Expert Opinion

Learning through visual props

Jo Hassall is currently studying for a practice-based PhD at Leeds Beckett, exploring how encounters with visual props can facilitate new forms of learning. The material assembled for this series of staged photographs Homework 15, was found within her home. In this blog post, Dr Lisa Taylor, her supervisor, explores Jo’s work and shares what the photographs mean to her.

A blackest black false eyelash is pressed on to pink chewed bubble-gum is pressed onto an old dry tea bag. A three-legged dining table is up-ended, its other leg suspended close by on a hook on a string. Three bluntly cut-off Marigold glove fingers are tied with string similarly suspended, though they each wear a quaint French manicured false finger nail which precariously clings on. 

Jo Hassall Photography

Jo Hassall’s photographs of these her latest sculptural works corral together a stage-managed collection of objects carefully crafted out of the domestic detritus of most women’s everyday lives: matted human hair, pink netting, vacuum dust in broken egg shells. Strangely aesthetically beautiful, retrieved as they are from the dirtiest passageways and receptacles of the home - the plug hole, the bin, the mucky corner – these are the pieces of matter we endlessly pick up, suck up, wipe, remove and dispose of in the circadian rhythm of housework to make shiny, pristine surfaces in the fantasy of home beautiful, peddled by the endlessly recycled features in women’s magazines.  

Jo Hassall Photography

For me these are feminist works: they’re about the rooms, corridors and pathways of the home where traditionally it is women who have stood (at the sink), traipsed past (that dining table) and bent down to tidy up (after everyone else).  And yet they’re also about the discarded, somehow sensuous and textural, used-up objects and tools of making the look of feminine glamour:  candy-floss back-combed hair is filigree in the light, clogged mascara lashes bleed black in to the bubbly-gum. 

Jo Hassall Photography

There’s something about being caught at the apex of competing sites: going out to do work or the nightclub to ‘do’ femininity yet always landing right back into the rhythms of domesticity. While the elements of these works hang they also float: caught in absurd juxtapositions. Hassall plays with magic – urging us to gaze with fascination - for they lie in infinite space against a matt, inky backcloth like the black velvet with the touch and feel of a conjuror’s cloth. 

Jo Hassall Photography

Do these bizarrely pretty effigies sooth us or amuse our cares away, or do they urge us to ask questions about our relationship as women to the beautiful rubbish we daub, move, buy and flush down the waste pipes….

Dr Lisa Taylor

Head of Subject / School Of Humanities And Social Sciences

Lisa Taylor is a working class academic and a media and cultural studies scholar. Her work explores how identity and self-worth are entwined in media representations such as lifestyle media and factual welfare programming; quotidian spaces such as the 'ordinary' garden; and ex-industrial locales where demolition and spatial change impacts on local communities.