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.
Thinking about the fragmented body in Gary Hill‘s Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place made me think about the self portraiture of John Coplans who repeatedly photographed his own – aging – body for (almost) the last two decades of his life. Several things interest me about Coplans’s work. Firstly, there’s the way they don’t conform to expectations of the nude in art. As the Guerrilla Girls have established, the nude is generally female and in an increasingly youth-centred culture the ageing body isn’t often the subject of attention. Here the focus is on the ordinary.