Photo 50, London Art Fair,2017

IPhoto50 – Made Together: participating and collaborating in photographic practice

“Anthony Luvera, Baptiste Lignel, Melanie Manchot and Wendy McMurdo: four artists presenting work in London Art Fair 2017’s Photo50 exhibition ‘Gravitas’ discuss the importance of interaction, participation and collaboration between artist and subject in their lens-based practice. Chaired by curator Christiane Monarchi.” (London Art Fair, 2017)

It was so timely for me to see and hear the above artists talk about their work. Following my research for A4 I am far more aware of collaborative work and it fits well my previous training as an actor and interest in ensemble. Baptise Lignel in particular described the process of creating his book Pop Pills, all the problems he came up against, the length of time he took to make it, as well the many people involved, not least of who were the subjects whose lives he followed for  several years. Melanie Mancho’s work with her daughter, filming her every month on the same day over a number of years so we can see the process of her growing from a young girl into a young woman was also extremely relevant (Girlhood). I sat with the work after the talk and was incredibly moved by it. Several TV screens of different shapes show the various clips (all black & white and grainy) One of the things I wondered was, what happened on days when her daughter didn’t want to be involved, or had just had an argument with her mother. One clip shows the daughter crying. This is particularly challenging to think about in terms of how an artist appropriates the feelings of others for their work, especially when the feelings are of a child’s and one’s own daughter. I don’t think the answers are easy. Anthony Luvera described an extremely collaborative practice as talked about his work Not Going Shopping. Wendy McMurdo’s work with the school children was relevant too given my own Girlhood work and my interest in social media and how it is impacting on social norms. Something she said stuck in my mind. Wendy McMurdo described how up until the Internet impacted on children’s lives so heavily they were involved in two main institutions, family and school (I’d add the church too although the period she was referring to was by definition in fact quite short-lived since schools as they are now do not had that long a history for the masses, so there is probably only a  bit of a cross over). Now social media takes them into a third realm, says Wendy, where they can wander who knows where with who knows who. I appreciate there are many risks associated with social media and young people (and anyone actually), but I would also argue that it has merely reintroduced something children had before society became hyper vigilant and started keeping children far more watched and tethered (I wonder if this is merely an expression and projection of how people themselves feel – imprisoned by society?) Children can now do digitally what they have done throughout most of history, hang out away from the adults with each other as much as possible from a very young age, in groups that are made up of various ages, which in real life allows for some level of responsibility amongst the older ones towards the younger ones. I’m not sure if there is room for, or a culture of, this to take place online. I have been reading The Dialectics of Liberation, a collection of talks given at a conference in 1967, (so highly relevant in terms of the second half of UVC) and there is a description of balanced systems being skewed. (p.39) These systems are either destroyed or they find a way to right themselves. The planet might take eons to rebalance itself once we’ve destroyed ourselves but it is likely to. I often think the Internet is humanity’s way of solving some of the problems that have arisen due to our exponential and sudden population growth. Over the last 300 years, in one view, and 2000 years in another longer one,  we have grown so much that we can no longer live in small highly connected groups. That has had an effect on the way we communicate. The symbolic is the only system we trust nowadays. We are far less in touch with less external systems of staying connected. The Internet is an attempt to solve the problems human beings are faced with via this social development. Equally,  innate and very human behavior, as far as young people are concerned, has been tampered with so that they are now prevented from getting to know society, themselves, how to relate in groups by recent hyper vigilance. Does Wendy McMurdo’s work shows us the terror we project onto young people as they disappear into a world that adults are not part of [1].

All of the work has been relevant for me since I was working with adolescents in 2016, as each of these artists have done. But it made me realise that my work is perhaps less about that age groups primarily, and more about gender, the shapes we make in order to meet social expectations, and also language.

Material Matters: On making and the physicality of photography

“Five artist practitioners discuss the importance of materiality in their practice, including the manual creativity of darkroom practice, pinhole cameras, alternative processes, and the physicality and sculptural possibility of the print. Panel artists will include Sophy Rickett, Martin Newth, Almudena Romero, Edouard Taufenbach and Dafna Talmor. Chaired by Kim Shaw, Executive Director of Photofusion.” (London Art Fair, 2017)

Again this was a really relevant piece as I consider how I might make my work mine. Almudena Romero’s appropriated selfies, which she takes from the Internet and then prints on mesh using a tintype method were interesting and I compared them in my mind to Richard Prince’s difficult to process New Portraits. Romero manages to connect history with modern technology and so her ‘taking’ of the images appears as less of a defiant act than Prince’s might seem to be. (How interesting, the use of the word ‘take’ – she didn’t take them herself as in “I will take a photograph of you’, but she did take them off the internet… – here language says exactly what it means. When we photograph someone we are taking them, or at least a moment of their existence and storing it away for as long as the process allows. And yet taking a photograph, taking someone, or at least a moment of their existence, from the internet is associated with something different). I have now begun to view Prince’s work as a performance which is about breaking social mores. He’s a performance artist, and his purloined objects are evidence of such. So was the Ivanka Trump image Prince has since disclaimed ever authentic[2]? Because she asked him to do it? Therefore it was merely a display of vanity, grotesque wealth and the nonsense that pervades the art world. Romero’s work on the hand is complex in other ways, less performative and more of a mediation on the words, process and social references to photography. Edouard Taufenbach’s description about his work was interesting but the most fascinating thing for me is that he never makes more than one edition. It made me think a lot about how artists, photographers in particular, maintain an integrity linked to their objects, about the fact that every one can take photographs nowadays and well too, and also edit them very easily. And about methods of reproduction and the loss of Walter Benjamin’s aura. The democratisation of photography is forcing artists to find new ways to make their work their own. Martin Newth’s installations where the camera (multi lensed objects he builds himself for specific views), the image and the subject are all displayed, was really interesting to see, as was the gaudy aesthetic style some of the work.  It was also good to hear Sophie Rickett speak about her current project looking at an archive and I suspect if/when I do Digital Image and Culture I will return to it. I also enjoyed Dafna Talmor’s beautiful repurposed negative landscapes.

Other work I saw

Apart form Lee Machell, who I will return to shortly, I am simply making a list of artists who stood out for me, so I can return to it when their work becomes relevant and I know I’ve recorded it safely.

Hiroyuki Masuyma – After William Turner: A process of layering 100s of images over a Turner original (which is then deleted) to create temporal presentations. Some fascinating details where statues and real people interact in the final image. Really interesting. He believes in time travel and uses his work to recreate a form of time travel as his images seem to move.

Anita Groener – Objects, tiny silhouettes attached to real branches or elsewhere set in shapes, representing migration from an ongoing multimedia project called Citizen. Reminded me of a more delicate William Kentridge trope, who is also looking at the same themes. Powerful and moving, beautiful and thoughtful work.

Redenko Milak and Riman Uranjek – Collaborative collages creating historical representations linking cultural references across the ages, photography, painting, prints, appropriation. Fascinating stuff.

Noe Sendas – Very specific style referencing cinema and photography, female for, surreal, small black and white images of women with shapes ‘turning the subjects into phantasmagorical characters.’ (Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporanea)

Lee Machell

I liked a lot of the work at the fair but none as much as Lee Machell’s. It was so clever, or at any rate the small collection of objects at the stall came together in a way that was incredibly thought-provoking, with just enough to give clear indications about what the conceptual work refers to whilst maintaining subtlety and finesse.

Capital (2013) is a found picture of the book Capital by Carl Marx (of course the John Lancaster book Capital which references Marx, as well as the fact its set in London, the multi-cultural capital (great novel incidentally) also springs to mind). The presence of this object unveils what is being explored in the rest of the work.

As well, there were two match drawings on cartridge paper. These are deceptively simple circular images where the marks are made with the burn of matches rather than pencil or ink or any other material. Machell uses parts of a slide projector as a sort of stencil to create the works. Finally the slide projector itself is employed to project another image of a drawing into the wall, therefore becoming part of the installation, in a similar way to how Martin Newth uses cameras in his own presentations. The projected image is small so you are forced to be close to the projector as well as the image in order to see it, invading its space as it were, but getting you very much nearer than, for example, a person buying an object in London would be to another who might have made the object in China.

The fact the drawing material is so obviously a consequence of fire, as opposed to charcoal simply being used, links to Levi Strauss’ The Raw and The Cooked, and all that contains. The human fascination with fire is deeply embedded in the human psyche and seems to evoke a primitive reaction in all of us. The relationship between what is made, and what is used to make is on show which, coupled with the presence of Capital, leads one to consider Marxist theory surrounding commodity and relations between worker and end-user. I hope I am not thinking too obviously but the Little Match Girl seems to have a been a key cultural figure in literature that we associate with poverty, selling very low value objects, child workers, Victorian capitalism and social injustice. It would seem that a simple match offers a wealth of symbolic reference. The apparent simplicity of the images belies complex ideas relating to structuralism.

I thought Machell’s art engaging, stimulating and incredibly interesting. He is currently doing an MA at the Royal Academy.


London Art Fair 2017. (2017). Event Programme – London Art Fair 2017. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].

Liedloff, J. (1985). The continuum concept. 1st ed. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Ham, M. (2017). This Artist’s Shot At Ivanka Trump Is All The Narcissism In One Story. [online] The Federalist. Available at: [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].

Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporanea, London Art Fair, 2017, A4 sheet (2017). OBJECT / A | Artists | Lee Machell. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Jan. 2017].

[1] See description in the The Continuum Concept by Jean Leidloff where children spend most of the day away from the adults in large groups exploring the world and playing, which as we know is a way to learn to function in a social situation. This type of existence and descriptions of it can be found in many more empirical studies across cultures.



Research: Larry Sultan Pictures From Home

I have been thinking a lot about my photography the last few weeks. About the bits that I’m good at and the bits I have yet to master. I am trying to arrange, with three families I know, some sessions where we work together in a similar vein to Isabelle Mege – co-authoring to a point. On the one hand, so I can ‘sell’ a different sort of family portrait and also so I can ‘speak’ about my interests through my work. I revisited Larry Sultan, Pictures from Home. It makes me cry every time I look at it. It’s so powerful. And reminds me of what I’m aiming for with photography. It challenges advertising images and carries far more authenticity than the sort of images we’re bombarded with constantly. I think I have lost sight of that a bit. And there is so much stuff out there that it’s hard not to lose sight.


Gallery Visit: William Kentridge

I have so little time at the moment and am looking forward to having these busy few days come to an end. So I am quickly writing this brief post about William Kentridges’ video here and what he says about “using other people’s pain as raw material for work” or as he describes it, “an appropriation of other people’s distress”. He says he hopes that spending time with it redeems the artist from exploitation. I suspect it does in some cases and but not in all. Certainly, having seen his exhibition today at the Whitechapel, he succeeds. I will need to write about the show later but I did find myself wondering again about moving image and my past experience as an actor, and feeling immensely limited by still images alone. It’s something I have been wondering about for a while but switching over to a Moving Image pathway with the OCA is not as simple as it might sound. I am also someone who has the urge to change and move and walk away from things so I have to be mindful of that and think about whether my habitual impulses are driving the desire to move on, or if it’s a genuine and relevant need to make the sort of work I envisage doing . I also know I can continue to concentrate on still images and make use of technology creatively.

Going back to pain though, I have long wondered about the moral implications of using pain to create art and certainly there is something very worrying about it. But Kentridge makes something so extraordinarily magical with pain, he transforms it, as well as communicating about it in a way that is breathtakingly beautiful. The Refusal of Time is perhaps the most thrilling thing I’ve ever seen and will describe it when I write a proper account.


William Kentridge

Research: A4 Joel-Peter Witkin & Isabelle Mège

In draft 1 of my A4 essay I had included a section on one of the images from the Mège Collection, which I decided to cut in order to concentrate on other aspects. I have chosen to post that section here as it covers some aspects which inform my research and can be included in the Notes section for the assignment. Previous notes for this image and JPW can be found here.

Otto Fenichel tells us “looking has the unconscious significance of devouring.” (Fenichel, 1954, 1999; 327)

In a 2000 word essay there is only space to look at a single image fully and Joel-Peter Witkin seemed a suitable choice for this purpose perhaps because it stands out, being rich with signification, as does he within photography in general[1]. However, also because the subjects he explores such as morality, art history and Otherness are relevant to this essay. He is a photographer Mège worked extremely hard to include, and is controversial in any case due to his use of dead human flesh, including heads, in his images. Nègre’s Fetish was published prior to Heyward’s article although it doesn’t look like many or anyone for that matter knew about its inclusion in Mège’s collection. It “appears in the limited edition hand-made book Twelve Photographs (1993), a publication that pairs Witkin’s photogravures with a lengthy poem by Galway Kinnell.” (MoCP, 2016)

The image is a copied from a Charles Nègre negative, held in the Musee D’Orsay, dated 1850. Nègre was one of the first professional photographers to exist. The image, we can therefore deduce, speaks to us about photography and its place in art from its beginning.

It is black and white, created on film and in the dark room, and in the usual style favoured by Witkin, scratched, chemically burned, and manipulated to look old, highly textured and weathered, and more like an object than two dimensional piece of paper. It has, like much of his work, a fantastical Goya-esque flavour to it. His work has been compared to Hieronymus Bosch’ and one can see why.

The subject lies on the bed looking posed and uncomfortable but not in the traditional way in which we are used to seeing women posed throughout art history. Nègre’s original image was not typical of its time and the subject also looks uncomfortable. However, in the modern version the feeling one gets is that the subject is waiting for someone and knows she is being watched. She is soft and childlike, probably due to an averted eye line as well as Mège’s usual sense of vulnerability. The original subject does not look like she is waiting, rather like she is posing in a position for an artist to capture her shape for a study. The modern version, a woman lying on a bed in a peculiar position, appears to contain a greater sense of narrative.

There are symbolic references to art history; a miniature nude on the mantelpiece along with what looks like a small, framed daguerreotype are in the modern image. These symbols of photography history direct us to think about its place within culture. It is not possible to see what is on the mantelpiece in the original, as the depth of field is wide and so the objects too indistinct.

The depth of field in Witkin’s version is narrower, although objects in the very near frame are out of focus, which emulates the way the original negative was developed and has perhaps aged. Scratches affect visual clarity around the edges of the Witkin image.

Like the original there are strong diagonal lines suggested by the position of the subject and bed, the angle of the camera, the pattern of the carpet, the structure of the building, i.e. beams. The effect is a lot of energy and a sense of being tipped, or flown in. It is not calming or serene – although the figure in the modern image seems so.

The chemical burn marks look like spots of blood when you first encounter the image, which makes the image seem like it might be of someone who has been hurt or worse – which, given Witkin’s modus-operandi is not to be overlooked, or under appreciated

The subject looks away. She is effectively ‘scotomised’ by the photographer. Only, we, the artist and viewer get to look. Perhaps an attempt to make this a one-way process.

The subject wears latex heels attached to her feet. They look like they are an extension of her body and denote ‘fetish’ clearly, which is also mentioned in the title.

We might now consider Barthes’ quote from Camera Lucida, “Photography is a kind of primitive theatre, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made up face beneath which we see the dead” (1981) or Sontag’s “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality….All photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” (1971;15) There is much in this essay to suggest that an Author’s role has been transformed and in some sections, arguments to suggest authorship is entirely dead, certainly the Author-God version. However, Witkin’s ownership of the image seems critical in its reading, and to the collection as a whole, as does Mège’s role. Because of Witkin’s other work, which includes dead flesh, shades of perversion and necrophilia are communicated here, especially in light of the title, and the chemical blotches on the print’s surface, which look like splashes of blood. In the first instance, perhaps he makes fun of Mège, teasing and playing with her obsessive desire to have him and others take her picture. A fetish for photography, and for all it signifies. But we are also viewing a representation of historical use of female flesh as seen throughout art history’s fetishisation of the female form? Witkin deals with morality and the hypocrisy that comes alongside it, and so this reader, who Barthes tells us is the salient author now, suggests it might be so.

All the way through the description of the image, the term ‘subject’ was used; and in a literal sense, the subject is the woman in the photograph lying on the bed. But in another sense it is Witkin himself. Since Mège recruited him, and said “I would like to see myself from your point of view,” making her the originator of this work, an artist who uses the medium of other artist, we can see the subject is Witkin’s own vision, a self portrait as well as a portrait of Other, and photography.

The final result; the title, a tease in the direction of Mège, regarding her obsessive relationship with photography and Witkin’s revelation of his own inner world and relationship with women, art and history is part of a conversation between two artists. It is not simply the expression of one. They are both makers and both subjects and their play is the creativity.

[1] I have, since starting this essay, received a copy of thumbnails of the entire edited collection kindly supplied by Anna Heyward with Isabelle Mège’s consent, and might have chosen another if I’d seen them earlier.


Fenichel. O, 1965.  Evans, J. and Hall, S. (1999). Visual culture. London: SAGE Publications in association with the Open University, pp.456-466.

Sontag, S. (1971). On photography. 4th ed. London: Penguin Books. p.15

Barthes, R. (1981). Camera lucida. 25th ed. London: Vintage.

Study Visit: Gina Pane

Study Visit: Gina Pane

Gina Pane is described in the TPG’s handbook as “one of the most radical artists of her time” (34). We saw her work at the recent study visit which I have already talked about.

I am returning to her here because the work she did was understandably seen as controversial but also dismissed by quite a few of the students. It is a difficult work but one that retained a great deal of power, and is particularly relevant to some of the hegemony related and structural ideas we’ve been exploring.

Pane began with sculpture but became a performance artist. Le Lait Chaud (the Hot Milk) 1972 is a photographic record of a performance where Pane was dressed entirely in white, exploring the theme “white doesn’t exist”. The room she was in was also white, as was the milk placed around the room in jugs. She used a razor to slice her back, arms and face, and consequently bled on the white surfaces. She has photographs of herself and she also turned the camera on to the audience to record their shocked reactions.

There is a fairly long description of the work here along with images:

There are several things going on:

First I need to quote James Elkin from What Photography Is, “On this subject (pain), I think it is necessary to push to the end of the scale (what can he mean…the end of what scale? And where is the end…?) First to push past metaphorical discussions of represented pain, where the subject doesn’t need to be illustrated and images not confronted: then to go on past pain as it might, or might not, be glimpsed in faces (which Pane certainly does); past a distaste for ‘shock’, or a defensive thought about the powerlessness of little black and white images, or in the hope that even searing images heal quickly in the mind; and past the ambition to make art out of painful pictures of the body by upping the aesthetic ante. After all those increasingly desperate dodges, photography waits patiently, always willing to give us naked pain if only we would look” (80% Kindle)

  1. A usual narcissistic impulse would be to protect the face
    As quoted in the book we were able to keep, Pane breaks a taboo by cutting her face. “the face is the only place that retains a narcissistic power.” (Pane, 1972 – quoted in TPG booklet, 2016) Just thinking about cutting one’s own face is difficult; the place we usually try to keep looking well, by brushing our teeth, washing it regularly, using makeup and surrounding it with a decent(ish) hair cut.  It is therefore incredibly powerful to see someone actually cut their own face and that touches a place within us, the viewers, in a way photographs don’t normally tend to. Is Elkins satisfied that Pane has pushed far enough here?  He is dismissive of Witkins, calling his images ‘precious’ on two separate occasions in his book What Photography Is, and in comparison to Pane’s images they do seem so. Photography has the power to effect us in this way, but it is rarely employed quite so aggressively. And perhaps Elkins is saying that it should be more often, that we should confront what we do to each-other and experience the ‘real’, rather than see it dressed up and anaesthetised by artists such at Witkins and also Sally Mann, who like Witkins uses dead flesh in his work in a ‘shock’, but makes it bearable with artistic flourish. (Actually both these artists are heavily criticised for using flesh in their art, so maybe it’s not that bearable for people – but there is no literal physical pain, and it is not self inflicted.) Pane does what Elkins describes. But it is so hard for people to witness, does it actually have the required effect – because where I was standing at the TPG on Saturday, most people did not want to look. Maybe that’s Elkins’ point. People don’t look. We will always avert our eyes from the real. And allow the horrors to continue, thereby perhaps being complicit by default.
  2. White non bleeding male – bleeding female
    We are looking at Richard Dyer’s White. We are exploring its invisibility. White, as Dyer states, ‘colonises the definition of normal’ (Dyer, 458; 1988)  – a normal that has decimated and colonised large parts of the world for several hundreds of years. Here Pane smears blood all over the white. It would be overly simplistic to interpret this as a symbol of the blood spilled by the ‘normal’ whites throughout history, and in relation to white-driven wars being waged at the time, Vietnam, although that too is certainly relevant, as described: “Pane’s art was not only about Vietnam. Critical commentaries on body art also emphasized that the risky and radical practices of 1960s and 1970s artists were suffused with the revolutionary spirit of various civil rights movements that shook western civilization and transformed it entirely. Risk-taking, exposing oneself to suffering, and confronting the aggression of the dominant system was the experience of those who fought in the name of women’s rights, the rights of people of color and lesbians. Democratic civil rights were extended to those groups because someone took the risk of confronting injustice and discrimination. The story of minority movements in the history of humanity’s development and humanization is also a story about the continuing sacrifice of human victims. A wound must appear on the social body for an awakening and a healing to take place. It was in this context that Pane spoke about making an intervention into an anesthetized society and climbed without anesthesia.” (Leszkowicz, 2010-15) White relates to historical power and power had been in the hands of the white male (and his white Christian God).
    However, If we look at Zizek’s description of Lacan’s Real and Imaginary, where he explains with words along these lines; “you and I talk to each other in the imaginary. We do not picture the real, we do not admit that we are people who defecate”… and therefore also bleed. Then we can connect white, i.e.’normal’ to the imaginary non defecating and certainly non-bleeding figure that dominates the world in western history, and popular culture. Blood is feminine. Blood is horror. Blood is real. See the end of the film Carry for a very obvious example of this being played out in our culture. To deny the existence of the real bleeding woman is the issue in the psychological minds of the non-real, imaginary powerful white male. Power, says Zizek, exists in the imagination (I’m not entirely sure about that myself actually, but I understand the concept). Pane makes that denial impossible by revealing her blood and her capacity for bleeding. Pane’s performance took place a decade before Dyer wrote his essay about the invisibility of white, which tells me the theory was already there, and Pane is exploring that.
  3. Another thing leaking out of females….
    Hot milk is another leaking substance that comes out of women, and it feeds babies and makes them grow, and men can’t do that. They can’t secrete milk or bleed or grow new lives in their bellies. It’s ‘magic’ – actually it’s the real but in the imaginary it can only be magic, which is not to be trusted. White male history has existed in the imaginary far more readily than in the real, a place where power games can be played. Where Hegel’s masters and slaves can operate, pertaining to power. But the invisible white males need the bleeding, milk leaking Others, as well as all the other non-white Others to experience their power. So they concoct tales of sorcery and other imaginary tales in order to condemn the real of Others and destroy it/them. Milk, like blood, is a very real aspect of who we are – organic and animalistic. Women exist in the real more readily because they have little choice. They bleed, and leak milk, and give birth -and historically died doing so fairly frequently too.

Pane’s work effectively embraces and explores the real, and however you wish to interpret her work, her blood cannot escape being a potent symbol of the feminine.

A few of the people with us said the work was dangerous today because many young girls cut themselves in acts of ‘self harming’, and risked encouraging such behaviour. I do not know if self harming was as rife in the 70s, it certainly was not known about to the same extent if so. We humans are fragile and mirror group behaviour at a very unconscious level though, so there is some merit in the concern for girls today being negatively influenced. The work’s narrative therefore is now transformed because of today’s context. But it was at the time of making a reaction to the world in which Pane lived. As Leszkowicz, who’s article I posted above says, “It was in this context that Pane spoke about making an intervention into an anesthetized society and climbed without anesthesia.” I wonder if Elkins would be satisfied by Pane’s work, after all, it echoes the Death by Thousand Cuts images he explores at the end of this book.


Evans, J. and Hall, S. (1999). Visual culture. London: SAGE Publications in association with the Open University, pp.456-466.

Elkins, J. (2011). What photography is. New York: Routledge, p.80% Kindle edition.

Zizek, S, (2012) The Reality of the Virtual, User generated content (Accessed 2 November, 2016)

Image Witches illustrated in Martin Le Franc’s ‘Le Champion des Dames’ (1451) (via Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF)/Wikimedia) from (Accessed 2 Novemerb 2016)

Leszkowicz, P (2010-15) Female St. Sebastian: Parallel lines in the radical lesbian art of Gina Pane and Catherine Opie (Accessed 2 November 2016)


Study Visit: Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s, TPG & Marvin Gaye Chetwynd Tate – 29 October 2016

“This exhibition highlights the ground-breaking practises that shaped the feminist art movement and provides a timely reminder of the wider impact of a generation of artists” (TPG/Sammlung Verbund, 2016)

Seeing so much work together from this period gave me an incredibly strong sense of what was being railed against. Being faced with so many artists put the movement in context and positioned it in a way that studying individual pieces, often online, doesn’t do justice to. For instance, and Dawn mentioned this too, seeing Semiotics of the Kitchen, which I wrote about early on in the course, surrounded by so many other feminist work, gives it an even greater sense of power and rage.

Some of the sentiment looks a little ineffectual at times, perhaps because it has dated, especially in today’s more visually complex paradigm, such as Suzanne Lacy & Leslie Labowitz’s In Mourning and in Rage, a film recording of an event where woman gathered on the steps of City Hall in Los Angeles. Mourners proclaimed, “I am here for the 20 women who have been raped and strangled between October 18 and November 29”. (TPG/Sammlung Verbund, 2016; 27) Although the action reportedly received widespread media attention, violence towards women is still rife, and in fact the UK was deemed to be one of the most misogynistic countries in Europe by the UN in 2016, so whilst things have changed since the 70s, there is still a long way to go, especially here. (BBC, 2014).

You also see a progression through history when looking at examples that appear to be a pastiche of 50s housewives, such as Birgit Jürgenssen’s Kuchenschürze (Apron, 1975). When you consider the role of women in the 50s and the ideal picture, with which she had to identify, and how its tail end was still so prevalent in the 70s, it does seem extraordinary that anyone should question the rage which emerged. And consider too an earlier generation who had filled in for men while they went to war, fulfilling jobs usually associated with their husbands, only to have them snatched away once the men returned. No wonder, following the invention of the pill and the sense of liberation that provoked, a time came for people to fight back.

The first person I really took notice of on Saturday was Lynda Benglis because I had seen her well known image when I started studying with the OCA. It is an advert for her work, and shows her holding a giant dildo as if it were her own penis in an exaggerated but typical masculine posture, and I couldn’t remember her name, so I was glad to see it again.  The photograph is typical of its time. See here and here for comparative examples. Benglis assumes a position of overt macho sexuality often seen in advertising poses, looks directly at the camera, has a facial expression of supposed lustful dominance and shows off her ludicrously large dildo. Not only is she making fun of the usual examples, showing us how silly they look, she is exploring how it is nothing more than primate posturing – revealing her body and standing in this weird over the top way, a bit like an ape. She alienates the trope (in Brechtian terms) because she’s clearly a woman, and it’s exaggerated. Also, because it’s shocking, now probably mainly due the size of the prosthetic, but it must have been truly shocking then when people were less used to artists being quite so provocative. It also alarms us because it is a woman doing it. And women aren’t meant to be so brazen. (Follow Whores of Yore on Twitter and you will see some great Victorian pornography, men and women, which people must have been aware of, although it is less certain if protected and infantilised housewives were).

However, the photo also underscores some of the movement’s more challenging aspects and when I first saw it I think I misread something about Benglis’ relationship to feminism in it. One of the legacies of the time, and an aspect which even today seems to turn people away from feminism, is the perceived antagonism towards femininity, and rejection of motherhood as well as marriage. As highlighted in Hannah Wilke’s poster there was a strand of feminism that came across as dogmatic, “Beware of Fascist Feminism, 1977”, where being in any way ‘feminine’ and that included alluding to normative ideals of beauty, would be considered an affront, entirely constructed by a patriarchal society, and therefore something to avoid and destroy. Even today there is a particular nasty word, feminazi, which denotes a woman who hates men and anything vaguely feminine. I have interdicted my son from using it because it strikes me the word itself is somewhat misogynistic, regardless of potential holes (pardon the pun) in any extremely zealous feminist arguments. How we perceive biology and the relationship between it and constructed cultural norms are continuing to be explored and debated. But it is clear there is a biological imperative to reproduce and, even though medical science can intervene, you usually and in most cases for now, require a working penis and  womb to make that happen. Furthermore, primate studies have also shown that babies flourish when cared for by a warm-blooded (as opposed to sterile metal) (Harlow, 1958) consistent primary carer, who benefits from sharing some responsibility but provides a secure base to the infant*. How society makes room for this within its economy is the issue, rather than whether women really exist or not. Luce Irigaray (I have literally only just picked up her first book so cannot talk with confidence about this yet) explored this lack of space for a female subject in her work; a female subject who exists in her own right rather than just as a non-male, a reflection, one with an itsy bitsy tiny penis that doesn’t live up to the man’s. It is this image that Benglis is harking back to, making fun of, and deconstructing – rather than refuting femininity.

I note too she has been criticised for relying too much on her beauty and privilege; economic as well as class and raced based. As was Hannah Wilkes, which is another post altogether.

Other work I really responded to at TPG was Kirsten Justesen’s Sculpture #2, 1968, which is a box with a woman in it, curled up and squashed to fit the shape. The Marxist connotations here are clear, a woman must make herself fit into the shape and materials used for transporting commodities. But it brings to mind how girls must also die to become women, existing in a lifelong box in which she might be buried, or stored, as a thing.

I noted Judy Chicago was far earlier than Rupi Kaur, who showed her blood stained tracksuits bottoms on Instagram in 2015, with a photograph of a blood stained tampon in-between her legs. And more graphic too.

I particularly liked Karin Mack’s series of portraits, in which her image becomes progressively more and more damaged, and less and less present in Destruction of an Illusion, 1977.

I  am very interested in Gina Pane’s La Lait Chaud (The Hot Milk), 1972, and may come back to write about this at a later date. The perfomative nature as well as its relationship to a Theatre of Cruelty is fascinating.

I was very pleased to have seen the entire exhibition and think it has been instrumental for me in gaining a better understanding how work was de-commodified – i.e. created in such as way as to reject art as expensive and glossy. I think it has also been helpful to see the movement gathered together in one place as that really intensifies the feelings behind it, as if reducing them into an essential oil, so you get a very strong sense of what was going on.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Hermitos Children, the pilot episode, 2008 Tate

Description copied from the Tate site: “The film was first shown as an installation consisting of thirty-two television sets and one colourful bean bag. The central section of the installation is a square made up of nine screens, across which a single track of the film is fragmented by a video processor. The remaining television sets are placed on the left and right side of the square and they are all synchronised to play the entire film from start to finish on a loop. When installed at Tate Britain, London, in 2006, the screens were mostly second-hand televisions that the artist had sourced from various locations. They were purposely varied and slightly different in colour and format. The bean bag was placed on the floor, in front of the television sets, for the audience to sit or lie on while viewing the film. It is made up of patched clothes that are taken from the costumes within the film. A number of sets of headphones with long cables were also provided for the audio section of the film. This installation might be thought of as an exaggeration of a domestic living room, combined with the large-scale spectacle of theatre.” (Fakhr, 2009)

I loved this! This work was very different from earlier feminist art we saw in TPG. Chetwyn plays constantly and really enjoys herself. She pays no heed to formal, stifling, filmic conventions, making sets with £200 and ‘auditioning’ her participants by chatting to people, including strangers at the bus stop (Chetwynd, 2015). There is a great deal less angst in her film than we saw in the 70s work. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a serious side to it too. And the work references all sorts of art history, including Courbet’s Origin of Man, as well as being influenced by whatever prompted Agnes Martin to simply make a film (Gabriel). However, Chetwynd owns the ‘vagina’ in her work. It has nothing to do with ownership from a male gaze – and she is in fact taunting that gaze and saying, “Wanna look, go on then… but it’s mine. Oh, and keep looking until you start to feel what it is you’re doing, which is voyeurism, pure and simple. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But that’s ok… too. So long as we all know what we’re about.” The music was perfect as well.

All in all this was a great day. Thank you, Dawn and fellow UVC student, Doug, for alerting me to it.


Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s (Exhibition Booklet) The Photographers’ Gallery, Sammlung Verbund, London, 2016 (Accessed 31 October 2016) (accessed 31st October 2016) (Accessed 31st October 2016)

* (Accessed 31st October ) (Accessed 31st October 2016) (Accessed 31st October 2016)

Fakhr. L, 2016 Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Tate (Accessed 31 October 2016),/ (Accessed 31st October 2016)




Study Visit: Brighton Photo Biennial 2016 15/16 October 2016

Study Visit: Brighton Photo Biennial 2016 15/16 October 2016

The name of the Brighton Photo Biennial 2016, “Beyond the Bias – Reshaping the Image” is of the Zeitgest. Gender and sexuality concerns have been in the media a great deal in recent years, as socially constructed realities along with associated expectations are being examined across cultural platforms, including literature, TV, films, and art. There is an active and energetic energy emanating from the discourse, which is as it should be after years of repression and enforced hiding. This is, however, not the first time over the last century that these issues have been explored so actively and openly. Parallels between now and the pre-war years, specifically  within the Weimar Republic, are highlighted in Amazon’s recent successful TV series, Transparent, in an historical subplot, where the protagonist’s grandparents are set in scenes that take place within the  Institut für Sexualwissenschaft.  (Institute for the Science of Sexuality).  This was a real place dedicated to scientific research into male and female homosexuality, bisexuality and trans issues, where related books were collected and archived, and an acceptance along with a sense of profound humanity was promoted. As you might imagine, it was aggressively destroyed by the Nazis and the books all burned. The people who visited or lived there were imprisoned and sent to their deaths, and if it can be possible, treated with even less care, greater cruelty than any of the other Others Hitler and his colleagues could conceive of. (Fellow student, Michael Colvin, is referencing this subject in his current OCA work.)

The echoes with history seem incredibly important to recognise and take note of. There is global social conflict between between those who favour letting go of boundaries and those who wish to react against any relaxation by constructing stronger, greater, more powerful, and impervious outlines around ideas, people, places.  This is not only about sexuality and gender, although we see it played out so visibly in much of the Brighton work – but also about language itself (text speak is one minor example), countries (migrants), ownership (Right to Copy magazine – not sure if it ever got off the ground, but aimed to question and explore copyright) and even political movements (is left or right still relevant, or is the central argument in society about whether or not to build walls?)

The relationship we have with categories is changing. Might it be relevant to suggest that the relationship we have with ‘the sign’ is transforming? Or being challenged? Or evolving? And that there are those who wish to come down very heavily against any evolutionary developments that might occur, and those who are eager to drive it or see it flourish? The conflicting tensions between the two positions is manifesting itself in phenomena such as Brexit and all that pertains to it, along with an idealisation of obviously damaged human beings who preach intolerance and make promises to make everything great again, as if it ever was, on all sides of the globe and political discourse. Or in the rise of any form of fanaticism or radicalism. And in the building of walls, in an attempt to keep out what frightens us. If so, it feels like there is a momentous change occurring and one that has been attempting its birth for a long time, even though in the past there were powerful forces which did all they could to stop such a process. As there are today as well. And so, the Biennial’s subject matter might seem absolutely relevant when looked at in retrospect, but it is difficult to know now which work will resonate loudly in time to come. And I’m not sure I saw anything, other than one show, that taps into all of that as dynamically as it might. (Although we did see a very limited selection when you consider all that is there). I am going to discuss the shows that stayed with me and then only one at length.

  1. Reimagine – University of Brighton Galleries, Grand Parade, Olivia Arthur and Bharat Sikka collaboration “explore public and private presentation of the self-image in relation to the body, gender, sexuality and fantasy” (photoworks, 2016; 3) Artists worked with local communities in Mumbai and Brighton. Arthur’s work was in black and white and Sikka’s in colour. Both worked on large format film. The most compelling thing for me was not that there were two sets of quite different images both dealing with gender and sexuality here – but rather that the two places on the planet are historically related. It is an irony that Britain which once strode across the planet appropriating countries and turning them all pink on the globe now wishes to baton down the hatches, and like a caricature in a story, yell loudly and maniacally “Get off my land!! It’s my land!” And that Mumbai, once known by the anglicised ‘Bombay’ (from the Portuguese, Bombaim – evidence of being ‘owned’ by westerners on several counts) played such a crucial part in that story, enormously affected by British Imperialism. This joint history seemed to resonate more profoundly than the other messages within the images. The two styles were presented entirely separately and so, as discussed afterwards, people wondered at the level of collaboration. There was some text in a slide show but that too seemed separate from the images, although as reported by others from the OCA, contributed a great deal towards making sense of them.  I found myself thinking about all the things I have written  above, but also noticed nude vs naked as explored in a recent project on UVC. I thought both practitioners were really worth finding out about and their websites good resources, well worth investigating further.  I particularly liked Tony by Sikka, a close-up portrait of a man in the bath and available to see on the cover of his website. There was also a wide shot of the same man in the bath which is worth viewing and thinking about.
  2. The Dandy Lion Project – I will discuss this in Project 4.7
  3. Sam Laughlin – Slow Time – No 13. The Regency Town House, The Drawing Room. (Photofringe) Perhaps I remember Laughlin’s work best because I ended up speaking to him and asking him lot of questions – well, interrogating him is perhaps the best phrase – after he tentatively asked us to be very careful about our rain-sodden clothes, which he worried would brush against naked prints lying vulnerably on a table in the centre of the room. Or perhaps the fact his images were in a venue that had so much atmosphere, maybe even a good dose of Benjamin’s aura about it, meant that the work stood out in a day saturated with photographic prints. Did the house, a restoration project that is hired out to artists, performers and event organisers, have too much of an impact on the work, I wonder? Or did it compliment Laughlin’s images, adding an additional layer of experience that enriched my appreciation? Would his work have been as impactful in the dry, perhaps more sterile and occasionally oppressive atmosphere of a ‘proper’ gallery? Perhaps that sort of venue would have allowed Laughlin’s work to stand and breath on its own. As much as I liked – actually loved – the venue, I do wonder about this.
    As soon as I came through the entrance I was struck by No. 13’s dramatic presence. It’s state of semi-restoration, so perfect for DIY dreams by Tom Heatley in the bottom front room. The grey, dull Brighton weather contrasted with the warm glow of household lamps, and props associated with DIY complimented Heatley’s images immensely, and I was quickly intrigued by how performative the atmosphere and work  seemed. Nevertheless I spent most of my time upstairs in Laughlin’s temporary gallery, where there was less in the way of props, although a few such as stones and rocks by a wall below an image and pebbles on the table, and many more images than in Heatley’s theatrical space.
    Laughlin presented several collections of his work, some of which are on his site, however Slow Time has not been seen publicly before. He has been working on this for 3 years. Laughlin explained he operated in a way that tallied with the slowness of his subject, described on a typed sheet as “a reflection on natural forms; flora, fauna, landscapes and the quiet processes that happen within them”. He might often go for a walk and not even use his camera but instead notice something that he could go back to and photograph at a later date. He walks alone and for hours at a time. He uses 35mm for Slow Time and a 4×5 camera for larger works. His images are extremely low in contrast. They are black and white, or as Laughlin described, grey and grey. In fact one of the OCA tutors asked him outright, “why so grey?” (they knew each other). The tonal range is extremely narrow. There is very little black in the images, except in darker pieces which are almost entirely black, and where highlight details are so faint they become almost inaccessible. In addition, the paper he uses is as smooth as he can find, an ultra smooth version of Hahnemühle German Etching. He prints his own work after scanning negatives, which he has developed, and does very little in post production. He achieves the affect he is after in-camera and in the printing. The images are not framed or glazed and it is simply the print on a wall or table. As you wander past images you are drawn closer to them to search out detail and make sense of them. The Slow Time pictures are not overly large, a mix perhaps of A5, A4 and A3. They are subtle, quietly reflexive and contemplative. They do not shout. They whisper. And they are enchanting and beautiful.
    At first when thinking about how Laughlin’s work relates to the Biennial title, it might be easy to overlook the connections.  I am not sure how closely the fringe entries are meant to align, however, Laughlin’s Slow Time seems to me to be all about shape and bias, or rather the lack of it, and how that differs from so much we are used to, visually and beyond within our world. What, after all, is contrast if not a defining element of separateness? The higher the contrast between one thing and another, the greater and more startling the difference. In Laughlin’s work the contrast is deliberately rendered extremely low, quite opposite to the sort of images we are used to seeing online, where contrast is often boosted so images stand out on small smart phone screens. In Slow Time difference, visual categorisation, separateness is scaled down to a point where at times it becomes barely detectable because of the low contrast, and which is continued physically in the smoothness of the paper. Again, that choice tells us about removing difference.  There are no protective, separating frames or glazing. The images remain open and vulnerable to the elements but in being so are all the more powerful for it. They may not last under those conditions but perhaps there is something to be read within that. Laughlin’s way of working is an antithesis to the fast and furious way in which images are uploaded nowadays; moments snapped, filtered and posted on social media, highly manipulated and lost in the melee within a few minutes or hours after they’ve been consumed by friends and online contacts, but also trapped as evidence of a moment for as long as the internet will exist in some cases – Facebook profiles don’t die when we do, for instance.  Laughlin’s subject, nature, has an alternative pace to the online world. Objects are continually transforming, never static, even when they gives us the impression they are, and in some cases, such as rock faces, mountains, river beds, the time scales are counted in evolutionary terms rather than moments.
    Slow Time is a fantastic counter to so much in the modern world and celebrates the universe at the same time as highlighting the ludicrous hubris of busy, speedy, human activity. It also, without any didactic lecturing, provides an alternative view to   one that promotes separateness, outlines, borders, definition. And it seemed to do this in a more profound way than a great deal of the other work we saw over the weekend. Laughlin is young but he has a very clear artistic voice already and it was a real privilege to hear about his work in his own words in addition to seeing the images.
  4. On Sunday we had a couple of hours to discuss work in groups. I always find looking at other student’s work incredibly inspiring and exciting. It’s great to see what people are doing on various courses. I am quite jealous of the lovely creative opportunities because as much as I love this academic course, I am really missing creative projects, even though I work on my own anyway. I presented an idea I had about doing the final assignment more creatively than in a formal essay, as that is what suits me best, and gave lots of good reasons for doing it that way, mainly incorporating the ideas we have learnt into the project. The tutor in our group said he wouldn’t have a problem with it but that he didn’t mark UVC. He then asked about it further up the chain of command and told me I would of course be allowed to do the multimedia idea I had, as long as I also wrote an essay…. Isn’t it strange how language often doesn’t mean what you think it means? (Semiotics!) This is the assignment brief; “Explore the issues surrounding the real in contemporary society.  You may use an illustrated essay form or extended annotations of illustrations, which ever suits your subject and personal approach”. Those words apparently mean “write a formal essay”. I think I need to pursue this further though before making any decisions. I wrote notes down for ideas in the slide show below so I wouldn’t forget – perhaps I should post these in the A5 section separately  too. (These are only notes, I feel the need to stress this because someone thought it was the project…No!) slide-show-a5-ideas

Image  in the basement of 10 Brunswick Square, Brighton, (c)SJField 2016ür_Sexualwissenschaft

Photoworks, Brighton Photo Biennial 2016, 1-30 October Magazine