Between Autumn 2011 and 2013 Studio Voltaire ran Not Our Class, a two-year pilot programme of educational and participatory projects, utilising both research and practice to investigate the legacy and potentials of the work of Jo Spence in relation to contemporary life and culture.
Through a series of commissions, offsite projects, workshops, public events and reading groups, situated within both Studio Voltaire’s neighbourhood and a wider contemporary art discourse, the programme explored the turn towards education and participation within contemporary art practice.
Jo Spence (b. 1934–d. 1992) was a key figure on the UK photographic scene from the mid-seventies and was a crucial voice in debates on photography and the critique of representation. Her work engaged with a range of photographic genres, from documentary to phototherapy. Through her artistic practice and her teaching, both of which are very closely integrated, she rigorously explored complex issues of class, gender, health and the body; combining personal experience, political understanding and critical theory. The work she produced toward the end of her life directly addressed her experience of having cancer, as well as the treatment she subsequently received by the medical establishment.
Not Our Class had a multifarious span of activity, including new commissions by artists Marysia Lewandowska, working with The Jo Spence Memorial Archive, and Rehana Zaman, working with King’s College Hospital and Body & Soul.
The active participatory research group X Marks The Spot was formed by Mystique Holloway, Ego Ahaiwe, Louise Shelley, Gina Nembhard, Emma Hedditch, Lauren Craig, Yula Burin and Zoe Holloway and was originally based at Lambeth Women’s Project.
A series of workshops also took place between artist Conal McStravick and Intoart, and running parallel to all projects was a series of free reading groups, hosted in collaboration with Claire de Rouen Books and open to all.
During 2013, Not Our Class worked with Berlin based artist Judith Hopf to develop new work in response to the practice of Jo Spence and the approaches of the Not Our Class programme. Hopf expanded on questions around class conflict present in the work of Spence, with a specific focus on unpicking the aesthetics of class. For both Spence and Hopf it is important to align the work’s investigations with the stance that the ‘personal is political’.
Not Our Class was supported by Bloomberg and by The National Lottery, through Arts Council England. The exhibition was made in partnership with The Jo Spence Memorial Archive and was supported by The Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
‘Not Our Class’, Issue #1 (May 2012). Courtesy of the artists, Terry Dennett, The Jo Spence Memorial Archive, [space], London and Studio Voltaire, London.