Speaking to Support Structures: Jacob V Joyce
I see myself as part of a long history of artists who believe that the function of art is to show each other what freedom looks like.
Jacob V Joyce, an artist, researcher and educator from South London, considers the importance of working collectively towards liberatory new realities.
Support Structures for Support Structures is a fellowship which nurtures London-based artists and collectives working with spatial, social and community practices. Initiated with Sumayya Vally – architect of the Serpentine Pavilion 2021 – the programme offers financial support and mentorship, and forms a supportive network of peers.
For this series, we asked each of the fellows in the 2021 Support Structures cohort to reflect on their work in the context of community. Jacob V Joyce’s community-focussed work ranges from mural painting, illustration, workshops, poetry, and punk music. Their work is rooted in histories of Black, queer and anti-colonial interventions. Over the past decade, residencies in education departments, youth centres and community centres have allowed Jacob to develop their practice as an artist educator.
Tell us about yourself and your practice.
I see myself as part of a long history of artists who believe that the function of art is to show each other what freedom looks like. I keep reflecting on the anti-colonial and queer work I have made in institutions which were not built to hold those kinds of transgressions, and what that work affords those institutions. It’s like – if you dry your wet socks in the microwave, the microwave does not become a tumble-dryer. The machine remains true to its original function, regardless of how many times we use it for something else.
That’s why my art practice, between moments of rest and regeneration, is about trying to build a new machine: one that doesn’t think of Black people, or disabled people, or poor people as an afterthought. It’s an archive which isn’t dead like in museums and galleries, but alive in communities and nature. I’m talking about a spaceship and its beautiful, but I don’t want to describe it too much – I want you to touch it and define it through the ways it incites you to move. Liberation is a collective process of action, and my job is to make you feel excited about participating in it.
Why do you think collective work is important?
Because the goal of white-supremacist, hetero-patriarchal, ableist capitalism has always been to rule through division, collective work is vital – now more than ever. An ongoing pandemic has accelerated imperialism, increased alienation and shown us how little value society places on people of colour, disabled people and the elderly.
The pandemic has also highlighted the inadequacies of an education system which was already struggling to hold space for the mental wellbeing of children, especially those with marginalised identities. And of course, the pandemic was accompanied by a barrage of regressive authoritarian policies which attempt to remove our human rights and restrict the ways we can protest in the UK. Teachers, nurses, healers, and any artist with a soul can sense the urgency with which we must come together to build new systems of sustained, disruptive, regenerative care.
Our feelings of pessimism and powerlessness are not arbitrary, they are not random occurrences or seasonal depression. We are experiencing the death rattle of a colonial project which will drag us to hell with it unless we dig in our heels and reclaim our bodies, our land, our history, and our collective futures.
What does justice and liberation look like to you?
I am not sure if I believe in the existence of justice. The concept feels too rooted in ideas of law and order which have never been just. Maybe my idea of justice would be something akin to queerness, a horizon that we can only move toward. I feel like justice is the head of a bubbling fountain, something that must rise faster than it collapses, something volcanic that can never stop bursting up, up, up with the force of fresh water. Something to nourish us when we are thirsty and tired, something to cool our spirit when we are burning, a sweetness to catch in your mouth, something sensual and embodied and free.
And if oppression is a hydra – a greedy, dominating organism that catches and devours us all in different ways – then liberation must also be a beast with many heads. One day, liberation might look like a moment of peace in which to be creative and critical, another day it might take the form of access to gender-affirming health care. Right now, I’m choosing to think of it as a process of reanimation, bringing something that the dominant narrative tried to kill back to life.