Last week I sat down with Jacob V Joyce to discuss their work, influences and inspirations, and their view on the interpersonal relationship between artists and their artwork. What came out our time together, was an exploration into the meaningfulness of their work, community work, spirituality, history, representation, and much more.
Self- described: ‘Jacob V Joyce is a non-binary interdisciplinary artist that disrupts commercial and community spaces with queer and anti-colonial, creative interventions.’
Through observing their work for some time, both independently and within groups (i.e. sorryyoufeeluncomfortable collective, and their band Screaming Toenail) the description is honest, yet the impact is arguably more than the words can quantify. True to their words, which I found on their website, their work is absolutely disruptive, but in the most critical, instrumental and targeted ways; and creative, in the sense that their interventions span the realm of visual art, music, performance, written word, archiving, teaching, and more.
I sat down with a list of questions, as necessary for an interview, but observed and enjoyed as our conversation flowed inside and outside of my opening enquiries. Jacob is passionate, fierce, intelligent, excited, searching, and consistently responding; in order to support their vision of a queered, decolonial, expansive, and honest future – which can only be accomplished by contributing to it.
How would you define your work as an artist?
I would define my practice and the work that I make in three words, which is kind of the mantra that I stick to when making work – that it has to be nourishing, it has to be infectious or infect somehow, and it has to be subversive.
In terms of how it’s nourishing, if the work is difficult, because sometimes the things that I work with are quite difficult – like making work about systemic oppression, or making work about everyday microagressions is quite draining, but it’s like is this going to be nourishing to someone else? Even though it’s difficult to talk about these things, or its difficult for me to do the research and look at these images that I’m working with; is someone going to look at this and think or feel like someone see’s them, and see’s the shit they are going through? Is it going to make them laugh? If its talking about racism, homophobia, or transphobia; are people of colour, are trans people, are queer people going to see it and find it funny, and are they going to get something from it? I don’t want to be part of this reproducing the spectacle of trans and queer tragedies, and black death.. It has to be has to be nourishing for me, and if it’s not nourishing for me, if it’s really hard for me, it has to be at least nourishing for the people that it resonates with.
In terms of infectious is it going to change something? Is it going to change what a person thinks when they look at it, is it going to challenge, or potentially interrupt, or I guess subvert which is the final thing. Is it going to take a dominant power structure and is going to take the piss out of it? Is it going to undermine it, make fun of it? I think that is the kind of triangle of things I try to ask myself as I am making a piece of work.
What is your artistic practice?
‘My artistic practice is quite varied; my biggest outputs are probably illustration, workshops with various community groups i.e. youth centres, elderly people, schools, homeless shelters, other artists... and performance in terms of confrontational, durational, and more traditional like poetry or punk music.’
Do you identify creating anti-colonial or work in opposition to hegemony, as a part of your artistic practice or something separate?
My artistic practice is a language which I am using to say something which I feel like needs to be said. I think that has come directly out of frustrations, and feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness at things which are very unfair about the world we live in; like things that happen to my family or my friends or myself or people that I work with.. ‘
Art is a form of magic, like if you look at the history of satire, satire in a way is a really powerful form of magic. Like if you create a satire of somebody it can outlive them.. If you make a parody or a subversive image that creates an alternative version of reality, and people really find it funny or really like it, it might outlive the person or the politics.
I guess the most obvious examples of that are the way that black people and people of colour and women are parodied in hegemony. Like the trope of the angry black person, or the hysterical woman, or the passive Asian person. These stereotypes are thriving in the landscape of our cultural media that we consume, and people actually believe that shit – and they act out those assumptions on our bodies.
I see my work as a response to that. My books like White Boys or The Anthology of White Liberal Proverbs, or the performance piece called Colonial Cannibal, or my music with Screaming Toenail. A lot of it is parody or satire of hegemony to make people laugh at it – so they see that it is actually tropes.. and it can be used to point out that hegemony is quite ridiculous.’
Are there specific artists that inform your practice?
Definitely my work with communities, starting point working with teenagers, or elderly, or school children – if I am not showing them my work I will show them other peoples’ work.. Most of the workshops I do with other people I always use artists as a reference. I almost always use black artist’s; I am also inspired by black art history.
What’s the purpose in specifically recalling black artists when you work with new communities?
It is about representation. A lot of people I work with are either black, disabled, or working class; have some kind of thing that makes them not see themselves as cultural producers – whereas “We are not the ones that make culture, we are consumers, and it’s not really ‘for us’” and it’s like, Nope! There are Black people, Asian people, women, queer people; there are loads of people who share the intersections of your oppressions, that are navigating the same bullshit that you have to put up with, and making work about it. I think that’s really important.
Are there non-artists that inform your work directly? How does history or the contemporary social world inform your practice?
The people that really influence my work that are not artists are the people that I work with, I have been working in a special education needs youth centre for about 5 years now.. Children with special education needs sometimes its just a more obvious version of how everybody is. We are all different we all have different needs; and I think it’s a privilege.. and all of those things go back into my practice.
Also, I’m inspired by the Orixa and Oxum, because what I take from Oxum is the importance of sweetness and seduction in your communication. She is the river, she is the stream, and both of those things find their way around any obstacle with ease because they don’t force it they just flow.
I’m very interested in learning from the people who have come before, because I know the work that I do – the way I do it might be new, but the themes that I am talking about are not new at all.
The thing I would like to shy away from is a point of arrival. I think there is a weird idea with feminism, with queerness, with decoloniality, that we will reach a point of arrival but I don’t think there ever is a point of arrival. I think they are processes that will be going on long after I’m dead and have been going on long before; so it would be crazy to not look at the history and let it inform my work.
You are part of the river, it’s like Oxum; you are a part of this force, this journey that’s going, you are contributing stuff to it, but it will keep going after you’re gone. I feel like all the work that I do, it’s like seeds that I’m planting.. and I’ll never, no artist will see the way their work grows outside of them but it’s nice to have the chance to do that. It’s really nourishing to learn about art history in so many ways, and the ways people subverted oppression in so many ways.
Do you believe art is or can be separate from the artists’ personal experience?
I think that falls back into what I call ‘the flexibility of whiteness’, and also I guess the ‘flexibility of patriarchy’ as well; because if you are a white male artist.. if you are not white and male, your work is inevitably going to be read as some kind of statement about the oppressions that you face.
As an artist who is black, the work that I make will always be read as a statement about being black; whereas an artist white could make the exact same piece and the work could be about anything. People can project whatever they want onto it, and that’s what I call the flexibility of whiteness. It’s the way that white actors can play any role they want, because we can just imagine a bit more, when it’s a white man, we can just imagine they were Gods of Egypt somehow. We can just use our imagination with whiteness just that little bit extra. I think that unfortunately people of colour can’t, they can’t..
Yet personally I think your work always is (tied to your identity and personal experience), and I’m interested to know that, and it makes a huge difference to me to know that the artist whose work I’m looking at is a white man. Not because I think this could be ‘anything’, it makes me think about privilege... I think we are generally taught that white male artists can make work about whatever they want because white is neutral and male is neutral..
This conversation with Jacob in total was about an hour. It was fruitful, forward thinking, respectful of the past, and honest about the present we are in. Jacob is creating work and supporting the work of others that builds agency across community, identity, and interpersonal lines. It was a pleasure to have the conversation and I look forward to see what comes next for and from them.
To find out more about Jacob and their work visit their website here.
Written by Mattie Loyce