To an extent the work of both Jenny Saville and Judy Chicago is seen as feminist in part because it reclaims the female nude for women artists. So far so good, but why then do I take issue with Chicago’s approach – or at any rate to The Dinner Party – while finding Saville’s work challenging and relevant? In part of course it’s to do with the earnest nature, and perhaps hippy thinking, of 1970s feminism. So do I have the same response to other work from that era? Well, yes and no.
Susan Hiller’s Ten Months takes the artist’s pregnancy as it’s subject matter. Hiller photographed her growing belly throughout and arranged the photographs in 10 grids, read from left to right and stepping down the wall, each one corresponding to a lunar month. So far, so hippy. Along with the images, each grid has a text taken from Hiller’s journal. The text for each month is brief and the editing process brings the work back on track for me.
Indeed in month six, Hiller seems to directly address my concern that feminism should offer more than the right to speak for ourselves, about ourselves. If we can’t speak about anything we choose, we aren’t equal.
Ultimately I think the piece works for me because while the daily documentation of change may seem clichéd the close cropping of the images mean that the belly becomes an abstract form making its growth both fascinating and slightly comic. Above all though the relationship between image and text allows Hiller to explore more than some abstract notion of the wonder of nature. And it’s one piece of work by an artist whose attentions have have been wide ranging and who has made some extraordinary installations (including Witness, a remarkable work which I wrote about for MostlyFilm).