Jo Spence: Work (Part I)

1 Jun – 15 Jul 2012
Free & open to all
SPACE Mare Street

SPACE and Studio Voltaire present a major two-venue exhibition of the work of the celebrated British photographer Jo Spence. The presentation will be the UK’s largest exhibition to date of Jo Spence’s work since her death in 1992.

Previews 31 May, 6 – 9pm

Jo Spence (1934 – 1992) was a key figure from the British photographic left from the mid seventies and crucial in debates on photography and the critique of representation. Her work engaged with a range of photographic genres – from documentary to phototherapy – and responded to the prioritisation from the late 70s onwards of lens-based media in art-critical discourse.

Rough edged, recycled, personal – in essence positively amateur – Spence’s work stands in direct opposition to numerous artistic givens. She proposed process over object, collaboration and collectivity over heroic authorship and, above all, generosity (to self and other) over the pursuit of any singular creative ambition. While adroit with its arguments, she swerved the academic theorization of photography, preferring an experimental and biographical exploration of ideas. This results in a richly didactic yet highly idiosyncratic output, one that is playful – silly even at times – while also being capable of delivering images of excoriating intensity.

Spence held the firm belief that photography has basic empowering capacity when applied to complex issues of class, power, gender, health and body. From this perspective she rallied against all forms of hegemony, dominance and control. Her critical concerns – be they with the idea of naturalism in the documentary image or National Health Service protocol – became the primary productive principal for her output, drawing her into action – variably as an artist, writer, activist, community leader, adult educator and patient.

While a prevailing wind of cultural pessimism might propose Spence’s work as specifically periodic, to those who know it, and to those who – through these two exhibitions – will come to know it, it is clear that she has much to offer contemporary audiences. Her work is best described as a sort of energetic, one that is constantly agitating, asking the wrong questions, and pushing against things. It is no wonder that Spence was never quite at ease with the title ‘artist’. Indeed she had a preference – one linked both to the behavioral condition of the photographer, but also to the nature of her critical enterprise in general – that of cultural sniper

On the twentieth anniversary of her death, Jo Spence Work (Part I and Part II) offers an important opportunity to experience a significant presentation of the photographer’s practice first hand. In doing so, we hope the exhibition allows for a recognition of the relevance of her work and working methods – both of which remain as sharply radical and transformative today as they were over two decades ago.

The exhibition is chronologically split across the two sites: SPACE’s presentation will focus on Spence’s work from the late 1960s to the early 1980s and will explore the explicitly social and political dimensions of her early solo and collaborative work. Studio Voltaire will present later works from the early 1980s up to the artist’s death in 1992. These works broadly deal with issues of health, therapy, self-empowerment and mortality.

The exhibition is made in partnership with Terry Dennett/The Jo Spence Memorial Archive.

Jo Spence: Work (Part II)
12 June – 11 August 2012
Wednesday – Saturday, 12 – 6pm
Preview: Monday 11 June 2012, 7 – 9pm
Studio Voltaire, 1a Nelsons Row, London SW4 7JR

Supported by the Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts.

NOT OUR CLASS, Studio Voltaire’s associated Education and Participation Programme, is supported by Bloomberg and by the National lottery through Arts Council England.