Jo Cope is a conceptual fashion designer working at the intersection of fine art, fashion and craft. Since 2006 she has worked on a diverse range of commissions and exhibits which push the formal boundaries of fashion questioning its evolving role within art.
Institute: Can you tell us the inspiration behind your Masters project The Language of Feet in The Walk Of life?
Jo: The inspiration is life, things personally experienced or observed.
The idea is that shoes can be autonomous objects that can visually communicate something other than the literal. Each conceptual shoe represents experiences that relate to the concept of ‘Self’. The relationship we have throughout life with our internal and external being and how relationships with others can impact, collide and overlap with our own state and perception of self.
The research included the body language where I focused on reading the feet in social situations. The feet are an interesting part of the body because we are often very unaware of their subtle but powerful projection. In the situation of desire the feet point directly towards the object of interest, in the opposite situation the body may continue to point politely forwards but at least one of the feet will be pointing towards the exit. I am materialising the negative or unseen spaces in situations that relate to human cognition, foot and shoe.
Institute: What is your creative process?
Jo: Although I sometimes need to teach conventional methods of concept building to students as a fashion lecturer, for myself the ideas always just come very naturally and not from image collation or sketchbook building but as a more holistic approach. Sometimes an image starts to appear in my mind and then I unravel its origins and the concept often develops as a backwards analysis of the deeper psychology that underpins it.
In the making process I often start by planning things in the most accessible materials such as cardboard to get very rough outline templates of scale. Then a material is considered that is going to create an object that is closer to the form as a three dimensional object and that can relate to experimenting with the aspect of the body I am working around or in relation to, so possibly clay or plaster. I am working with wood a lot lately as a base final material. The processes are often developed using many combinations of layered hand techniques and skills. New technology also plays an important role in aspects of the work such as laser body scanners to create a connection to my own anatomy, when making there is always a backwards and forwards relationship between the object and body.
I might do some strange walks over different size planks of wood to work out a rhythm or distance of step or measure the space between people’s feet in a situation. On my walks home to my London attic I used to focus on embodying my own walking pattern rather than being disconnected or taking it for granted. In focusing on the walk I found this could create a mesmerising state, where mind and body came together this contributed to the piece: ‘Walking in Circles’.
Institute: You are currently based in London. Do you find fashion inspiration in the city?
Jo: I’ve just spent 15months in London and visit regularly but my base and studio is in the Midlands, I have a large creative space which is necessary for the type of work I create and would be very expensive in London in current times.
From a young teen (late 80’s early 90’s) I was going to London’s underground fashion scene, places like Portabello market, Electric Ballroom Camden and Hyper Hyper High Street Kensington. It was exciting to find unique articles of clothing that allowed my own visual identity to grow; back in my home town people often looked at me like I had ten heads, but it didn’t bother me in the slightest, I think I enjoyed the attention that clothing could bring. Observations of people in the city inspire and also contemporary and conceptual art is the biggest soul food when in London.
Institute: You studied at London College of Fashion. How was that for you?
Jo: Yes, it was a great experience; I went with the objective of learning new craft skills to give me more freedom in my making process. The chance to be taught by technicians with so many years of experience and masters of their crafts was a joy. Fashion Artefacts is a ground breaking course that started 10 years ago, the same time as I started exploring the conceptualisation of fashion and accessories following my BA. The Masters course produces a broad range of outcomes where free thinking is encouraged; fashion can become and cross over into many other genres and is often closer to art. It’s provocative and forward thinking nature contributes to the fashion world as aesthetic inspiration but also it aids the evolution of our relationship with clothing and creates suggestions of the future.
Institute: What can we expect to see from you in 2017?
Jo: I will be touring the new work and working with Curators such as Liza Snook of the Virtual Shoe Museum to exhibit in places including Budapest and Detroit. I am also working on new pieces, as the most current work is not a conclusive body, but an ongoing project and floor installation that I am continuing to explore and expand.
You will see more extreme shoes in form and metaphor as well as later in the year some new experimental work around the wider body.
Institute: What advice do you have for up and coming artists/designers?
Jo: There is no template, make your own rules and own path. Don’t expect work to fall in your lap, work for it, contact people you would like to work with, expect rejection and stay committed if that’s what you want. A stable income stream to help support the creative practice 1 or 2 days a week is often a good idea.
Institute: Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with?
Jo: I’ve been opening the lines of communication on collaboration very recently. I would like to go back to explore the role of my work in relation to performance to bring something new to that dialogue, going full circle on the area I first started to experiment with. I have many wonderful contemporaries that could make interesting cross disciplinary collaborations.
Institute: Last album you bought?
Jo: 808 State-Ex:el was the album of the day in the studio, one of the albums I used to listen to on long late night car journeys with my husband a few decades ago; movement darkness and sound can be an amazing combination, the electronic sound is abstract and gives a great open dimension of energy when working.
Pink Floyd-Dark Side of the Moon 180g Vinyl LP was the last album I physically bought, mainly because the vinyl collection is being built back up. The quality of sound is like no other and I mostly listen to music in that format at home now.
Institute: Where do you find inspiration?
Jo: Within myself and from everything in the world around me, I find my brain to be a great computer it analyses and absorbs everything I experience and then spits out results.
Things that are created might have a current central thought stream from a more recent experience but there are many layer some very subtle.
Art is also a general inspiration in my life and I develop concepts further by reading factual books for example; about the body, the brain, being human.
Institute: How do you get unstuck creatively?
Jo: Creating is the easy bit, I’ve always got more ideas than there is time to materialise, the hard bit is navigating time and finding the right opportunities. Like most artist it is so easy to become a hermit, spending all of the time absorbed in making, researching and thinking, getting opportunities worthy of the time invested takes a lot of time and energy but is as important and I have to keep reminding myself that.
Institute: Proudest moment of your career to date?
Jo: Different moments mean different things; at the beginning of my career I was proud to have installations of my work in two central London locations at the same time: The windows of Topshops flagship store Oxford Street and the windows of B Store concept boutique London; when it was on Savile Row.
Also the first time my work was exhibited in a gallery as a larger installation I felt very happy that although I had no formal art training I had managed to make the transition to where I knew the work truly belonged. In terms of the most recent work I am very proud of how exquisite the final Artefacts are and in the true sense of an artefact they are made to such a high craft level that they will have longevity and I am looking forward to sharing them with the world.