Speaking With: Carol Mavor and Nadia Hebson
Organised by RCA PhD candidates Caroline Douglas and Marita Fraser and supported by the Speaking of Her Research Network
12 June 2019 | 9am – 5pm
RCA Battersea, Dyson Building
SPEAKING WITH is a one-day research symposium that explores voicing historical subjectivity through interdisciplinary and feminist discourse around researching, writing and making. Speaking With was organised by PhD candidates Marita Fraser and Caroline Douglas to explore Fraser’s term ‘Speaking With’ as a new feminist research methodology.
We are delighted to announce keynote speakers: Professor Carol Mavor (University of Copenhagen) and Nadia Hebson (Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm) and PhD researchers will present their work to consider: strands of re-enactment as a research method; the subjectivity of the researcher/artist/archive; and what it means to work in the context of historical research. This event will be chaired by Professor Rebecca Fortnum (RCA).
Speaking of historical subjects through re-enactment strategies allows the subjectivity of the researcher and the subject of enquiry to be reviewed through a new kind of lens. It allows for framing of subjects through multiple voices outside of institutional narratives and allows for what we might term ‘fandom’ to be re-examined as a legitimate form of academic framing and thinking. In art practice, literature and academia there is a re-emergence of thinkers who utilise what we will call ‘speaking with’, as different to speaking ‘to’ or ‘for’ as a method for researchers and artists working with a historical subject. This question of the ethics of speaking is creating revitalised discourse around pertinent questions such as:
- What is the place of the subjective in historical research?
- What theoretical frameworks does re-enactment offer and/or restrict?
- How can ’fandom’ transcend the personal in art practice and research?
- What does the archive offer beyond the subject of its record?
- What are the ethics of speaking of and for others?
Nadia Hebson: Artists for Re-creation
Artists for re-creation monitor present day comprehension through new iterations. Things don’t mean the same thing forever. Most things disappear.
Lynne Tillman, The Translation Artist
At the time of her death in 1982 Carla Lonzi, art historian, critic, feminist and activist was working on a book in which she was in conversation with a group of fifteenth century bluestockings. The book foregrounded Lonzi’s notion of Resonance -a relationship that can be established between two or more women, who do not necessarily live in the same place or period of time, as a way of seeing one’s own experience reflected in the experience of someone else. A form of mutual recognition.
Not seeking to reconfigure an extant canon, not inserting the less considered into established narratives, not responding to constraints shaped by patriarchal thinking, not finding ways to give clarity, singularity, elevation or authority, not addressing absences, nor delineating omissions, nor rehabilitating occluded artistic inheritances.
The writers Kate Briggs and Natasha Soobramanien in their respective work have each explored the notion of paying close attention, an act analogous to translation, which I have come to understand as a form of subjective, empathetic enquiry or a mode of resonance.
In concert with Carla Lonzi’s radical politics I propose a suspension of the conventions which are said to motivate and significantly validate gestures of recuperation, re-enactment and thinking through deployed in contemporary art practice and literature, as a provocation to explore how a polyvocal circumstance can be worked towards; which draws on resonance not solely as a declarative position but as an intimate and potentially private exchange grounded in the complexities of subjective expression and empathetic enquiry.
Nadia Hebson is an artist and Senior Lecturer at Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. She works across painting, objects, large scale prints, apparel and text through subjective biography most recently exploring the expanded legacies of American painter Christina Ramberg and British painter Winifred Knights, who she conceives as fictional mentors. Her recent exhibitions and commissions include Gravidity & Parity &, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne; one on one: on skills, The Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia, EKKM, Tallin; I See You Man, Gallery Celine, Glasgow; Alpha Adieu, Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, M HKA and Choreography, Arcade, London. In 2014 with AND Public she published MODA WK: work in response to the paintings, drawings, correspondence, clothing and interior design of Winifred Knights (an expanded legacy). In 2017 with Hana Leaper she co-convened the conference, Making Womens Art Matter, at the Paul Mellon Centre, London. She is currently working on a new publication which explores the work of Christina Ramberg and her creative female circle.
Carol Mavor: Anti-Kleptocratic Happening
In 1968, curious courtships between psychology, the women’s liberation movement, population control, and ecological concerns erupted. One key figure is the philosopher and psychologist Xenia Godunova (whose early work linked female anorexia with kleptomania). Godunova viewed both as related rituals––forbidden secret activities––which compensate for threatened or actual loss. As Godunova said in a lecture at UC Berkeley (1968): ‘Our irresistible tendency to steal things we do not need from the Mother (Earth), is klepto-parasitism, is kleptocratic.’ The choreographer and dancer Anna Halprin (b. 1920), and her architect husband Lawrence Halprin (1916-2009), were at that lecture. My lecture unearths the effect that Godunova’s radical philosophies had on their collaborative piece: Driftwood City––Community, performed as an environmental experiment at Sea Ranch, California, 1968. Of note is the fact that Halprin considers her dance practice as a feminist philo-sophia (love of wisdom) brought to life with phyto-philia (love of plants). In her words: ‘my concern is form in nature––like the structure of a plant––not in its outer appearance, but in its internal growth process. The plant cannot be kleptocratic.’ Mary Glass (b. 1936-2018), a student of Halprin, took phyto-philia into an imaginary ocean for her dance entitled ‘Happening’ (1970). Embodying the sea butterfly (scientific name Thecosomata)––colourless, very fragile and less than one cm in length––Glass danced with two wing-like lobes, with slow flapping movements, as one with the sea: ‘like water in water (Georges Bataille).
Carol Mavor is writer who takes creative risks in form (literary and experimental) and political risks in content (sexuality, race in America, child-loving and the maternal). Her Reading Boyishly: Roland Barthes, J. M. Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust, and D. W. Winnicott was named by Grayson Perry in The Guardian as his 2008 ‘Book of the Year.’ Mavor’s Blue Mythologies: A Study of the Colour ‘coaxes us into having a less complacent attitude…even when it comes to something as apparently innocuous as a color’ (Los Angeles Review of Books). Maggie Nelson describes Mavor’s sixth monograph, Aurelia: Art and Literature Through the Eyes and Mouth of the Fairy Tale, as ‘enigmatic, and full of magic as its subjects.’ Currently Mavor is working on a new book, Serendipity: The Alphabetical Afterlife of the Object. She is also writing a trilogy of short novelesque texts on the art of the 1960s in Northern California: Like a Lake, Like the Sea and Like a Tree. For all of 2018, Mavor is the Novo Nordisk Foundation Professor Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Copenhagen.
Rebecca Fortnum is Professor of Fine Art at The Royal College of Art, where she leads the School of Arts and Humanities Research Programme. She has recently completed a Visiting Research Fellowship at Merton College, Oxford where she developed her project, A Mind Weighted with Unpublished Matter, that includes paintings and drawings of known and unknown female subjects from sculptural portraits in Museum collections, including the Ashmolean. Fortnum has had solo shows at the Freud Museum and the V&A’s Museum of Childhood and edited a book of interviews with British women artists, In their own words (2007) as well as On Not Knowing; How Artists Think (2013), a book of essays that examines contemporary artists’ processes. Her new book, A Companion to Contemporary Drawing, which she has edited with Kelly Chorpening, published by Wiley Blackwell.
Sharon Young (RCA) is an artist whose works are held in collections and exhibited in institutions such as the V&A, Tate Liverpool, Venice, Encontros das imagem, Goa International Photography Festival, International Photography Awards, New York and Recontres des Arles. She lectures at University of Roehampton, Ithaca College, London Centre and the Royal College of Art. She will present her film piece EROTOMANIA which seek to discover whether ‘hysterical narrative’ can be rehabilitated to new ends. The title of her PhD research project is Boundaries and Slippages of the Self; A feminist interpretation, of ‘hysterical narrative’ as agency, through photography and autofiction.
Juliette Blightman (RCA) has exhibited in solo shows at Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland; South London Gallery and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. Her performances and video works have been presented in; Hayward Gallery, London; Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne; Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria and at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. She has lectured in art schools, including ArtsCenter, Los Angeles; UdK Berlin and Künstakademie Düsseldorf. Her PhD by practice at the Royal College of Art researches the relevance of feminist literature of the last one hundred years to creative practice, technology and motherhood.
Caroline Douglas (RCA) was the recipient of the 9th Helen Keller International Award and Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Award (2016). Selected exhibitions include; Galerie Huit, Arles, Columbia University, Stills Gallery, Brighton Photo Fringe, Format Festival, Künstlerhaus Dortmund. Residencies include; School of the Art Institute Chicago, AiR Fondazione Fotografia, Modena and Proekt Fabrika, and Visiting Scholar at the University of St Andrews in 2016. Her practice-based PhD at the Royal College of Art, is titled Retouching The Archive: Unknown Women in Early Photography in Scotland.
Marita Fraser (RCA) is an artist, writer and researcher exhibiting internationally, including exhibitions with Kunsthaus Vienna, Städtisches Museum Engen, Atelierhaus Salzamt Linz, Kunstverein Wilhelmshöhe Ettlingen, MU Eindhoven and Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. In 2016 she was awarded the ArtReview Casa Wabi Residency Award and was resident at Museums Quartier Vienna (Q21). She is currently undertaking a PhD by practice at the Royal College of Art titled Speaking With: New Forms of Notation for Scoring Excess.
Onyeka Igwe’s (UAL) PhD research project is titled Unbossed and Unbound: How can critical proximity activate British colonial moving images? Archivisation and the visioning technology of cinema, fuels the transformation of the colonial imaginary. to fixed truths of the colonial black subject. To combat this, theoretical strategies of reading against the grain have emerged and this impetus has found a home in various moving image practices. Does this work sufficiently exist outside of the very knowledge systems that created totalizing and racist understandings of blackness? This research develops and deploys critical proximity; a methodology that embraces illegitimate forms, outside the bounds of Western Thought, to activate colonial moving images and produce audiovisual works that challenge hegemonic ways of knowing.
Armelle Skatulski (RCA) is an artist and educator undertaking a practice-based PhD at the Royal College of Art supported by Techne/AHRC, titled Archive Sub-Versions: Photography, the Accident, and the Logic of Production.
This event was organised through the Speaking of Her Research Network and funded by technē – an AHRC Consortium.