Artist of the Month

July 2019

Joe Hancock

For July's Artist of the Month we've selected Manchester-based artist Joe Hancock

There are many ways to introduce yourself. Here are texts, images and information that represent my work, my thinking and my identity. Mix these together again and you will get something resembling me.


My visual art practice is interdisciplinary and research-based, examining expanded theories of ‘making’. I am interested in how any thing – an object, an action or an idea – is made, and I consider my works strictly as documentation of their making process.

I produce sculpture, performances, installations, text and conceptual works in diverse mediums, investigating and sometimes questioning the similarities, differences and interrelationships between acts of labour and of art work/artwork.

I have 'written' a sculpture, put shelves (and myself) up the outside wall of an art school, sent real invoices for £0, placed imaginary books in 3 libraries, and combined two stairlifts in motion timed according to cicada breeding cycles.

Shelves, benches and other quotidian constructions emerge within my practice as literal and metaphorical platforms for the development of an analytical, poetic ontology of making.

I'm motivated by a fascination with process and structure, and a passionate belief that the role of maker requires readdressing in a post-postmodern context, specifically as a challenge to the contentious notion that deskilling is an inevitability for the contemporary worker: I consider ‘making’ to be a universal defining human preoccupation.


I was brought up in a house that was full of a huge array of materials and things everywhere you looked, hoarded by my dad, and I experimented with all of them. From melting lead to carving wood I was free to discover the wonders and limitations of stuff.

This is a list of materials I have used in my practice. Each entry is a different work:

  • lecture theatre wall, filler, black emulsion paint, white emulsion paint, sandpaper, paint rollers, video, signage, invoices, postage stamp, envelope, email exchange
  • digital drawing
  • wood, OSB (oriented strand board), aluminium angle, screws, coach screws, glue
  • C-print on archival paper from digital original
  • library metadata, library accession receipts
  • foam core plastic pipe, urethane paint, retroreflective glass beads
  • text / audio recording / performance
  • steel, retroreflective glass beads, stairlifts, custom electronics, rubber, zinc, lead acid batteries, aluminium, urethane paint
  • card, steel nuts & bolts
  • text / audio / installation / performance
  • wood, steel brackets, screws, paper, paint, video camera, projector, tools, The Mackintosh Building
  • wood, steel brackets, concrete screws, tools, wall
  • wood, steel brackets, screws, tools, stepladders, lights, sign, walls
  • woodscrew, circular saw
  • wood
  • card, inkjet print, digital photograph
  • text
  • pencil on paper
  • wood, glue
  • video [no audio]
  • 600 metres of nylon webbing, elastic
  • composite digital image from multiple hand drawn originals on paper
  • video [no audio]
  • cast iron sash weights, electrical cable, wood, plasterboard, resin fix bolts
  • Perspex®
  • Douglas fir, ash, steel
  • drafting film, giclée print


I have recently begun to introduce drawing into my practice for the first time. It is exciting to discover a way of working that is entirely new to me. I am trying to understand it from a conceptual rather than practical approach.

Two drawing boards

The two boards I have are no longer manufactured yet they were, in their time, top-of-the-range and represent the pinnacle of design. From the invention of the drafting machine (the articulated head that permits drawing of accurate angles and measurements) in 1901 until the widespread adoption of computer-aided design (CAD) in the 1980s, every component for any machine and almost all buildings would have been designed using a drawing board.

One I have owned for 25 years. The other I bought in October. Until November I had never used either. I cleaned and renovated the drafting mechanism on the new board. I felt it was a sculpture. An elaborate, intricate, obsolete machine and found object. I toyed with different placements for the boards within my studio – back to back (too oppositional; cannot see the face of the other board), face to face (too alienating; creates uncomfortable working space), each on a different wall near a corner (too constrained, diminished their physical presence). I chose to put them side by side, facing out into the studio. This gave them each equal importance and status. I could sit at either. Also, that green. That institutional green, reminiscent of an age when it was the colour of function, not aesthetic.

Two Drawing Boards

Joe Hancock: Two Drawing Boards, 2019

Using the board, version 1.

Each board is a surface for supporting paper. The drafting machines translate hand movements into placement of a ‘head’ with two rules held at perpendicular angles. Once positioned, the head may be locked in place using two small levers, one each for side-side or up-down movements. The operator would then use the rules either to draw a straight line, or to support another drawing instrument, for example a stencil, in a specific placement.

Using the board, version 2.

A positioning gesture is translated into a coordinate that is fixed. An irregular movement is translated into a regular geometric form. The machine separates complex human gestures into constituent parts - coordinates and vector movements are articulated independently.

Using the board, version 3.

I do not use the boards directly for drawing, yet I have them. They are possessions, rendered as objects not machines, and this makes me uncomfortable since to consider them as non-functional stirs melancholy feelings of futility and saudade, kidnapping me back to my childhood where to have sophisticated, valuable things was more important than to use them - they were a sort of psychological status symbol, too special to use: ironic in the face of a dominant domestic pseudo-ethical abhorrence of waste, scraping the last of the butter from the unfolded pack as dust settled on precious items...

When I was very young, I used to paint pictures – mostly of vehicles. I also used to spend long hours playing with Lego, and my reading material was anything from books about trains, to young-adult fiction, to tool catalogues - lots of catalogues with lots of diagrams and plans and symbols. The painting stopped before I reached double figures though some of the pictures still exist in my parent’s house. I still study catalogues.


I thought about how the hand was guided by the scales of the drafting table, how the straightness of a ruler governed the tip of a drawing instrument into an orthodox, regular line. I started to interrogate concepts of drawing in terms of the relative agency of the drawer, and how, through the synthesis of materials and gesture, drawings are produced.

If technical drawing guides dictate where the hand moves, then where is the drawer located in an ontological hierarchy? If I decide to draw, but rely upon artificial guides e.g. stencils to direct the tip of a drawing instrument, can I claim full autonomy within this arrangement? Does this situation invoke the designer of the drawing guide as co-agent of drawing, since they have created the shape that I am now drawing? It seemed that the stencil designer and the drawer work in a type of unison, separated by time, to facilitate the drawing of a shape.

I started to construct a list of qualities related to stencils:

  • the stencil exerts control
  • the stencil is a machine for drawing
  • the stencil cannot draw
  • the drawer cannot be accurate like the stencil
  • the hand must move according to the stencil
  • the stencil cannot make the line
  • the stencil depends upon the drawer to make the line dictated by the stencil
  • the stencil could be anything that controls how the drawer moves
  • the stencil could be three dimensional
  • the stencil could be anything that governs or dictates how the drawer moves
  • the stencil could be a set of instructions

From this I started to conceive stencils as a form of telegraphic control – translating spatial instructions from the stencil designer to the drawer with the stencil itself as the interlocutor between the two agents.

Drawing Instruments 3

Joe Hancock: Drawing Instruments, 2019


I keep a growing list of ideas that I would like to realise. They range from the simple to the (almost) impossible. I have an ongoing series of works about putting up shelves: this is the next, forming part of my show opening soon at Bury Sculpture Centre:

How to put up a shelf (VI)


Two separate but parallel series of actions and performances are undertaken during an exhibition, combining through a changing and developing sculptural installation within the gallery.

Part 1: Putting up shelves blindfold

Blindfolded, I will put up a different shelf on 6 specific days of the exhibition.

I will attempt to correctly erect each perfectly horizontal shelf upon a wall, as if I were doing it without the blindfold, using all the usual tools, materials and, to the best of my abilities, techniques associated with the task.

The shelves will become the documentation, relic and product of the action of their own installation.

I will commence the shelf putting-up at specific times, such that I create six separate live performances visible to an audience - risk of failure, error and inaccuracy in this publicly visible manner is an inherent component of the work.

Part 2: Benevolent repair

Without advance notification or permission, I will perform a daily series of repairs within the gallery in a gesture of benevolent labour.

Things considered for repair might include: minor building faults e.g. unfilled holes in walls where screws were previously placed, irregular surfaces, chipped paint, broken or badly adjusted equipment or other flawed or malfunctioning systems or objects, including relational and placement-based faults.

I will perform one planned repair for each of the six specified days, commencing in the morning before the exhibition opens.

Each act of repair will be documented through photography and the gathering up of all physical detritus that remains e.g. dust, offcuts, leftover materials.

Exhibition / realisation

Each day the photographs and relics / detritus of the repair act undertaken that morning will be collected and displayed on the corresponding day’s shelf, meaning that over the six performance days a total of six shelves with six sets of evidence of the repair will be installed


  • the shelf is visible to the audience, but invisible to me (due to the blindfold)
  • the repair is visible to me, but invisible to the audience (all traces of the repair will be removed)

How to put up a shelf (IV)

Joe Hancock: How to put up a shelf (IV), 2011


This year I have made a range of works, including this, first devised a long time ago:

Ladder sculpture 1 (OxOxO)

In 2010 I made a pencil drawing of three ladders arranged perpendicularly within three dimensions, shown in approximate isometric projection. At the time this drawing represented an exploration of the formal qualities of the ladders themselves, considering them as found objects.

Nine years later the ladders are to be considered as the x, y, z dimensions of Cartesian space. They are an investigation into the single-dimensionality of a ladder, a device designed to facilitate overcoming gravity, height, difference; where a coordinate along its length relates only to height above the ground on the y axis – a single value. Two ladders arranged perpendicularly relate to two-dimensional space, x y, and thus points along their length can be used as a coordinate location on a two-dimensional plane, and so on for the third dimension along the z axis. A ladder is a tool for overcoming a specific aspect of dimensionality.


Joe Hancock: OxOxO (drawing), 2010

I speculate about a ladder to climb through a fourth dimension (time), and beyond into n dimensions. What would a ladder to climb the nth dimension look like?

Ladder Work Four

Joe Hancock: +/- (maquette), 2019



In collaboration with artist Charlie Cook, a close friend, I have recently been investigating puppetry, ventriloquism and modes of exerting control over another person at distance in both in physical and temporal senses. We made a wearable sculpture called ‘Spooky Action At A Distance’, Albert Einstein’s phrase for describing the phenomenon of ‘quantum entanglement’. We performed the work recently in AIR Gallery in Altrincham (

Spooky Action At A Distance

Joe Hancock & Charlie Cook: Spooky Action At A Distance, 2019

The creation of stencils from a handmade drawing communicates the gestures of the original artist to the end user in a form of telegraphic communication. In one sense I consider this as a type of ventriloquism in an expanded sense - I cast my ‘voice’ (my original drawing) to a ‘dummy’ (the stencil user). Furthermore, the stencil simultaneously reduces freedom by prescribing the shape of the lines that can be drawn using the stencil and provides a new way to draw for the user, thus creating a dichotomous tension between me as the original maker and the user.


My work is not overtly political, though I am. As a student, artist, educator, technician and consultant I consider the position of art and artists essential in an increasingly complex political and social landscape. Sometimes I express my views regarding arts education and politics in online debates:

On the reduction in formal technical training in art schools:

“Practice has changed. It will continue to do so (I hope). For sure, though, the arguments levelled against the lack of formal training [in education] echo the historical arguments made against photography, the printing press etc. There is, however, an extremely interesting and valid debate over how practical skills inform a conceptual framework for an artistic practice, and vice versa. Indeed, I wish formal training was more widely valued and understood, but, and here is the key distinction: I believe firmly that within higher education such training should be delivered on an individual basis, decided in discussion with well-informed teaching and workshop staff. We are a long way past teaching art in a formal classroom setting - both symptom and cause of the tropes of contemporary art practice. Postmodernism is out of the bag, and it won't fit back in, no matter how hard you try.”

On tradition:

“Arts education is in constant flux, as is practice, discourse, and every other mode or means by which art is created, observed and understood (or not). If you think art is moving quickly, and leaving behind its traditions and forebears, try looking at the paradigm shifts taking place in the design world. Postmodernism hit so hard that we no longer need deal exclusively in, for example, discreet objects that are designed by a respected professional, manufactured in an industrial facility, distributed across half the earth by a logistics chain, to be sold by a specialist retailer to a customer matching a particular price point demographic. 3D printing is bringing about nothing less than a genuine revolution in the ideation-realisation-consumption linear model that has driven not only our material consumption, but also capitalism itself for centuries. Try weaving that into a product design educational paradigm espousing that centralised mass-production is the de facto metric by which all innovation must be mediated.

That type of revolution does not happen very often. The democratisation of art making, of object making, of information distribution (here we are online) are all interconnected and fantastic progressions from a popular but outmoded and historicised position. Tradition and history are resources from which we learn, not ideologues to which we must adhere. The crap spouted by the naysaying traditionalists is (yet) another breathy rattle from the undead corpse of nostalgia, no more.”

On governmental involvement in arts provision & funding:

“Having the long claws of governmental control clutching art education close to its political dogma is an entirely undesirable situation, and one with some sobering precedents. What I am calling for, though, is a situation where government is part of the conversation. I also want the judiciary, the trade unions, religious groups, zealots, fanatics, outcasts, people in prison, children etc etc to be part of that conversation. The thing that bothers me about so much of the contemporary art world is the flagrant onanism and cronyism. Art is clearly not just an idea, but even as such it cannot be owned, not in the sense of its practice and discussion.

I am not afraid of the powers-that-be getting close to my practice and my discourse. I am proud of the freedom that art affords me and my peers and would gladly make the experience of that freedom apparent to anyone interested enough to witness it or even better partake. Making art right under the noses (and even within the 'houses') of the establishment is subversive but also egalitarian and truly socialist. I believe fascism is defeated when people choose to live according to a different, better methodology. This may result in conflict; it certainly results in disruption, but it always starts with people expressing a different preference. There is a place for artistic expression at every level of the debate and even the fight, too, if needs be. I am not afraid of the state, though I fully acknowledge the privilege of that position afforded me by my current country of residence (UK).”

More information

Joe Hancock on Axisweb >