Monday, 16 October 2017

Site and Situation: (not) at Home


Professor of Contemporary Art, Theory and Criticism at Middlesex, an art critic and historian with a specialism in feminist art criticism and theory about contemporary women artists.

An introductory essay to Fran Cottell’s book, which collects together descriptions of different interative installations in her home over a period of time. 

Cooking Up the Self Bobby Baker and Blondell Cummings “Do” the Kitchen by Lesley Ferris

Critical writing with some historical background, analysing two different performance artists; Bobby Baker stages her work in her own kitchen and Blondell Cummings performed in kitchen ‘sets’. 

Written by Lesley Ferris - Arts & Humanities Professor, Department of Theatre at Ohio State University, a theatre director and scholar.

Blondell Cummings Chicken Soup –

video still 1989

Bobby Baker Kitchen Show

Bobby Baker: Redeeming Features of Daily Life edited by Michèle Barrett and Bobby Baker (2007), Routledge.   







  Fran Cottell:  “During the 1980s and 1990s I had started to think about the public/private relationships between and within the body (often represented by clothing) and or the spaces we occupy.”

Fran Cottell is the Fine Art Senior Lecturer at Camberwell.  

 “Since 2001, Cottell has used her own house as both subject and experimental site for her performative events, subtly altering this domestic environment through architectural interventions. (Camberwell website)

Back to Front installation 2011– photos by Terry Watts from Fran Cottrell’s website

The work made interventions (eg viewing platforms, peepholes) over a period of time in her own house in Greenwich and invited people in whilst going about her everyday life with her family.

Platform for visitors to stand on while family got on with daily life

Fran Cottell’s interest has been in exploring the relationships between ‘inhabited spaces’ – the body, the home, and the exterior world.  (Introduction by Fran Cottell)

She found that galleries were too public a space and wanted to explore ‘real experience’ – the interior space and the life that took place there.’

Collecting time – invited different curators and critics to put their heads through a hole in her daughter’s bedroom floor so that she could take a photo of them

In this essay, Katy Deepwell writes about the work in the context of sculpture, and cites Rosalind Krauss idea of the ‘expanded field’ – 

 “No longer an object to be looked at, the work will literally put us in another place, create another kind of environment”. 

Instead of standing and looking at one fixed object in one space, the experience can be a ‘4D experience’, being immersed in an environment or installation, happening over a period of time.

Some examples of other immersive installations for comparison:  

DreamThinkSpeaks’ Absent, Shoreditch Town Hall, 2015 

 photo Jim Stephenson

‘An intimate promenade installation inspired by The Duchess of Argyll’s residence at a central London hotel in the 1970’s’ 

14 Radnor Terrace 1974 – feminist art group SLAG – South London Art Group took over/squatted a small terraced house as a large scale installation  called ‘ A Woman’s Place’  - contemporary critique of family life. 

In 2017 Raven Row gallery reconstructed some of the work, the show was called 56 Artillery Lane in homage

Su Richardson for Fenex 1977 (my photo) recreated in Raven Row in 2017


Fran Cottell explains in her introduction how a live ‘real’ experience is more vivid and alive , something that it is not possible to deliver through a performance in a gallery.

(I enjoyed the Raven Row show very much but you can see how much more powerful it must have been in the squatted house the artists had taken over in the 1970s.)  

Also, by inviting people into her home with her family, the work ‘invites viewers to consider ‘where’ they are in the process of viewing the work: a viewer/a resident, a participant/an observer, part of the life displayed/or on display” . 

I  felt that Katy Deepwell and Lesley Ferris were both admirers of their respective artists’ work.The writing was enthusiastic and keen to give the reader a personal impression of the work, and to argue for its value. 

Both pieces admitted the work is not easy to convey in description. For this kind of live work, to get the most out of it you really have to be there. 

I also thought that the pieces played down the humour of this work, as though if something is funny, it can’t also be serious and meaningful. 

I liked Fran Cottell’s remark on her visitors. 

 “Most people reacted with humour… although some… reported back afterwards, complaining that they had been unable to sleep, after a visit, because they found it unsettling’. 


It is alive and vivid , more so that a traditional gallery installation, but not repeatable, recordable (or sellable?) 

I wondered why the book was only available as a download? 

Can a writer support themselves with this kind of work if they don’t also have a day job, eg an academic job at a university?

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