Jo Spence (1934 – 1992) emerged as a key figure in the mid 1970s from the British photographic left, crucial in debates on photography and the critique of representation. Her work engaged with a range of photographic genres, from documentary to photo therapy, and responded to the prioritisation from the late 1970s onwards of lens-based media in art-critical discourse.
Spence held the firm belief that photography has an empowering capacity when applied to complex issues of class, power, gender, health and the 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 protocols within the National Health Service, became the primary productive principal for her output, drawing her into action – variably as an artist, writer, activist, community leader, adult educator and patient.
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. The latter works broadly deal with issues of health, therapy, self-empowerment and mortality.
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