Top image:  Some Days All This Is Yours, by Jo Ray, shown in Your Future Needs You, exhibition, Art Gene, 2011

Jo Ray

We first met Jo Ray in 2009 when she was one of twenty-plus (inter)national delegates selected to take part in Art Gene’s Re-Visioning Utopia Charrette . At the time we had been finalising the details of Barrow-by-Design, a project we had proposed to Barrow Borough Council aimed at raising the quality of design in regeneration through the fully integrated engagement of artists working at the core of capital developments.

Following the charrette Jo’s written reponses and reflections were amongst the most insightful we received and added to our findings following the charrette.

‘We were invited in a way to be experts at being ourselves. The Charrette created a very particular environment which gave us permission to dream, to challenge and encourage each other. Situations cultivated within the unique environment of Barrow could mean a more appropriate ‘fit’ and avoid the waste synonymous with a solution that is ‘one size fits all’. Respect the individuality of an environment.

The Barrow Ecosystem

Ideas that could be considered light, temporal, small scale, or mutable continually emerged, but these were actually concerned with permanence in the sense of building a situation that is durable and self sustaining – a methodology of sorts? – ‘self build’ / ‘shedding’…not as nostalgic style fetish, but a recognition of the ‘rightness’ people can generate for themselves given the opportunity to do so.’

Jo Ray

We were later in a position to offer Jo, and other associates an opportunity to work in collaboration with us in the delivery of some key Barrow-by-Design projects.

As a core member of our Barrow-by-Design Team she has been working with us to provide a consultation and design service to over thirty small independent traders made possible through a Borough Council small grants scheme aimed at revitalising town centre retail.

Jo is currently helping us to work with local communities to create a cabinet of curiosities for the Ship Inn on Piel Island: one element of a wider Sea Change funded project employing a range of unusual ways to draw out and impart the rich industrial and natural history of Barrow and its Islands.

Jo continues to work as a lecturer in Fine Art and pursues her own practice and commissioned artwork, some of which can be viewed below. She is currently developing new work for a commission in Washington D.C. Follow the Links at the bottom of this page for more about the projects mentioned above.

Above image: A Common Treasury (Yarrow: achillea millefolium), Preparatory Work. Client: Grit & Pearl / South Tyneside Council, 2011, Image Jo Ray & Damien Wootten

Artist Statement

My practice, although diverse, has been consistently preoccupied with the interplay between the idea / ideal and the lived experience.

Participating in the 2009 Re-Visioning Utopia Charrette at Art Gene provoked the crystallisation of some important questions around achieving some degree of authorship of our lives and environments, and how creative collaborative processes can inform that.

Working collaboratively with Art Gene has allowed me to extend the conversation (theoretically and practically) between the discreet research of my studio practice (making / looking) and more socially engaged or design orientated projects.

I see it as a sort of model (work in progress) for the application of the tendencies I’ve developed as an artist to a wider set of contexts, all of which require that same willingness to interrogate and respond to aesthetic, sensory and sociological phenomena.

The work I make often seeks to heighten experiences or behaviours, in order to examine the mechanisms we live in, and live out.

Adapted views, scale play and social intervention are recurrent strategies, and much of my independent research has focused around conventions of viewing, the poetic and political nature of spaces, and uses of the miniature.

The way in which I work with Art Gene lends these particular and focused areas of interest a critical and practical home.

I see myself as an amateur in the sense of ‘lover of’… the stuff that excites me, that can range from maritime plants to hand written signs; and its likely to include something else by the time this is read…. but its important to say that this curiosity and wonder is also subject to a critical process…and is part of a multi-directional (idiosyncratic?) investigation into how we live, and what’s good. And why.

Notions of the model (prototype – pattern – sample – example – exemplar – specimen – a translation of something yet to become…) and the souvenir (memento, keepsake, mnemonic, fetish – a translation of something past) are of particular interest…perhaps because these forms hold at their core a very human sense of longing for an ideal state…

The viewing platform series (above, left) specifically suggested the act of looking from/to. The absence of landscape, allowing equal potential for hope or disappointment.

The structures offer an alternative space to which to project oneself … in which the view would immediately be re-diverted to another ‘beyond’.

Developed during my residency with Skolska 28 Communication Space in Prague, this work explored the creation and function of illusory space. The screen space, the reflection, the mirage all seem to be symptoms of our need for an elsewhere, an ‘other’. Twin stereoscopes offered views into scale defying composite landscapes, the raw material for which were Victorian tourist scenes meticulously spliced together with and my own photographs of the space between the layers of glazing on the windows of the orangery building which housed the residency. These photographs of the detritus of the past seasons and flaking paint in the morning light hovered somewhere between objective documentary and Romanticism.

A temporary commission for Gateshead Riverside Park which was developed during a 4 month residency, Stand By combined notions of play and utility, embodying nostalgia for an idealised past, means of communication that may or may not function, and a longing for common social spaces and acts that are hard to find. Both celebratory and melancholy, the work acknowledged contrasting aspects of the park’s historical identity and people’s relationship to its changing character.

This self initiated project was developed during Bookville’s ‘Publishathon’ at Hull Art Lab. Over three days I occupied a scaled-down bird watching hide-for-one, situated at public locations selected for their relationship to leisure time (park, pier, shopping area)

The function of the hide was inverted, absurdly amplifying my presence and activity of watching and annotation.

Members of the public engaging in conversation with me about the activity were invited to participate by occupying the hide themselves. Lively dialogues occurred about the nature of the spaces we inhabit, how behave in them and why, the nature of watching and being watched, surveillance, ownership of space, affection for place, and reading the behaviour of others.

Made in response to the transitional space between the eroded dunes system at South Shields and the amusement park close by. There is something about momentary suspension from the norm in all the elements that inform this work.

Enticement to give our senses over to an experience, to forget the oneself for a moment…is at the core of ‘seaside’ and fairground aesthetics.

The miniaturised scale and delicate form of maritime plants, dictated by necessities of survival in a coastal demands our close attention…drawing us into a reverie that is more intense that our usual mode of viewing, perhaps offering us a moment of escape and lostness.

External Links

Axis Web
Art and the Public Realm Bristol

Lower image: Viewing Platform Series, 2004, by Jo Ray (12cm x 4cm x 30cm approx. Beech and Balsa)