Contextualising A3

From my self assessment

I ended up finding far more context for this work than I thought I would, and it is documented in its own post. I think it sits within post-feminist work. It’s autobiographical, but also documentary because it includes app screenshots and encourages consideration of what happens to the personal  data uploaded to that app.

I think it’s the context section of this work that has carried the most learning for me. Not just in terms of artist context, but also in terms of establishing where my work sits with regards to feminism. I always regarded myself as a feminist, but A2 feedback showed me that it is far more apparent in my work than I imagined. For this work, I couldn’t even consider that it’s not feminist. I somehow thought that I could choose whether or not I made feminist work, and that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Ditto, the way that I emphatically told myself “ok, it’s definitely feminist but it’s not about menstrual activism” is probably wrong too. I suspect you can still have work that’s about menstrual activism without seeing the blood, or perhaps that should be menopausal activism. It’s the context section for each assignment in this course that is really making me question what motivates and informs my work, how I’m making and presenting it, and where I imagine it sitting in the world of contemporary work.

Original post on context:

I ended up finding more context for this work than I thought I would. At a very basic level it can be contextualised within (a) self portraits and (b) feminist/post-feminist work around the entire menstrual cycle. I didn’t find much work encompassing both of these contexts. There are many more contexts that this work touches upon though and I will consider some of these below. Some of the links at the end of this post are not safe for work.

Films – I was directed by Russell Squires on the OCA discussion forum (opens in new tab)to the film “Stranger than Fiction” where the lead character is shown with his own GUI, rather like the Cumberbatch Sherlock episodes with text-style captions showing thoughts or text messages, hashtags etc. I saw how text and photographs can work together, giving extra insight to both.

sherlock lives bbc
Copyright BBC


From Stranger than Fiction I moved to “Groundhog Day”, considering the implications and possibilities of doing the same activity every day, for ever. Both films move the character’s destiny out of the their own hands. This helped me to realise that just because I was taking a self portrait every day, it didn’t have to be the same self portrait every day; there was space to play, to evolve.

My over-riding inspiration was Roni Horn’s “You are the weather” series, where a series of portraits of a woman in an outdoor swimming pool subtly indicate, via changing facial expressions, the different external weather. I wanted to see if my face and body language could indicate my changing internal hormonal climate, over the course of one cycle. In the event my changes are far less subtle than those that Roni captured. I was also inspired by Juan Pablo Echeverri’s various series of photobooth self portraits. These are very much performance based, but encouraged me that it was possible to make a series of multiple self portraits without it being boring, something that mattered when the motivation faded after the first few days.

On the self-portrait side, I was interested in older women working in the self-portrait area to counter-balance the raft of younger women in the selfie arena. Jo Spence was an obvious reference here, but there are others. I was engaged by the work Outrageous Agers by Rosy Martin and Kay Goodridge, where they photographed themselves trying on clothes in TopShop. They look squished, confined into tight lycra in tiny spaces. This contrasts with Anna Noggle’s naked self portraits, where she occupies her space and her identity proudly.

We then move into a very tangled context of feminist and post-feminist work, menstrual activism, mobile phone apps concern over data security and selfies. There doesn’t seem to be a category for menopausal activism which is probably where I’m heading. Much of the work out there is associated with menstrual activism, specifically the bleeding. There is not much creative attention paid to the 3 weeks of every 4 when we’re not bleeding, but doing so much other remarkable stuff. We can start with Judy Chicago’s Red Flag and move onto Sarah Levy’s portrait of President Trump made with her period blood, Rupi Kaur’s Instagram work and Yurie Nagashima (both of whom show blood on the shower floor), the Hong Kong based Menstruaction group on Facebook. Chris Bobel’s book New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation focuses on menstruation (as per the title) and the way that consecutive waves of feminists have chosen to engage with or disengage from the politics and provision of  san pro products and their safety.  The mood does seem to be changing to a more holistic view of the entire cycle and the move into the menopause. In the mainstream press, Eva Wiseman considers the existence, funding and use of period tracking apps and there is much of interest here (including the venture capitalist who agreed to invest but on condition of anonymity, we can only assume that he was male). There’s an interesting conflict there between the vast size of the market presented by tracking menstrual cycles and the reluctance of the patriarchy to accept, fund and profit from a high-tech app created by a woman for people who menstruate.

The best context for the diary based work was Mary Kelly’s work Post Partum. This is a diary format work over 6 years, starting with stained nappy liners and baby vests and moving through feeding charts to the starting of writing. The feeding charts especially chimed with me for this work, the recording of facts in conjunction with a daily diary. My sister in law had her first child in Japan where pretty much everything that goes into and comes out of an infant is recorded in detail. Another similarity for me is the sense of loss, as the child grows from an entirely dependent baby to a child starting to express himself in writing as well as vocally. Much to my confusion, the prospect of menopause triggers feelings of loss at the end of my fertile years as well as joy and confusion at the idea of no more periods (what will I feel like every day? Will every day feel the same?). My diary is only over 26 days so this may not be apparent, compared to the six years that Mary Kelly’s work covers, but I am one cycle closer to the unknown now.

I found one piece of work that considered the entire cycle from a self portrait perspective. It is Casey Jenkins’ “Casting off my womb” and is performance art recorded each day during one of her cycles. She used a centre pull ball of yarn (one where the yarn feeds from the centre rather than the outside), inserted it like a tampon and videoed herself knitting it into an extended scarf every day for 28 days. Although the reported focus of the work is (inevitably) on what happens during her period, she does consider aspects of the other days too, how the experience changed from day to day. She received such aggressive feedback about this work via social media that she made more work responding to the criticism.

I found that where I was in my cycle affected my attitude to the work, and this is something that will stay with me. Critiquing my own work in the premenstrual days didn’t go well – I was unhappy with the project, the images, and I ended up in a negative feedback loop. I think back to EYV A5 when I soaked a Polaroid emulsion lift off an acrylic block and promptly washed it down the kitchen sink in fury and disappointment, and I start to suspect I was premenstrual that day. I will definitely check where I am in my cycle before making major creative decisions from now on.

It would be an omission not to consider selfies as part of the context for this work. Society can be very judgemental of those who take selfies, particularly women and girls. It is true that there are valid concerns over pressure for perfection and achieving impossible filtered “norms”, but selfies also give people control over how they appear in images and how they distribute those images, at least in the first instance, and the ability to push back against those who would tell them how they should appear in photographs. Anne Burns’ work on her blog and her dissertation is very interesting.

Retrospectively, I would add the Rachel MacLean film Make Me Up to my context for this work. She makes extensive use of combining images and text in a mobile phone, selfie and app context.

References (some are not safe for work)

Arnot, C. (2018). Cellulite for sore eyes. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

BBC (2018). Sherlock Series 3 announced. [image] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Bobel, C. (2010). New blood. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Bright, S. (2010). Auto focus. London: Thames and Hudson, p.80.

Burns, A. (2018). The Carceral Net. [online] The Carceral Net. Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Casey Jenkins. (2018). Casting Off My Womb. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Groundhog Day. (1993). [film] Directed by H. Ramis. US: Columbia. (2018). Artists — Roni Horn — Images and clips — You are the Weather — Hauser & Wirth. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018]. (2018). Jo Spence: The Picture of Health. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018]. (2018). SUPERSONAS • JUAN PABLO ECHEVERRI. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018]. (2018). Selected work « Judy Chicago. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Make Me Up. (2018). [film] Directed by R. Maclean. UK: Hopscotch Films with NVA. (2018). Post-Partum Document. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018]. (2018). Museum of Contemporary Photography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018]. (2018). period | rupi kaur. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Sarah Levy Art. (2018). Art. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Stranger than Fiction. (2006). [film] Directed by M. Forster. US: Colombia.

Wiseman, E. (2018). Breaking the cycle: women are learning to love their hormones. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].




4 thoughts on “Contextualising A3

  1. Catherine April 21, 2018 / 8:24 pm

    Really thorough contextual grounding Kate with most useful reference links to follow-up.

    • Kate April 23, 2018 / 8:30 am

      Thanks Catherine. I was quite impressed by my context too, once I wrote it out I understood why I struggled to contain it in a couple of paragraphs and ended up giving it its own post.

      • Catherine April 23, 2018 / 9:52 am

        I usually end up doing the same. Including it in a summary of 500 words doesn’t do justice to all the hard work involved!

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