Many artists defend the idea that children are more creative because they’re less constricted by society’s prejudices and still look at the world through a gaze where the magic and extraordinary have a special place. And it’s true. But some people still retain (or train) that gaze. For example, photographer and artist Lisa Jahovic, who’s capable of bringing everyday objects like pillows, irons, chairs, shoes, and drills to life. Learning to see them as thingss with a personality, desires, intentions, and ways of moving, she’s built a career that bridges the magical with the absurd. Until June 22nd, London’s Flowers Gallery is hosting her solo show The Third Drawer, a nod to that liminal space with a sense of discovery attached to it. Today, we speak with the artist about humour, curiosity, motherhood, and her new exhibition.
Hey Lisa, nice to speak with you. What role did art play in your childhood, and how did that impact your choice to pursue a career in the creative field?
Hi Arnau, likewise! My maternal grandfather was a painter with a classical approach and mostly figurative, his depictions of ballet dancers were imbued with energy. The final exhibition we saw together was a retrospective of his favourite painter, Degas, at the RA—just a hop and a skip away from Flowers Gallery as it happens. I cherish the sketches he made of me drawing as a child, that zoom out of an artist drawing a (future) artist drawing, a layered reflection of creativity.
As well as art, European and Russian literature played a big part of my adolescence, reading the likes of Sartre, Kafka and Bulgakov. These authors opened up new worlds to me, worlds that were both philosophically rich and narratively complex. The absurdist ideas and disjointed, narrative structures influenced my own artistic voice. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of vast, imaginative worlds against personal, domestic details—details that often twisted reality into something familiar, but on closer inspection was not.
London is such a buzzing, stimulating place. In what ways do you think that atmosphere influences your work and life?
I first came to London to pursue my BA at Wimbledon School of Art, and the city’s pulse has held me captive ever since. Twenty years strong, London’s energy is still palpable for me, a constant undercurrent that fuels my work. My studio is in London Fields, a chaotic sanctuary with beautiful light—the studio is on street level, allowing the the bounce and hustle to flow into my space. This environment keeps me connected to the East London’s dynamic rhythm while giving me focus for my projects.
Flowers Gallery is hosting your first solo show, The Third Drawer. The title is inspired by that liminal space where random objects end up—spare batteries, keys, etc. What connexion do you make between those and your artworks? In what ways are they similar but different?
With my work using so many everyday objects, it was apt for the exhibition to be entitled with a term of a literal domestic space to house the works. ‘The third drawer’ is a term often used colloquially to refer to that mysterious compartment where items find their home, although it’s not just as a physical space but also a metaphor for the human psyche or collective consciousness, where memories, emotions, and fragments of experiences are stored away, sometimes forgotten, but can be influencing our perceptions and behaviours.
There’s a sense of discovery associated with both. Opening the third drawer can lead to finding something unexpected, just as engaging with my works can reveal hidden meanings or evoke forgotten emotions. These pieces could represent the mundane yet essential aspects of life that we often overlook – like the spoons in A Common Muse – familiar and utilitarian, they are transformed into something beautiful and thought-provoking, urging us to reconsider the value of everyday objects and experiences.
Your practice sits at the crossroads of visual poetry and absurdist humour, a balance that is hard to achieve. How did you develop your personal style?
I appreciate that impression, thank you. My work explores the performative dimensions of photography and sculpture. Experimenting until a spark of an alluring motion or interaction forms that is poetic and I feel compelled to capture. Looking at objects which are immobilised and thinking about how they would reach for something, how it could extend itself into the world, how it would pick something up, how it could move, how it could breathe.
For this exhibition, you give life – even personality – to everyday objects, from chairs and shoes to irons, fans, drills, or pillows. Was there a particular object that you loved to work with? And on the other hand, one that was hard to deal with?
The idea of the personification of objects is prevalent in my work, which I feel is something that most children do when they are working out their environment, an approach that means the world makes a little more sense to them—the stuffed rhino has a preference to wear that stripy green jumper, the plastic teapot wants to be filled with water, etc. I am interested in that simplification of the world. I like the idea that in a room, a child would look at the light bulb fitting and the light switch, and think that by some unknown force they are able to communicate with each other and the switch magically illuminates the light, not knowing or recognising the wiring and electrical components hidden behind the wall. They are seeing the same things but it’s very magical. They try to make sense of it, but it’s more like a dream.
Sometimes when you pass a house and you see that the door’s closed and the window blinds are shut, you wonder what’s going on in there. I like the idea that we all get feelings from places or things, and I like to think about who is the perpetrator of those emotions—is it the human individual wrapped up with their lifetime of feelings and experiences reflecting themselves on everything? Or is it the object that has a sensibility and is evoking something itself?
I choose objects in a very intuitive way; I choose those that are seductive to me and resonate with me. I have several recurring motifs in my work like the iron, the egg or the chair. I like to find things around me, so furniture and domestic items are used a lot. I don’t think there has been one object that I can single out and shame in public as being hard to deal with—imagine the backlash!
Experimentation plays an important role in your practice. I guess the trial-and-error method is your go-to. But can you give us more insight into your creative process? From the environment you need to work in to the music you listen to, to what sparks an idea and how it develops.
Totally. Experimentation, particularly through trial and error, is fundamental to my practice. This method allows me to push the boundaries of materials and objects, discovering new possibilities and narratives in the process. For example, for A Map of Absences (my series with objects that I have punctured, drilled and cored out holes into), the initial exploration derived from having lunch at the studio and looking at the apple and the corer and thinking how I could challenge the two well-acquainted objects in a new way. So I kept the core of the apple intact but cored out as many holes as I could into the surface of the form, whilst still retaining the apple’s structural integrity.
The finished piece made me think of the story of William Tell, when the father shoots an arrow at the apple on top of his son’s head. This connection highlighted the potential for multiple narratives within a single artwork. Each piece in the series seems to express various possible stories about how the holes were made, inviting viewers to unravel these narratives themselves. The ten works in the exhibition are a selection from a larger series, which is part of a publication of the same name, published in 2023 by M.Books. It has a wonderfully written interpretation by Sally O’Reilly accompanying the works, of which she took several of the ‘characters’ and wrote an abstract flash fiction piece bordering on the absurd—I am so taken with these different analyses that are produced in the different minds of the viewer.
Besides humour and poetry, there is also a magic element to your work: chairs and shirts being lifted, heavy rocks moving by themselves, a pillow expanding… It’s somewhat uncanny, it creates a tension in the viewer. Is this something you aim to achieve? Or do you view it differently?
The tension you describe is a deliberate effect in my work. By animating inanimate objects or depicting them in unusual, seemingly impossible states (chairs lifting and spoons undulating), I aim to disrupt the viewer’s expectations and sense of reality. This disruption creates a space where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, prompting viewers to question what they see and feel.
Besides your more ‘fine art’ practice, you’ve also delved into fashion photography for magazines and brands. Does your process change from working on personal projects to having to please a client?
I have quite a broad practice as I like having a balance of pace: projects that are short term, like commercial commissions, which are brief-driven and last a couple of weeks, alongside projects that are long term as in my art practice, which I always have running in my mind and in the studio. That cross-discipline does work a little like permaculture, where different elements feed and support each other.
But also, having distance from the the personal aspects of my artwork for a given moment (to have retrospect) is good for me, as it can be all encompassing. Working within the constraints of a client brief can be creatively challenging but also rewarding. It pushes me to think within a specific framework and often leads to innovative solutions that I might not have considered for my personal work, which is more intuitive.
On your Instagram, it caught my attention the photo of a baby, and I discovered you became a mother only six months ago. Congratulations! How is the experience going? Now that you have a baby, maybe we’ll see more artwork featuring bottles, tiny onesies, and pacifiers?
Thank you! Frankie is wonderful—we had a very positive, beautiful, and poignant birth at home shared with my partner Joshua and our dog Margarita. It wasn’t long ‘till I was back in my studio with my daughter strapped onto me in a carrier. A Common Muse was one of the first works I created after entering motherhood, my four-month-old daughter was in my studio as I was working the sculpture out—she was captivated watching the light undulating over the surface of the spoons. Looking at her and her fascination, it made me think of traditional Victorian play toys like a silver rattle, not just the creation of noise and the metal, but also the three-dimensional form of the classic rattle, almost like an egg.
As the work developed from tens of spoons to hundreds (nearly six hundred in the end), this egg shape became more prevalent, especially when I was shooting the still photographs and capturing the motion of the spoons into a static image. I kept seeing the motif of an egg, which felt like it developed more meaning as a metaphor of new life, having that correlation between my new role as a mother. The visuals of the egg and the spoon are interesting to me though, the naivety and fun of the the egg and spoon race, and the fact that there is no eggs in this work, but that the positive and negative of the spoon could imply the egg just by association.
The simple action of partnering that negative shape of the inside of the spoon to harbour the humble egg is the modest but effect partnering, which is an example of the poetry that I look for when creating my works, bringing pre-existing objects to harmonise together in a way that doesn’t ask for them to be disrupted and the relationship to be effortless. A similar poetry is here for me in this work, or at least with a similar principle, where the a basic utilitarian spoon is simply slotted into the holes of the mesh of the common ironing board forming a pleasing unity, which when activated work together to create hypnotic waves.