JOURNAL | Third Text Special Issue (2017)

Social Reproduction and Art
Third Text 148, vol 31, no 5,  2017
Edited by Angela Dimitrakaki and Kirsten Lloyd



Social Reproduction Struggles and Art History: An Introduction
Angela Dimitrakaki and Kirsten Lloyd

The article explores social reproduction as a key term in expanding the purview of art history in relation to the social urgencies of the early twenty-first century and feminist struggles. Providing a context for the approaches to social reproduction and art in the specific journal issue, the analysis makes a case for a methodological shift that would see feminist art history coming closer to a history of labour. But this, the authors argue, implies interrogating what enters the category ‘labour’ as such. The article opens with an examination of capitalism in relation to crisis and goes on to look at (a) social reproduction in an expanded (art) field; (b) the violence of reproduction; (c) the feminist commons/the social reproduction commons.


Keywords: Angela Dimitrakaki, Kirsten Lloyd, feminist art history, contemporary art field, social reproduction, capitalism, commons, violence


The Artist’s Household: On Gender and the Division of Artistic and Domestic Labour in Nineteenth-century London
Lara Perry


The concepts of social reproduction and immaterial labour, normally deployed in accounts of art since the 1960s, can and should also be deployed in the examination of earlier periods of art practice. Using census data and other primary sources which document the households of (primarily) London artists in the 1870s and 1880s, the article explores the intimate spatial relationship of art work and family life within these households; the social and entrepreneurial labour which was taken on by the family members or servants of artists; and the distribution of responsibility for routine family and domestic labour in these households. Women’s exclusion from professional art practice appears to be entrenched in the division of household labour, and the conclusion invokes the relationship between the household structures and the wider economic context of capitalism (specifically, the dealer-critic system that formed in the second half of the nineteenth century) as significant in accounting for women’s history as artists.


Keywords: Lara Perry; household; domestic labour; social reproduction; nineteenth-century; dealer-critic system; census; feminist art history; capitalism; London


‘Under Trying Domestic Circumstances’: Reproducing Settler Identity and Resisting Indigenous Dispossession in Twentieth-Century Saskatchewan
Manon Gaudet


The article considers a collection of Plains Indigenous beadwork donated to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum by the Canadian author and collector Mary Weekes (1884-1980). Taking the rural cottage where she acquired her collection as a contact zone, the analysis considers how Weekes developed unusually intimate settler-Indigenous friendships that forced her to confront her complicity in colonial practices of dispossession and assimilation. It also interrogates how her dedication to Saskatchewan’s marginalized Indigenous peoples at times irreconcilably conflicted with her own marginalized status as a woman with persistent professional ambitions. Moreover, the article contends that Weekes’s domestic circumstances and exchanges of labour therein offer insight into the reproduction of settler identity in twentieth-century Saskatchewan and the simultaneous (and not necessarily oppositional) resistance of Indigenous dispossession.


Keywords: Settler-colonial art history; colonial collecting; contact zones; Plains Indigenous beadwork; gender roles; 20th century Canada; residential schools; Indigenous women; settler-colonial literature; colonial intimacy


The Two Reproductions in (Feminist) Art and Theory since the 1970s
Marina Vishmidt


This article approaches the optic of ‘reproduction’ in feminist theory and politics from two sides: (a) the discussion of social reproduction currently at the top of the agenda of materialist feminisms, that is as a specific modality of gendered, racialised and often unwaged labour; and (b) the sense in which social reproduction can be taken as the ‘reproduction of the conditions of production’, in Louis Althusser’s analysis. These two approaches to the question of reproduction are used to open a path to a sample of historical and contemporary art practices, readable either in terms of a feminist deployment of reproduction as a spectrum of gendered tasks, or in terms of performing the impasses of a kind of social ‘non-reproduction’ that belongs to the second type, with the social reproduction perspective assuming the function of institutional or, perhaps, ‘infrastructural’ critique. The article covers the period between the 1970s and the present.


Keywords: Marina Vishmidt, Marxist feminism, reproduction, domestic, satire, abolition, institution, infrastructure, biopolitics, labour


‘To think the home in terms of the factory’: Social Reproduction, Postproduction and Home-Movies in Godard and Miéville
Elisa Adami and Alex Fletcher


Drawing on theories of social reproduction, this article explores how Jean-Luc Godard’s metaphor, to ‘think the home in terms of the factory’, plays itself out within his and Anne-Marie Miéville’s 1975 film Numéro deux (Number Two), as well as their filmmaking practice more broadly. In particular, we focus on how their use of video and their foregrounding of the space of film postproduction serves to challenge traditional notions of film production, editing and authorship, briefly examining the editing room as a historically gendered place of work. We conclude by reading Godard and Miéville’s television works, particularly their strategy of amateurisation and their investment in the domestic, in relation to the category of the ‘home-movie’. The place of the home and their practice of small-scale film production, it is argued, represents an attempt to test an alternative mode of production to the one that the metaphor of the factory typically designates.


Keywords: Elisa Adami, Alex Fletcher, Jean-Luc Godard, Anne-Marie Miéville, Sonimage, Numéro deux, social reproduction, postproduction, Harun Farocki, Kaja Silverman, home-movies


Losing Ground? A Note on Feminism, Cultural Activism, and Urban Space
Victoria Horne


This article offers a study of the Hackney Flashers’ project Who’s Holding the Baby? (1976-78). The agitprop series documented the establishment of an independent nursery in North London, while providing analysis of the profoundly gendered and classed nature of such work. This historical example illustrates with striking accuracy transformations to the urban landscape of London over the past four decades, in particular pointing towards the critical entanglement between collective art practice, liberal voluntarism, and processes of gentrification. The article therefore raises a set of problems: To what extent does feminised social reproduction labour and care voluntarism assuage or challenge the normative functioning of urban public space? What is the relationship of cultural to economic capital, and how is gender relevant to these forms of value? Has the potential of creative, urban protest tactics been exhausted? Drawing from writings across cultural geography and art history, the article proposes that a historical consideration of the Hackney Flashers opens up a pressing discussion around shifts in the organisation of social reproduction since the 1970s.


Keywords: Victoria Horne, Hackney Flashers, Documentary, Photography, 1970s, Feminism, Activism, Gentrification, Urban Art, Collectivism


Domestic Unrest: Social Reproduction and the Temporalities of Struggle in Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames
Beth Capper
This article explores figurations of social reproduction in Lizzie Borden’s 1983 film Born in Flames. Beginning with the film’s representation of the Wages for Housework movement, the article then places the film into dialogue with theoretical analyses authored by Black Women for Wages for Housework in order to advance two related arguments. First, Born in Flames indexes conflicting temporalities of struggle between feminist militant violence and social reproduction in ways that provide a self-reflexive meditation on the antagonisms that pervade the work of coalition-building. The film illuminates how sustaining feminist community depends upon an uneven distribution of work enacted by its black female characters, and therefore underscores fissures between multiracial coalition and black feminist freedom dreams. Second, Born in Flames re-imagines ‘housework’ and ‘the domestic’ against their dominant associations with white domesticity, thereby recasting the domestic as an internally differentiated site of struggle and offering glimpses of a black feminist domestic vision.


Keywords: Beth Capper, Domesticity, Black Feminism, Coalition, Born in Flames, Lizzie Borden, State Violence, Antagonism


‘Usefulness’ in Contemporary Art and Politics
Larne Abse Gogarty


This article explores the emphasis on usefulness in contemporary art, focusing on social practice art in the United States and Europe through Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s establishment of the ‘Asociación de Arte Útil’ in 2011, and the rebranding of the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima) as a ‘useful museum’. The article addresses the affirmation of usefulness and ‘use values’ within these case studies and beyond in relation to Marxist, post-Marxist, and feminist theories of social reproduction and the state. By attending to issues of citizenship, race, and migration, the article asks how we should approach the aesthetic and political stakes of artworks that strive to be ‘useful’ through performing tasks associated with social reproduction as they have historically taken place in the home or via the welfare state.


Keywords: Larne Abse Gogarty, social practice, arte util, the avant-garde, Marxism, social reproduction, race, accelerationism, Tania Bruguera, Simone Leigh



Exposed: The Politics of Infrastructure in VALIE EXPORT’s Transparent Space
Elke Krasny
The article focuses on VALIE EXPORT’s Transparent Space, a 2001 public art project in Vienna that is, at once, an autonomous artwork and a dedicated women’s art space. The analysis is concerned with the contradictions encountered in this double function of Transparent Space, as they relate to feminism, and, in particular, to feminists making and curating art. Also known as Cube EXPORT and Women’s Bridge, Transparent Space is implicated in urban transformation dynamics in their longitudinal dimension as they alter infrastructures and their redistributive (in)justice. Equally, it is implicated in questions that arise on public art commissions and neoliberal restructuring austerity measures which precarise long-term provisions for use and maintenance, but also in the legacies of second-wave feminist art making alongside current and ongoing practices of feminist art work and the labour involved. Transparent Space exposes – i.e. renders visible – a lack of infrastructural support that may be seen to undermine the agenda of ‘making women visible’. The analysis therefore asks whether Transparent Space is found to both honour and harness the ‘labour of love’ performed by women and feminists making art.


Keywords: Elke Krasny, VALIE EXPORT, feminist art, materialist feminist analysis, urban regeneration, visibility politics, transparency, infrastructure, public art, ‘labour of love’


‘Labours of Love’: A Conversation on Art, Gender, and Social Reproduction 
Danielle Child, Helena Reckitt, Jenny Richards


Taking the form of a discussion among an art historian, a curator and an artist, the article explores the assumption that it is love, rather than material gain, that motivates art and cultural workers. Addressing the internalisation of the ideology that one loves one’s labour, the interlocutors consider the gendered and class conditions of work in the cultural and academic sectors. Reading ‘theory’ against ‘practice,’ they reflect on their own work experiences and upbringings, their curatorial research, and their readings of feminist and Marxist theories of artistic and feminised labour. The discussion considers how the precarious conditions of cultural labour today divide and isolate workers, immersing them in antagonism and competition, and how reflections within feminist art history and theory have possibly downplayed the ongoing (rather than historical) importance of class as well as reproductive labour. Highlighting the dangers of over-identifying with work, the three contributors consider the potential of dis-identifying from work roles and from institutional conventions as one strategy that can potentially challenge the exploitation of the self as well as others. The article concludes with a consideration of how ‘labours of love’ might be collectively revalued and prioritised.


Keywords: Danielle Child, Helena Reckitt, Jenny Richards, Academic Labour, Cultural Labour, Social Reproduction, Feminist Art, Feminist Art History, ​Labours of Love, Manual Labours, Now You Can Go.


BIOGRAPHIES (updated 2017)

Larne Abse Gogarty is the Terra Foundation for American Art Postdocoral Teaching Fellow in the Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte at the Humboldt University, Berlin. Previously she was a teaching fellow in History of Art at University College London. She has recently published her work in Tate Papers and Kunst und Politik.


Elisa Adami is a doctoral candidate at the Royal College of Art London. Her research focuses on the narrativisation and fictionalisation of history in post-war Lebanese art through the use of archival documents and storytelling.


Beth Capper is a doctoral candidate in modern culture and media at Brown University. Her writing has been published in Art Journal and Media Fields, and she is the assistant editor of a forthcoming consortium issue of TDR: The Drama Review on ‘Reproduction and Performance’. Beth also participates in a collaborative effort to build a digital archive of materials from the 1970s Wages for Housework movement.


Danielle Child is Lecturer in Art History at Manchester School of Art. She is currently working on her forthcoming book titled Working Aesthetics: Labour, Art and Capitalism (Bloomsbury Academic). Her articles include ‘Dematerialisation, Contracted Labour and Art Fabrication: The Deskilling of the Artist in the Age of Late Capitalism’, Sculpture Journal, 24:3 (2015).


Angela Dimitrakaki is a writer and Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Edinburgh and the author of over 50 articles and book chapters on contemporary art. Her books include Gender, ArtWork and the Global Imperative (Manchester 2013), Art and Globalisation (Hestia 2013, in Greek) and ECONOMY: Art, Production and the Subject in the Twenty-First Century (2015, co-edited with Kirsten Lloyd).


Alex Fletcher is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University. His research focuses on the essay form in and as film, and is concerned with providing a deeper critical account of the genre.


Manon Gaudet graduated in 2016 with an MA in Art History from Carleton University, where her thesis on Mary Weekes was awarded a Senate Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement. She has previously held positions at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.


Victoria Horne is Lecturer in Art and Design History at Northumbria University. She is currently preparing a book titled Against Absence: How Feminism Reshaped Art History. Recent publications include Feminism and Art History Now (IB Tauris 2017, co-edited with Lara Perry) and articles in the Journal of Visual Culture, Feminist Review, Radical Philosophy, and Map.


Elke Krasny is Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and in 2012 she was a Visiting Scholar at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal. She is co-editor of Women’s: Museum. Curatorial Politics in Feminism, Education, History, and Art (Locker 2013). Her curatorial projects include Suzanne Lacy’s International Dinner Party in Feminist Curatorial Thought and Hands-On Urbanism 1850-2012: The Right to Green.


Kirsten Lloyd is Lecturer in Curatorial Theory and Practice at the University of Edinburgh.  Her chapter ‘‘If You Lived Here…’: A Case Study on Social Reproduction in Feminist Art History’ appears in Feminism and Art History Now (IB Tauris 2017). Between 2010 and 2015 she curated a series of exhibitions and events titled Social Documents in Edinburgh and Glasgow, including ECONOMY with Angela Dimitrakaki.


Lara Perry is Principal Lecturer in the School of Humanities at the University of Brighton and a feminist art historian. Her work primarily concerns nineteenth-century British art and art collections including contemporary museums, historiography and curatorial practice. Her books include History’s Beauties: Women and the National Portrait Gallery, 1856-1900 (Ashgate 2006) and Politics in a Glass Case (Liverpool 2013, co-edited with Angela Dimitrakaki). In 2010-12 she led the Leverhulme international network Transnational Perspectives on Women’s Art, Feminism and Curating.


Helena Reckitt is Senior Lecturer in Curating at Goldsmiths, University of London. With Jennifer Fisher she edited two issues of the Journal of Curatorial Studies (2016) on curating, affect and relationality.  Her essay ‘Generating Feminisms: Italian Feminisms and the “Now You Can Go” Programme’ appears in Art Journal’s special issue on Curating Diversity (2017).

Jenny Richards 
collaborates with Sophie Hope on the practice-based research project Manual Labours and is curator of Marabouparken Konsthall, Stockholm ( / She was previously co-director of Konsthall C, Stockholm where together with Jens Strandberg she developed Home Works, an exhibition programme exploring the politics of domestic work and the home


Marina Vishmidt is a writer and lecturer in Culture Industry at Goldsmiths, University of London and the Dutch Art Institute. Her work has appeared in South Atlantic Quarterly, Ephemera, Afterall, Journal of Cultural Economy, Australian Feminist Studies, and Radical Philosophy, among others, as well as a number of edited volumes. She is the co-author of Reproducing Autonomy (Mute 2016, with Kerstin Stakemeier) and is currently completing Speculation as a Mode of Production (Brill, 2017).




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