing down the opportunity for that conversation. 

Alberta Gallion is a central fictional character in your work at present. Could you tell us a bit more about her?

I wanted to create a female heroine for this area which is called Royal Albert Wharf – and is a man’s name. I feel like 2018 is the year to create a new woman superhero for London – we are 100 years since Suffragettes gained our right to vote and 50 years since the Dagenham walkouts. When I asked the kids in my workshops to name 5 heroes, they named 5 men and I wanted to address that issue in a creative and stimulating way. Alberta Gallion started off by looking historically at strong local female heroines then looking at the diversity of the community, so I had one workshop exploring goddesses from different cultures of air (because we are located next to London city airport) and water (because we are surrounded by water in the docklands). I worked to get kids to look at what they would want a future heroine to do for London. It was interesting because it brought up a lot of serious concerns they might have – Grenfell, air pollution, crime, housing. It was a creative abstract way to talk about these things. Adult workshops came up with similar themes. Alberta Gallion is multifaceted legend based within this community, inspired by the past and present, with powers to help us in the future.

Can you tell us about upcoming plans for your residency at RAW Labs?

In working within a community like the one at RAW, a new community – I wanted to avoid plonking static artworks into the area. I wanted to create a sense of celebration but in an ad-hoc and collaborative way. Organising a community celebration was the form that I wanted the outcome of my residency to be. I wanted it to be more like a memory, something that actually becomes a legend in itself. Instead of making a sculpture about Alberta Gallion (the new Heroine for Gallions Reach) I worked with school kids and local community members like the East Edge Sisters in my workshops around the idea of urban legend, rumour, how stories become fiction, history, present. As well as creating a fictional character, we are actually creating a legacy that she came to life on 14th June. Next year on 14 June people might remember how we did this procession and the story that year will be reinterpreted and retold. Hopefully it will bring the community outside into the streets to talk to each other. When I did a similar procession with Triangular Brush people loved the ad-hoc aspect of it in that they could just join in, as opposed to just viewing it as distant spectators. Some people might have been more involved, in that they made a print in one of my workshops and now are in procession and can bond over the stories about how they came to be part of the project. Ownership over this artwork is lateral. My idea of Alberta Gallion changed when kids from Gallions Primary came in and wrote three different stories. Similar to how when I collaborate with artists I become less precious, as an artist losing preciousness around my own idea of Alberta Gallion means that the community that she exists within gains ownership over her story, her future and her legend.

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