Stories that Matter – ICA London 22 November

Very disappointed that I can’t make it to this event at the weekend, which looks wonderful, but I will certainly be visiting the magazine exhibition at Chelsea Space before the 18 December. It’s all very exciting! And on that theme, I am getting a research blog together on my new work into magazines and art history which I will share very soon.


On Sunday 22 November the ICA is hosting an event exploring whether feminist methodologies make a difference to the kinds of stories that can be told using archives: actual archives, virtual archives and/or other concrete sites of encounter which generate historiographical work.

How might we ‘break open’ the archive to listen to and disseminate its contradictory voices so that they may resonate with the present, making it available for the use of contemporary generations of feminists, men and women? How do feminist pasts engage future readers?

The event marks the publication of the anthology Twenty Years of MAKE Magazine: Back to the Future of Women’s Art edited by Maria Walsh and Mo Throp (I.B. Tauris: 2015), which will be launched at the end of the day.

Featuring leading practitioners of feminist historiography including Prof. Griselda Pollock, Prof. Clare Hemmings, Prof. Maria Tamboukou and Dr. Catharine Grant as well as MAKE editors Maria Walsh and Mo Throp.

Details here

CfP: Labours of Love, Works of Passion: The social (re)production of art workers from industrialisation to globalisation

Next year’s Association of Art Historians Conference will be held at the University of Edinburgh on 7-9 April. The panel sessions look excellent – not least because so many are aimed at tackling the historiography of the contemporary discipline – and more details on applying can be found here.  Not many of the panels specifically address feminist art production, but a session of Black British Art Histories mentions Lubaina Himid’s pioneering exhibition Thin Black Lines and will hopefully present more (much needed) material on the work of black women artists over the past four decades.

The session CfP below, organised by Kirsten Lloyd and Angela Dimitrakaki will also be of particular interest to feminist researchers.

Labours of Love, Works of Passion: The social (re)production of art workers from industrialisation to globalisation

A term that emerged in feminist thinking in the 1970s, ‘social reproduction’ refers to the ‘labour of love’ traditionally performed for free by women in the home. Despite the crucial role it plays in sustaining and replenishing the working population, this work is usually excluded from accounts of ‘production proper’ and the economy at large. In viewing its worth as other than economic, this labour of love connects with accounts of artistic labour which is also seen as simply ‘self-rewarding’.

Arguably, the values associated with a gendered sphere during the rise of modern art and 19th-century industrialisation have transferred to artistic production within the 21st century finance- and service-led economy. Is art, then, the exemplary case study in the socio-economic order of feminised labour widely encountered in globalisation? How might we connect this to the thesis that artistic critique led to precarious labour (The New Spirit of Capitalism, Boltanski and Chiapello 2005 [1999])? And, do the above compel a rethinking into what connects modern and contemporary art?

This session invites papers that investigate the possibility of scripting an alternative history of art of the last 200 years. We propose that the concept of social reproduction must be embedded in the discipline’s critical lexicon for the 21st century, especially as Marxist, feminist and decolonial art histories are beginning to articulate an urgently required bigger picture. By bringing into dialogue a range of approaches to the thematic, methodological and research implications of such a move, this session will also test art history’s potential as part of a militant left humanities.

Further details here.

EVENT REPORT: Curating Materiality, 13th June 2015.

Curating Materiality: Feminism and Contemporary Art History
June 13th 2015

‘Ephemera […] is linked to alternate modes of textuality and narrativity like memory and performance: it is all of those things that remain after a performance, a kind of evidence of what has transpired but certainly not the thing itself. It does not rest on epistemological foundations but is instead interested in following traces, glimmers, residues, and specks of things. It is important to note that ephemera is a mode of proofing and producing arguments often worked by minoritarian culture and criticism makers.’

José Esteban Muñoz, ‘Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts,’ Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 8:2 (1996), 5-16, 10.


Curating Materiality: Feminism and Contemporary Art History consisted of a research workshop and commissioned performance by the artist Melanie Gilligan. The events took place at the University of Edinburgh in June 2015, and was organised by researchers from the University of St Andrews, the University of Edinburgh and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

When we started conversations about planning for a possible event, it quickly became clear that there were a number of existing groups and networks in Scotland working at the intersection of issues connected to materiality in contemporary art – particularly in relation to ephemeral modes of art production such as performance, new media and social art practice – and feminist modes of writing and curating. Projects and events that immediately sprang to mind included:

  • Victoria Horne’s Writing/Curating/Making Feminist Art Histories conference (University of Edinburgh, 2014)
  • Sarah Cook’s Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon (University of Dundee, 2014)
  • Kirsten Lloyd and Angela Dimitrakaki’s conference Radical Complicities: Curating Art in the 21st Century (University of Edinburgh, 2010)
  • Emma Balkind and Laura Edbrook’s Sick! Sick! Sick! reading group (Glasgow School of Art, University of Glasgow and MAP Magazine, 2013-14)
  • Caroline Gausden’s Feminist Ethics and the Archive (Robert Gordon University for Glasgow Women’s Library, 2014).

We wanted to build on this rich body of extant research and exchange with a workshop that would bring together a range of post-graduate students, early career researchers, artists and curators to reflect on the work that has already been done in Scotland and the UK more generally, and to think about possible future directions for development. The following questions emerged as key points for discussion:

  • What are the material aspects of feminist contemporary art practices, from their physical ‘traces’ to their impact within communities?
  • What is the potential of curating as a research methodology for developing new insights into the material dimensions of feminist art practices and histories?
  • How can we address the neglected links between radical artists and curatorship in contemporary art since the 1960s?
  • What are the challenges posed to archiving and curating by feminist practices in and of themselves?
  • How do curatorial practices engage with both different forms of materiality, and immateriality (for example in relation to performance and new media)?
  • What is the relationship between curatorial practice and archiving?
  • What role does ‘care’ play in curating?

In order to explore these questions, we structured the workshop in three sections: the first invited post-graduate participants to share their work in an informal, pecha kucha style format; the second featured project presentations from four curators; and the final part combined small-group discussion based around selected texts, followed by roundtable discussion and a final project presentation. The workshop was then followed by Melanie Gilligan’s lecture performance Shaped at the University of Edinburgh’s Playfair Library.

Although the range of projects covered in the pecha kucha session was diverse, a number of shared concerns emerged. These included accounts of researchers’ attempts to flesh out ‘the virtually unrecorded backdrop to the items in the archive’ vs. the danger of ‘talking over’ items in the archive through re-display; the role of the manifesto as an activating as well as activist tool; the process of following the ‘paper trails’ left by collaborative feminist art practice since the 1970s in the UK and the US, particularly through postal art initiatives; and the role played by consciousness raising in both the creation of art and the telling of feminist art histories. Practical issues were also addressed, with contributors describing the challenges posed by precarity, geography and funding for research, art practice and curating in different but comparable ways. Equally, while technology provides ways of recording and distributing information about projects and work, it also raises issues of conservation and maintenance.

The second part of the workshop involved presentations on three recent and on-going curatorial projects: Housework Castlemilk Womanhouse at the Glasgow Women’s Library, by Adele Patrick; EWVA: European Women’s Video Art in the 70s and 80s at the University of Dundee, by Elaine Shemilt and Lara Leuzzi; and Ripples on the Pond at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, by Alexander Hetherington (Modern Edinburgh Film School).

Adele Patrick described how the archive for the 1990 Castlemilk Womanhouse project – a series of multiple installations by women artists inside a Castlemilk tenement – was ‘a collection that had been languishing’ at the Glasgow Women’s Library, but which has over the last year received an upswing in attention. This led to questions about how to handle this sudden shift in emphasis, and celebrate the project’s new visibility while working to ensure that this sudden engagement doesn’t wipe out a deeper and longer history of women’s cultural work in Glasgow, including the wider work by Women in Profile who initiated the installation. 2014 was an opportune year for revisiting the project, as Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games and multiple arts and local authority organisations across Scotland came together for Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland. The GWL invited the artist Kate Davis to come and work with the archive, conducting a number of interviews with project members in order to contextualise the archival ephemera.

Through this process, Patrick described how the sheer ‘longitude’ of the Castlemilk Womanhouse project and archive became increasingly apparent. At the same time, she felt it was important that the process of curating the archive didn’t wipe out the difficulties and problems that it faced, particularly the lack of support or interest at the time from Glasgow Council. Patrick also talked powerfully about the way in which Roszika Paker and Griselda Pollock’s 1987 book Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1985 provided a key source for the discussions that fuelled both Castlemilk Womanhouse and Women in Profile. She described how its low-fi, grainy images were treasured, and that the marginalized status of the predominantly London-based artists included in the volume became paradoxically energising, underlining a longstanding history of archival exchange within feminist cultural production.

In discussing the EWVA: European Women’s Video Art in the 70s and 80s project to catalogue women’s video art from these decades at the University of Dundee, Elaine Shemilt and Lara Leuzzi described the difficulties they face in sourcing and identifying works that have been historically marginalised (and may have deliberately embraced marginality), and which in some cases have been lost or destroyed. Leuzzi pointed out that histories of women’s video art have to date been dominated by the US context, whereas many European works still need to be properly documented and re-mastered so that they can remain accessible to researchers and audiences. Regaining a more comprehensive perspective of women’s video art in Europe, however, has the capacity to enhance understanding video production beyond the US and transatlantic exchange dramatically.

Shemilt, speaking also from the perspective of a practicing artist who made several video performances during the 1970s (Doppelgänger of 1979 was screened as part of the workshop), described how the medium was liberating for artists who did not want to create live actions or events in front of an audience, but who still wanted to address the implications of being a women artist, particularly through the body. Video was ‘fast and cheap’ and Shemilt stressed that during the 1970s and 1980s it was often not a priority to historicize performance, and video was embraced precisely because of its perceived ephemerality, despite being a recording technology. This sentiment is particularly important to note in the current moment when technologies of reproduction and rapid dissemination are so prevalent – indeed, it is difficult to stop time-based work being recorded now by audiences, as much as institutions and artists themselves. As with Castlemilk Womanhouse, the challenge is to preserve the achievements of women’s video art while retaining a sense of the spirit in which it was made.

Alexander Hetherington described his work for Ripples on the Pond – an exhibition of works on paper and with moving image by women, together with series of events spilling outwards from the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art, based on their recent acquisitions from the Glasgow Women’s Library 21 Revolutions series – as an attempt to create a ‘silhouette of knowledge’. Echoing sentiments expressed by Patrick, Leuzzi and Shemilt, Hetherington described how he wanted to ensure that the project inhabited multiple sites, including publications that could circulate, in order to ensure that the Gallery of Modern Art does not become a privileged locus. He discussed working within, but also against the politics of acquisition, and the need to augment the histories of works that do enter museum collections with a sense of the wider network of exchange in which they participated.

Hetherington described the archive as ‘a kind of consciousness’ and also discussed the relationships that have evolved between the artists in the project who began working in the 1970s and 1980s, and those whose practice is just beginning. The role of the curator, in such a context, might be primarily to ensure they create a structure that is ‘generative and generous’, and which can operate as a ‘call to action’ as much as a process of writing new histories.

After a series of small-group discussions, Laura Guy shared her experiences of organising collective readings of Zoe Leonard’s (unsigned) 1992 text ‘I want a president…’, at multiple sites. The text, which begins ‘I want a dyke for president. I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice president…’ has been translated into multiple languages and there have been readings across the world, often organised at moments of political change, joining the legacy of public readings and unsigned texts circulated by organisations like ACT UP (which Leonard was active in), fierce pussy and Gran Fury. Through these public readings, the text can be re-inscribed into the shared space of the street, with participants speaking from the position of ephemera. Guy noted the distinctly peculiar role that ephemera plays in history-making, particularly in the construction, telling and sharing of queer histories. If the ephemeral is the consequence of life lived on the margins, then it might also be politically necessary to protect that space, working to ensure that the text exists in proximity to the art world but not fully inhabiting – or being co-opted by it.

Ephemera, as substance out of time and matter out of place, paradoxically marginalised and cherished, a fusion of ephemeral gesture and material trace, resurfaced as both foundational recourse and organizational metaphor throughout the day. For those concerned about the role of the institution – and of the curator within the institution – ephemera’s integral role in feminist and queer art histories might provide an important reminder of the need to remain attentive to the original conditions of production in which those histories were forged, and to try and integrate an awareness of this into their recuperation which doesn’t write over, or write out the complexity and challenges of networks of exchange and collaboration.

Delegates: Emma Balkind, Stacy Boldrick, Viviana Checchia, Sarah Cook, Lara Demori, Karin de Wild, Laura Guy, Laura Edbrook, Caroline Gausden, Alexander Hetherington, Victoria Horne, Deborah Jackson, Mari Lafferty, Laura Leuzzi, Kirsten Lloyd, Kirsteen Macdonald, Adele Patrick, Jessica Ramm, Elisabetta Rattalino, Angeliki Roussou, Elaine Shemilt, Catherine Spencer, Catherine Street, Isabella Streffen, Amy Tobin, Alberta Whittle

Event report by Catherine Spencer




Archive Materials: Feminism, Performance and Art History in the UK

We are very pleased to announce a one day research symposium at the University of St Andrews on 7 October 2015. Archive Materials will adopt an expanded notion of the archive as a starting point to address the long history of feminist art and art history production in the UK. Building on the rich array of recent scholarship focussing on feminist art of the 1970s and 1980s, our discussion will look back to include significant eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century precedents. Confirmed speakers include: Prof Hilary Robinson, Freya Gowrley, Georgia Horgan, Kerri Offord and Rachel Rose Smith. We will also have a film screening from artist Oriana Fox.

Further information and programme: Archive Materials – Feminism, Performance and Art History in the UK

This event was kindly supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, and has been organised by Catherine Spencer (St Andrews) and Victoria Horne (Edinburgh).