Just Call Me JO

Media: plastic sheet, hairs, steel, a mirror, bricks. 150 cm (L) x 70 cm (W) x 61 cm (H).

Images: the installation view of Just call me 'JO' at the VCA Master Graduation Exhibition 2017, Melbourne. Photography by Janelle Low.

After returning from the Berlin residency, I attempt to approach this same scenario from a different position. I am looking at this from the internal as opposed to the external. I produced another artwork to extend the contemplation about the internalised Other that became apparent from my Berlin project of cooking German food and collecting German jokes.

A futon is made of plastic sheets with a distinctive cross pattern of stripes, stuffed with soft fibre fillings. The plastic sheet makes the outer layer of the futon easily recognisable as the material of ubiquitous cheap bags used to transport goods for travel. On one side of the futon, two English letters ‘JO’ are embroidered with hairs. A mirror is attached at one end of the futon and held erect with a stick. The futon reclines against a metal structure.

In the anthropomorphic view that the futon is a human body, the complex and unclarified selfhood is not only evoked by the mixed material forms of representation of cultural practice but also from the ambiguous borderline between the representation of the Self and the Other. If the plastic sheet, like the skin, gives the futon body a dominant identity with its own cultural, political and economic values and suggests an innate attribute of this identity, the letters ‘JO’, in the understanding of the abbreviation of a person’s name, becomes the social sign that indicates the psyche, as well as, a particular cultural identity. 

In developing Jacques Lacan’s theory about ‘the Ideal-I…determined and constructed by the big O, “the Other”’, Christina Emanuela Dascalu states that ‘the subject (a self) is determined both literally and metaphorically by the “letter”.’[1] A person’s name has a tremendous impact on forming one’s identity and fate. By giving itself a name, the subject Self creates another identity that matches the one projected by the Other. Hence, ‘JO’ potentially articulates a self that is defined by others, and an identity that is agreed upon and recognised by the subject Self. The internal expression of the selfhood is represented through the materiality of the ‘JO’. The hairs are stitched on the surface and the letters are, as if, biologically shaped with the element that grows from inside outward through the plastic skin. In the condition of cultural hybridity, the name’s ambivalent articulation of the Self complicates the identification process of cultural selfhood. Given that the name is another form of cultural representation, the culturally signified identity of the name ‘JO’ becomes quite blurred. This is because the difference inhabited by the futon body is unclear. It could be either an identity that is inherited through an innate process, or an identity that is acquired socially.

Moreover, the uncertainty of self-perception is informed by the narcissistic relationship between the mirror and the futon body. The mirror provides the futon an external gaze, in which the futon can see itself. As the mirror faces inwards, the reflected image is obscured from the public eyes, but easily accessible to the futon. The mirror self does not scrutinise the futon Self, but the mirror also presents the futon’s difference. With this difference, an ongoing psychoanalytic process of self-forming is envisioned. In the physical space between the futon and the image in the mirror, the production of the Other is imagined.

1,  Cristina Emanuela Dascalu, Imaginary Homelands of Writers in Exile. Salman Rushdie, Bharati Mukherjee and V.S. Naipaul  (Youngstown, New York: Cambria Press, 2007), 53.

Using Format