Updated: Aug 31, 2021
In 1992, I came into the world; just as Jo Spence was leaving.
It wasn’t until 2014 that I discovered Jo Spence and f-u-u-u-c-k-m-e, what a phenomenal influence she had on my life, my attitude to myself, to death, to memory, to using other people’s memories*.
If I had seen her “prettier” projects first, I may have overlooked them. If I was not suffering my own identity crisis, I may have judged her, dismissed her. But I found Jo exactly when I needed to. I read her words, I cried. I read some more, I made promises to myself… and while I didn’t know it at the time, I started some motions which would eventually change my life.
Through my research into Spence while I was at uni, I learnt more about Art Therapy as a personal exercise as well as a potential career. I learnt to express honestly, regardless of others, to tell my story, my experience and my pain. I learnt to use art and photography as a tool to work through anxieties and issues I was facing, and to better communicate my feelings when words alone were failing me. She also taught me to value my body, to own my body, and to appreciate it as it was.
Of course I will remember Jo Spence; how could I forget?
Spence notably wrote about beliefs prevalent in Mexican culture (originally Aztec), regarding death and the afterlife – that when we die, we live on in the afterlife for as long as we are remembered by the living. Spence adopted this belief and began treating her work as a legacy to leave behind; a way to live on, having faced death so This is a really eye-opening version of the afterlife for people who don’t, or can’t, believe in the versions we were taught in western schools. If you want a really lovely demonstration of this belief, try watching the films Book of Life and Coco (… because sometimes the best lessons are hidden inside cartoons & musicals).
Another important idea Spence allowed me to embrace is Memento Mori (remember you must die), harnessing the morbid themes of death and disease as a true and honest reflection of life and it’s necessities. We celebrate death as a part of life. We find the beauty in this certainty of death; and understand that in however strange a way, it unites us all.
Spence’s projects are raw, and personal. There is a wealth of vulnerability and depth of extreme honesty, while I envy her bravery I fear her circumstance. I know full well that I cannot sum her, or her work up in a blog post, but I would like to write more about her one day; she would appreciate that, keeping her memory alive. It is wonderful to see artists still noting her influence, putting on joint exhibitions, and being visibly influenced by her efforts, ethics and work.
"when you’re as badly damaged as I am, you just want nice things around you"
jo, I will remember you
More info on Jo Spence:
The Final Project
Putting Myself in the Picture
Fairy Tales and Photography, or, another look at Cinderella
Cultural Sniping – the art of transgression
Putting Myself In The Picture A Political, Personal And Photographic Autobiography
Book in the life of . . . Jo Spence
*Read more about the still & moving image project and my mixed feelings on “these are not my memories” (coming soon)
Here’s my dissertation and some further rambling on Spence…. I COULD(N’T) HAVE SAID IT BETTER MYSELF
Some of my work from my final year project influenced by Spence, more here: Grad profile Source.com