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  Interview w/Dollmaker & Superfreak, JoJo Baby  
  By E.K. Buckley, published in citylink newspaper  
     
 

You should come see the dolls.

At Around the Coyote this September a power outage selectively killed lights in Jojo Baby’s two studios for the entire event. All of the exhibitors lost lights in intervals. A fire conscious artist phoned in a molten electric wire creeping toward the Flat Iron, orange glowing driplets of smoldering wire casing drizzeling from the powerline to the alley. The fire department agreed it was worth checking. We were evacuated.

On Saturday night lights were partial, and the crippled show continued. I had to tack my way through a patch of people crowded around the darkened northwestern corner on the third floor. I heard a voice amplified, and could make out an eerie helium-electro modulator effecting the song: “Someday my prince will come.” The dolls looked out from the lightless closet at art patrons and voyeurs stunned into gawking at the visage of Jojo Baby in full gear.

EB - You get great reactions during the Coyote. I remember the ladies who referred to you as the “Penis Gallery Person.”

JJ - I told you about the one woman who came in for Around the Coyote. I hadn’t put up the dry wall yet, and I stapled dolls to the ceiling. I covered them in plastic. Some woman came into the shop and said, “What are you trying to say? That these are all unborn children, swimming in amniotic fluid on your ceiling?” Oh, Jesus, lady. I mean, a lot of my art comes from dreams. Can there be art without meaning?

EB - Can there?

JJ - (Sigh) So I never put up drywall, I left it like that.

You have seen his studio on the intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee. The top floor corner of the three story Flat Iron peaks westward, high windows hung with swaths of cloth, puppets, dolls, things that sparkle, and a large sign marking Jojo’s Closet.

Months before he moved his exhibition and workspace into the Flat Iron at 1579 N. Milwaukee, I met Jojo in Karen Brody’s salon just around the hallway turn from the current Jojo’s Closet. The space at that time was a real closet, used by No Hope No Fear Tattoo. Later I saw Jojo in full regalia, set for his hosting job at a nearby nightclub. Holy crap. He had boots with at least a seven inch lift, a lavendar platnium coif, flawless pearl-toned face to set off the dramatic eye colors (matching the lavendar in the wig), hoops set in his earlobs streched to comfortably house a good three inch ring, and an elegant spear through his nose. I vaguely remember an assamblage of feathers involved with the frock. He told me that night: “I’m a show pony.”

With clients backed up at Milio’s Salon on Clark and Sheffield, club owners vieing for his presence at their bars, and a studio full of his haunted creations literally looking to him for completion, the schedule of a sought after superfreak makes interviewing over the phone a tricky stunt.

Jojo answers the phone:
JJ - Jojo’s closet.
EB - Hey there.
JJ - Oh, I had your number next to the phone.
EB - Do you have time today to do the interview?
JJ - Of course, (sigh), what did you want to ask?
EB - About your process with the dolls, from skeleton to finish.
JJ - I start with the head.
EB - The head? Always?
JJ - Always the head. The eyes, really. I use antique glass eyes. You see, I believe in doll reincarnation. We can’t do the interview now?
EB - I can’t. Can I call you at nine?
JJ - Nine o’clock. Okay my dear.

Jojo holds court at his home studio. Artists flock there to be a part of his energy. When I called at nine, plans had obviously stacked up for the evening’s outing.

JJ - Jojo’s Closet.
EB - Hello my love, are you ready?
JJ - Chris isn’t here yet.
EB - Chris who?
JJ - Chris Berg.
EB - Chris Berg (an artist from the neighborhood) is coming over?
JJ - Who is this?
Elizabeth.
JJ - Oh, doi. I thought you were Gigi.
EB - Nope. Can you do the interview now?
JJ - What do you want to ask me? Oh, hold on. Do you mind if I do a quick interview? (In inaudible response comes fromm someone in the room.) What? You have to go back to Indiana? Oh, Lord. We were talking about reincarnation. Hold on. (To someone in the room) What? (Another inaudible response.)
EB - Do you want to do this in fifteen, twenty minutes? You have guests. JJ - Oh, hold on. (Pause) Is it already nine?
EB - It’s after nine.
JJ - It’s after nine?
EB - Yes.
JJ - Can you call me in twenty minutes, love?

After a few more attempts, I was able to harness his attention from the endless influx of visitors.

JJ - Lots of people notice the living quality in the dolls. I think it evolved from the chakra system inside. Sometimes I use human hair. (giggle)
EB - Inside the doll or as the hair?
JJ - Both, sometimes. You know, something like the person I’m trying to evoke. It could be in the heart chakra for someone sweet, maybe if the person is, well, more sensual, (he drags out the rest of the sentence with his torchy voice) a bit lower.

Jojo’s dolls do have arresting eyes. He sets the glass orbs into the head casing in the initial stage of his process, and examines the new expression created from the new placement on the soon to be face. This determines the structure of the body. A perfect new home for the doll parts. The reincarnation.

EB - So the chakra system is the next stage of the process?

JJ - Well, yes. I start with the head, then their spine and chest, then their heart. Above each of their hearts I write “love me”. Every single one. It’s something that not anyone will see, but it’s in there. Then I smear a voodoo love oil over the heart. I was working on “Silky Jumbo” (a doll homage to his dear friend with the same name). I asked him for something that belonged to him, and he gave me a lot of his old wig parts. The doll has all of Silky Jumbo’s hair, and inside he has locks of his real hair. (Giggling) And some gold teeth.

EB - His grandfather’s gold teeth?
JJ - A couple of them. But I believe they come to life when I give them their heart. When they’re still a skeleton.
EB - And then you close them?
JJ - Well, I do all their padding, and then I do all of their skin. I do two, three, four skins, depending on padding, as I go along. All those layers. It does give them a spooky look. I‘ve considered giving a last layer of nylon to make an even spookier look. I’ll do that in an upcoming line.

About thirteen years ago Jojo started fashioning what developed into his current body of work. Greer Lankton took notice of Jojo’s puppetmaking and taught him more advanced armature, leading to his dollmaking.

JJ - Well, I do believe all my dolls are haunted. They have personality. You know, it depends on me, on what the doll needs to be finished. Some dolls I only work on when I’m sad. I work on Greer when I’m sad.

Greer Lankton died violently many years ago. She passed along her dollmaking knowledge to Jojo, who exhibits his life-size “Greer” at the entrance to Jojo’s closet. The gaunt pale faced doll has hands covered in rings holding prescription bottles. She is dressed for a wedding. You can see riddles of tracks in the arms, but I always notice the far focused eyes.

EB - You showed “Greer” at the MCA.
JJ - Yes, the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago).
EB - The MCA solstice celebration?
JJ - What is it called? Yeah, actually, we (The Radical Fairies) crashed the first time eight or nine years ago, I think it was the first one. We showed them how to have a real party, and they asked us to crash it every year thereafter. After they started paying me, I was able to exhibit Greer, the life size doll up on a big pink crucifix. I had needles in her arm to establish the angel wings, but somebody at the MCA took them out. I don’t know if they were afraid someone would take them out and start poking around with them, but they censored my piece. And I thought that was pretty funny for being a contemporary art museum.
EB - Was that related to the group you will perform with at The Feast of Fools next month?
JJ - They’re all radical fairies.
EB - How do you become a radical fairy?
JJ - (Giggling) You accept the reality of being radical fairy. You embrace the fairy within. They’re like gay pagans.
EB - You and Gigi (an artist in Jojo’s neighboring studio) are in an event with them.
JJ - Yes we are. This one is “A VERY SPECIAL XXX-MAS”. Or “Have yourself a very special XXX-mas”, that’s it. We actually have to do two performances. And I’m making several puppets, santa’s, elves. You should come.
EB - All in your style?
JJ - Oh, yes.

The Feast of Fools opens on December 12th at the Ha Mien Restaurant, 4920 North Sheridan Road at 9pm. You can catch a glimpse a one of Chicago’s best performers during a string of some twenty short peices in a fun loving holiday party. More information is available at www.fausto.org

Jojo Baby will be appearing in "Party Monster", a feature film about Michael Alig Starring Macaulay Culkin as Michael, Seth Green as James St. James. The film also features such diverse talents as Marilyn Manson, Dylan McDermott, Lucy Liu, Natasha Lyonne, & Chloë Sevigny. Party Monster will be released by Killer Films (Hedwig & The Angry Inch, One Hour Photo, Boys Don't Cry). It will make it's debut at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.

JJ - They wanted me to bring a doll onto the set, but I didn’t want to get any blood on it or whatever there was a lot of that day (laughter). There was a lot of blood.

JOJO'S CLOSET is located in the Flat Iron Building, Suite 311, 1579 N. Milwaukee (corner of North/Damen/Milwaukee) for an appointment call 773-TOA-JOJO. His site is www.jojochicago.com.

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