- Marie Yates born 1940
- Photographs on paper, typewritten text on paper, tissue paper, plastic sheets, acrylic paint and transfer script on 2 panels
- Support, each: 1240 x 1240 mm
- Purchased 2017
Image/woman/text 1979 is a two-part work that combines paper, photographs and text on two identical, large square wooden boards. The same twenty photographs – out of focus, tightly cropped portraits of different individuals – were printed on gloss paper and used as source material for the two boards. On the left panel the photographs were painted over with acrylic paint and also had tissue paper glued to their surface, reducing their legibility to a minimum and enhancing their material treatment and surface quality. On the right panel the same photographs appear with no painted or collaged intervention, preserving the high gloss finish and intense colour reproduction typical of advertisements published in magazines in the 1970s. On both panels sections of the images have been folded over onto themselves, so that part of each image is concealed by the white paper at the back of the image. While on the left panel these folded areas were left blank, on the right panel the equivalent areas, as well as the front of the colour photographs, underwent a further process, text being typewritten and superimposed on their surface, using the transferable lettering system Letraset. Titles, in larger font, head up different sections of text. The short texts address issues relating to the representation of women and the consumption of their images, making explicit the questions that led to the making of the work and the issues it raises. One of a number of texts foregrounding the role of both the artist/author and of the viewers/readers in their appraisal of the images reads: ‘It is an exercise of power and subjectivisation to which the reader has no exit. In particular if the absent entity is recognised to be a woman, then particular and definite fixed meanings are constructed, and as a woman who is speaking, I have crucial interest in that which is spoken of, constructed by the work.’
Despite having always felt uncomfortable in photographing people, and particularly women, Yates decided to do so in order to make a work that directly addressed the way in which images of women are read though pre-constructed meaning based on a pre-established social understanding of their role and sexuality (correspondence with Tate curator Elena Crippa, 4 September 2016). For the subjects of her photographs, Yates approached various women she had met through teaching, exhibiting her work and earning a living as a part-time community worker. She explained to them that the aim of the project was to produce images whose information was reduced to such a degree as to make it hard for the subjects to be recognised (ibid.). Through this process, Yates and her subjects realised how little information needs actually be presented in order for an individual’s gender to be recognised.
With Image/woman/text, Yates ultimately wanted to address the way in which painting, photography and film have all contributed to the construction of the female subject in visual culture and its socio-political role. The use of text, as indicated by the work’s title, was key in making visible the role played by the media and advertising in creating images perpetuating ‘the provision of a closed fictional discourse which excludes narrative questions such as who made the product, who took the photograph and why, denying the conditions of its own production’ (ibid.). The art critic and curator Lucy R. Lippard has observed how, by constructing the work through fragments and ‘gaps’, Yates ‘appears to pull the viewer into the interstices between cultural understanding and misunderstanding that are left when the representational clichés is emptied of its accepted content’ (Lippard 1980, n.p.).
Yates made Image/woman/text specifically for the exhibition Issue, Social Strategies by Women Artists, curated by Lippard and held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1980. Part of a text included in the work directly refers to the context of its gestation and first presentation as part of that exhibition, while asserting that the work is shaped by a context that exceeds any one reading as relating to a particular ‘issue’. The fragment of text reads:
The theme ‘Issue’ is problematic for this work. My practice denies that a ‘meaning’ can be already present in the work. Instead the production of meanings and contents is approached as a process of the social and discursive fields which are the context of the work.
Carving out economically from my ghettoised employment, socially from family life, and appositionally from institutional and professional art practice, it spans and addresses many issues.
Lippard had initially approached Yates asking her to display one of her existing works relating to landscape (see, for example, Field Working Paper 7 – 26th April 1972 – Porthmeor Beach, St. Ives, Cornwall 1972 [Tate T14748]), but welcomed the artist’s desire to produce a new work which would respond more directly to her feminist and intellectual engagement with French philosophy, psychoanalysis, language, media and political theory. Among other influences in the making of this work was the writing of the French literary theorist and semiotician Roland Barthes, whose most seminal essays to date had been brought together in the collection Image-Music-Text (1978), providing Yates with the source for her title.
Griselda Pollock, ‘Theory and Pleasure’ and ‘Marie Yates’, in Sense and Sensibility in Feminist Art Practice, exhibition catalogue, Midland Group Gallery, Nottingham 1983, n.p.
Lucy R. Lippard, ‘Issue and Tabou’, in Issue, Social Strategies by Women Artists, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1980, n.p.
Marie Yates, ‘A Note on Image/woman/text 1979’, published in Marie Yates, Works 1971–1979, exhibition catalogue, Richard Saltoun Gallery, London 2016, p.86–7.
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