Reading and Research

In the past few months, I have read books about particular artists who are important to me, including: Anthony Gormley (Drawing), Marlene Dumas, Nancy Spero, Kikki Smith, Mira Schendel, Eva Hesse, Glen Ligon and Tracy Emin.

I have read quite widely in the field of feminist art as this is a central concern for me. I have tried to get some historical and theoretical overview of the field and absorb something about the range of strategies women artists have used to challenge their inheritance. This reading has been important for me as an artist and a person. It has been sometimes painful – the history of oppression is not cheerful, and often enough one wants to take flight from it – but ultimately it is strengthening and uplifting to feel part of a cross-generational community where women have risked so much and achieved so much in the way of constructing a matrilinear heritage.

When I started out in art 30 years ago, there were almost no names to reach for if challenged by the jeering question that Linda Nochlin squared up to, why have there been no great women artists? Now it is entirely different. Not only is there a constellation of big names, but prizes and exhibitions will sometimes feature a majority of women artists. The recent Turner Prize shortlist, for example, had three women and one man on it, unthinkable 30 years ago. However, the show by the Guerrilla Girls at The Whitechapel (and still unfortunately many womens’ experiences in the art school and the wider art world) cautions against complacency. There is still much to be done, and historical progress is always vulnerable, as recent US elections show.

As part of the reading for my essay on Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document, I started to explore psychoanalytic feminist writers such as Julia Kristeva, and I want to continue this. I am interested in the philosophy and psychology of shame.

I am finding that this kind of reading helps me to focus my own thinking in my work. I can ‘get to the point’ more quickly, and perhaps am emboldened to take more risks. Eg if you realize that what you are trying to do is say something about embodiment as a woman, the ‘abject maternal’ and its outcast status in human culture, power relations and the internal psyche, you can cut out a lot and move more swiftly to your target. I am finding this when I try to formulate/think through pieces of work.

Together with books and articles, I have spent many hours on the internet, reading entries on the Tate website, for example, among others, along with watching the series of short films, Tateshots. Youtube has allowed me to watch many documentaries about artists and art movements and to access interviews with artists, and between artists and critics. It is a very rich resource.

I am including the list of books and articles I read for my essay on Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document. In order to study Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document properly, I spent a day in the library of Pippy Houldsworth gallery.



 Bakhtin, M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four essays (ed. M. Holquist and tr. C. Emerson and M. Holquist) Austin: University of Texas Press.

Kelly, M. (1973-79) Post-Partum Document, [various media], London; ICA (1976).

Kelly, M. (1999) Post-Partum Document, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kosuth, J. (1991) Art after Philosophy, Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Kristeva, J. (1982) Desire for Language, New York: Columbia University Press.

Lessing, D. (1962) The Golden Notebook, London: Michael Joseph.

Parker, R and Pollock, G (1987) Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1985, London: HarperCollins. (2015) Tateshots, available at [accessed 20 December 2016].

Winnicott, D. (1971) Playing and Reality, London: Penguin.


Bibliography of further reading

 Carson, J. (1998) “(Re)Viewing Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document”, Documents, pp. 41-60.

Farthing, S. and McKenzie, J. (eds.) (2014) The Drawn Word, Studio International.

Heartney, E. (2007) After the Revolution, Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art, Prestel Verlag.

Lyon, C. (2010) Nancy Spero, The Work, Prestel Verlag.

Nochlin, L. (1973) “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” In Art and Sexual Politics: Women’s Liberation, Women Artists, and Art History, (eds.) T. Hess and E. Baker, New York: Collier.

Parker, R. and G. Pollock (1987) Framing Feminism, Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1985, Pandora Press.

 Parker, R. and Pollock, G. (2013) Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology (3d edition) London: I. B. Tauris.

Pollock, G. (1999) Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art’s Histories, Routledge 1999.

Reckitt, H. and Phelan, P. (2001) Art and Feminism, Phaidon Press.


Image of typical reading (Some of these books have been read in entirety, some dipped into.)