Jo SpenceNovember 16–December 21, 2013
Photo Therapy (Jo holding ‘High Peak' exercise book)
The Faces Group
Teaching set, 'Domestic Labor and Visual Representation'
Putting Myself into the Picture
Jo Spence: Work (Part III) ‘The History Lesson’
White Columns is proud to present an exhibition of work by the celebrated British artist Jo Spence (1934-1992). Organized in collaboration with London’s Studio Voltaire and SPACE galleries the exhibition has been curated for White Columns by London-based curator and writer Christabel Stewart.
About the exhibition Stewart has written: On the twentieth anniversary of British photographer Jo Spence’s death, parallel exhibitions of her work were staged at two of London’s most vital not-for-profit galleries: Studio Voltaire and SPACE. The two organizations came together to present an in-depth appraisal of Spence’s work. Studio Voltaire’s exhibition consisted of two related projects: ‘Work (Part II)’ an exhibition of Spence’s work produced between 1981-1991 and ‘Not Our Class’ an educational platform which considered Spence’s approach as the departure point for a far-reaching community-based dialog. ‘Not Our Class’ mirrored Spence’s own generous ideology of constantly making, learning, writing and reflecting. Spence was initially a taught-on-the-job high-street photographer in the 1960s. From there she began a journey towards independent-thinking and non-commercial photographic work that developed out of a growing political consciousness reflected in her use of documentary and then collaborative and politically-charged practices. Spence used the image as a means to both empower and educate, exemplified by her involvement with such pioneering photographic collectives such as The Faces and the Hackney Flashers, the latter of whom engaged with issues of female labor and childcare in the London Borough of Hackney (at the time a socially marginalized neighborhood.) This era of Spence’s practice was the subject of SPACE’s exhibition ‘Work (Part I)’ which focused on her earlier work produced between 1970 and 1981.
‘Work (Part III) The History Lesson’ at White Columns is the third exhibition in the series to consider Spence’s work and legacy, and functions as a coda to the London presentations. Incorporating aspects of both London exhibitions ‘Work (Part III) The History Lesson’ seeks to both introduce and contextualize Spence’s work for an American audience. (Spence’s work has rarely been exhibited in the United States.) The exhibition provides, in the words her partner and collaborator Terry Dennet an opportunity to consider “…an increasingly important but relatively undervalued body of photography that was very keen in it’s day to facilitate … a discussion between men and women in the controversial area of representation of the female body,” an ambition that seems as relevant now as it did thirty years ago
Ultimately Spence’s writing and work is interested in questions of identity. She believed using her own image in her photographs – “Putting Myself In The Picture” as the title of her 1986 book succinctly put it – was the most practical and provocative solution she could envisage regarding the problems of dealing with perceptions about her own image/identity as well as the pitfalls surrounding the (mis)representation of other people’s identities. Jo Spence’s extraordinary images were used as the basis for many exhibitions, workshops, and publications during her lifetime, circulating both within the art world and in more community-orientated contexts, her radical work has lost none of its power to provoke, inform and educate.
– Christabel Stewart, 2013
White Columns and Christabel Stewart would like to thank Joe Scotland and all at Studio Voltaire, London, and Paul Pieroni at all at SPACE, London for their support and enthusiasm regarding the New York presentation of Jo Spence’s work. We would also like to thank Richard Saltoun and his staff for their invaluable help; the entire staff at MACBA, Barcelona, for their commitment to this project; and most of all Terry Dennet, Spence’s surviving partner and collaborator and the custodian of the Jo Spence Memorial Archive, without whom this exhibition would not have been possible.
Funding for both the London and New York presentations of Jo Spence’s work was generously provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation.
Jo Spence: Work (Part III) The History Lesson is White Columns’ second engagement with Jo Spence’s wider project, and follows on from our 2011 exhibition ‘Pages From A Magazine: CAMERAWORK’ which focused on the history of the radical British photo-journal CAMERAWORK co-founded by Spence in 1976. http://www.whitecolumns.org/sections/exhibition.php?id=1239