Published on Kaleidoscope Magazine’s website blog, September 2013
The Richard Saltoun Gallery, London, presents rarely seen, though highly influential, photographic portraits from the 1970s and 80s by feminist artists Alexis Hunter and Jo Spence. Tackling notions of female subjectivity, self-representation and the dominant (photographic) gaze, the exhibition reveals provocative insights into the empowerment of women. Hunter draws upon her training in painting to blur the boundaries between different media and uses this to subvert categories of political representation. Spence, however, uses photography to re-frame and re-enact her own subjective self, making ideas of erasure, creation and multiplicity fundamental to her practice and political agenda. Both artists explore the presentation of the female body, and through repetition of images and actions indicate there are multiple facets of the self. Some scenes retain the feel of amateur “snapshot” photography, suggesting these issues can be seen by and concern us all. Spence particularly draws upon personal subject matter, making themes of vulnerability, rawness and even tenderness surface in the initially confrontational-looking work. The self is bared almost explicitly in order to do away with cultural masks. This is a highly political and conceptual exhibition, concerned with defamiliarizing the image. Implicitly, it asks how can the female body be seen for what it is, as a self, rather than a set of cultural signifiers.
Alexis Hunter and Jo Spence’s exhibition curated by George Vasey at Richard Saltoun Gallery, London, will run through September 27.