HollyJo, Artist – Toronto

HollyJo is an emerging interdisciplinary artist who holds a BFA in Sculpture & Installation from OCAD University with a minor in Ceramics. Her work is a practice of intentionally leaning into the emotional atmosphere of memory, trauma, identity, and mourning to explore themes of intimate vulnerabilities, bodily integrity, and time travel as a source of empathic healing and honoring lived experience. She finds solace in storytelling through object making and forging rituals that celebrate impermanence. Her solo exhibition Tracing the Guts of a Ghost opens on October 18 at Xpace Cultural Centre in Toronto and continues until November 16.

  1. Grief work and getting dirty with feelings

HollyJo, The Wisdom of Ruins, 2019, installation view

At the forefront of my work and life processing is the subject of grief work and learning about myself by leaning into the uncomfortable and often unspeakable spaces of where I’ve been. This past spring, I completed a major body of work that had me uncovering the interrupted grief of my daughter’s passing fifteen years ago. After not speaking or thinking about her and my experience for most of those years, I finally found a voice and a language to talk about it, which resulted in a powerful and cathartic thesis exhibition entitled The Wisdom of Ruins. What I learned from getting down and dirty with my grief is that there is an abundant wisdom embedded in death and in the processing of grief that can serve as a mindful guide for the living.

  1. Caitlin Doughty: Ask a Mortician

Caitlin Doughty hosts the Ask a Mortician web series, is the founder of The Order of the Good Death, runs a funeral home in L.A., is a death positivity activist, and writes amazing books about the process of death and funerary rituals. I stumbled upon her book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death a few months before beginning the research that would become my thesis exhibition work. In it, Doughty writes about different ways people interact with death and mourning around the world. Some are seemingly morbid to the dominant Western experience, but she doesn’t censor any graphic detail because what seems shocking in one part of the world is supremely healing in others. Doughty critiques the Western funeral industrial complex that has mostly hijacked and exclusively prescribed Western mourning processes while mourners pay a premium to remember their departed, if they can afford it. Reading this book was a refreshing meditation on death acknowledgement and a validation of similar feelings I have about the constructs of mourning in Western culture.

  1. Clementine Morrigan

…is a writer, rebel scholar, and activist who I am lucky to call a friend and chosen family. She writes about her life and is unapologetically honest about the real and messy stuff that many of us are too anxious or preoccupied to talk about. She looks trauma, mental health, sexuality, social justice, climate justice, self-love, accountability, and community care straight in the eye and writes about it all with an accessible eloquence that allows her readers to feel seen, heard, and empowered. Knowing her personally and reading her work has inspired me to be radical in my truths and courageous in my own trauma processing.

  1. Sicily

Last December I had the privilege of completing a residency in Naples as part of OCAD U’s Global Experience Project. After it was over (and considering how rarely I get to travel), I decided to hop on a ferry to the Island of Sicily to finally experience the place where half of my blood comes from. I was able to (re)connect with some second cousins and other relatives and traveled to the medieval city where my mom was born. I even found the house she was born in, which has been left in its collapsed state ever since it was destroyed by the Great Belice earthquake in 1968. This earthquake devastated many regions of western Sicily only a few years after my six-year-old mother and her family emigrated to Canada. Being able to witness what remained from a disaster that occurred so long ago was a deeply profound meditation on permanence, impermanence, and honouring the past. Being able to finally travel to Sicily was literally a dream come true and brought so much distant yet familiar knowledge back into my body and mind. It gave me a sense of clarity about who I am as a whole person.

  1. My cat Ginger

Ginger is my sixteen-year-old soulmate and life partner. Everyone who knows her is in love with her and she reminds me of what I was like as a baby: cute, hilarious, and always hungry. She is awesome on a regular day and the best therapy on those lower vibrating days. I am forever grateful for her lessons of unconditional love and her refreshing non-human perspective. I am also that person who smiles and talks to dogs on the street, often forgetting that there is a human on the other end of the leash.