London's Space and Studio Voltaire host important retrospective of photographer Jo Spence

By Ben Miller | 06 June 2012
A greyscale photo of a naked female figure lying in a vast field under a tree
Terry Dennett & Jo Spence, Industrialisation (1981-82). From the series Remodeling Photo History© Jo Spence Memorial Archive
Exhibitions: Jo Spence: Part 1, SPACE, London, until July 15 2012; Jo Spence: Part 2, Studio Voltaire, London, June 12 – August 11 2012

Twenty years after her death, Studio Voltaire is launching Not Our Class, a programme inspired by the career of Jo Spence which takes her work as a photographer, feminist and activist and relates it to contemporary culture and life.

A photo of a hoover wrapped around a pair of female legs in tights and stillettos
Jo Spence, Libido Uprising Part I (1989)© Jo Spence Memorial Archive
Linking organisations such as Lambeth Women’s Project and King’s College Hospital with a trio of artists offering new commissions, the diversity of its participants testifies to the influence held by Spence, who became a key figure during the mid-1970s, known for her in-depth explorations of class, gender, health and the body, not least through her own experiences (and frustrations) while being treated for breast cancer shortly after graduating in 1982.

Spence had first aired her interest in self-empowerment, issues of inequality and societal concepts of wellbeing a decade earlier, when she launched independent education and publishing group the Photography Workshop and became a co-founder of the brilliantly-named Hackney Flashers, a collective of feminist and socialist women with exhibitions given similarly pithy titles, including Women and Work and Who’s Holding the Baby.

A black and white photo of a figure screaming while wearing comedy glasses and reading
Jo Spence, Revisualization (1982). From the series Remodeling Photo History© Jo Spence Memorial Archive
Major retrospectives have been held in Barcelona and Graz, but this dual-venue show should also go some way to addressing the lack of exposure afforded to Spence’s energetic career, simultaneously igniting its potential to inspire a new generation.

  • Studio Voltaire, Nelsons Row, London. Open Wednesday-Saturday 12pm-6pm. SPACE, Mare Street, London. Open 10am-5pm (12pm-6pm Saturday and Sunday). Free admission to both venues.
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