Visual and Material Culture

The lecture this week was all about production, dissemination and consumption – how this can relate to artists and the work they create. How does an artist create, spread their ideas and then how is it used by the consumer. This could also be about ideologies; an idea or movement that is spear-headed by an artist or a group of like-minded artists.

There are causal factors involved, like the need to communicate with large audiences. In order to do so, an appropriate language must be used (e.g. shared visual language) so that an artist (and their work) can be accessible to all. Designers have a constant battle of wanting to be unique and different, but not too different so that people will still want to buy their product.

There are also mediating agencies involved; meaning everything in art is subject to debate, discussion, arguments, promotion and publicity. Mediating agencies are very important as they trickle down society and inform the next designers. The agencies suggest how new work should be read / experienced / understood.

With this in mind, we also have to consider political / social movements and ideas. A change in thought patterns, e.g. the feminist movement. Why are there so few female artists? Why are so few female artists work shown in galleries?

After attending this lecture, I visited the Tate Modern to see the work of some “rebellious” artists and how this relate to visual and material culture. There were a few artists in particular whose work really stood out.

The exhibition by Louise Bourgeois took up a large room located in the Tate Modern. The first artist to be shown in the “Artist Rooms”, I think this is significant as the statistics for solo female exhibitions are very low; this being a key step into equalising the playing field between male and female artists. Bourgeois’s work is often suggestive, of a deeper meaning. She uses textiles to link it with femininity and the female body in particular. Common themes in her work are; female sexuality, the unconscious and the body. I think her work could be seen as a “weapon of resistance” as she is fighting for her beliefs through her controversial artworks.

A L’Infini 2008-9


As we can see in the images above, Bourgeois is dealing with common themes that everyone experiences in their lifetime.  The top image look like, blood filled vessels, tubes, veins etc… reminding us of the basic elements of life. They are also suggestive of the female anatomy, again reminding us of the importance of female art.

Untitled 1996

The image below is a kind of “Memento Mori”, ideas of nostalgia – using her and her mothers own clothes. She is dealing with the concept of death; an inevitable factor in every person life. While her work is often autobiographical it is also deals with issues that all people face.

The next artist who I found interest in was Colin Self. His work is examining contemporary life and our consumer society. He often portrays these themes in a violent / sexual way. He wanted to note down all details of society so in case of its demise there would be evidence for future people of what our society was like. He records through drawings, photographs and sculptural pieces.

Leopard Nuclear Bomber No. 2 – 1963

This piece brings together nuclear bombs and pink / animal print. An unlikely association. Self is trying to make a point about animal aggression and human behavior. The violence shown by humans, to be so destructive to the plant and the others that live on the planet. The harsh nails that stick out the nose of the bomb are reinforcing the aggression shown in the piece. The exaggerated length of the bomb is clearly phallic and relating to sexual aggression. At first glance, the piece may look less aggressive because of the animal print and pink paint – seeming to disguise the true nature of the bomb however on closer inspection there are clear underlying themes of violence and aggression.

The third artist who I found particularly interesting and related to the “weapons of resistance” ideology was Tracey Emin. Emin’s work, like Bourgeois is also autobiographical. She often uses herself as the subject and her artworks are usually very personal and honest. She uses lots of similar techniques to those used by feminist artists in the 1970’s (Parker, 2010) with her incorporation of words. These add to the honest nature to her work. She is very open about her past.

Everyone I Have Ever Slept With – 1963-1995      1997

 Emin is not afraid to create controversial art. She wants the shock factor. The title of this is slightly misleading; as people would assume she means it in a sexual sense, however she is being completely literal with the names of every person she has ever slept with. Hence why the dates start from the year she was born. This is an important part of Emin’s work; she likes to be brutally honest whilst also addressing some key issues in her work. I often feel her work can be quite aggressive – there is a lot of emotion out into the making of these pieces.

 Thinking back to the text, the phrase “source of constraints” is used by Parker to describe textile arts. Whilst stitch can offer women Independence and freedom, an opportunity to express themselves freely (Tracey Emin, large applique words) it can also hold them back.  The idea of using stitch – a typically feminine technique can restrict their message. The technique in itself holds them back. It would be different if they chose to use a “mans” material such as paint, brick or concrete; mediums that are typically associated with men. This could either strengthen / weaken their message e.g. strength = no need for “mens” materials, we’ll use ours and it shall be just as effective weak  = feminine associations with stitch, makes it harder for men to join movement, not necessarily taken seriously.

Whilst at Tate, I found some other artists who relate to the lecture;

Who Owns What – 2012

Barbara Kruger;

Kruger was trained as a graphic designer, these influences can be seen in her bold, large-scale works. She often uses black and white photography with the bold red wording to force her slogan onto the viewer, forcing them to form an opinion based on her piece. She is committed to her feminist beliefs so we can gather from the slogan “who owns what?” she is referring to gender inequality in the workplace and media. Kruger is often looking at the media and criticising it; this piece could also be seen as a comment on our extremely fast paced and accessible media – “who owns what?”.

Untitled #126 – 1983

Cindy Sherman;

She is often the subject of the artwork. This is a colour photograph showing Sherman dressed up in designer clothes donated to her by Diane Benson. She is questioning the self-portrait – as in each of her pieces she considers them a self portrait but each on she changes her appearance / portrays a different character. She is always trying to question her surroundings. These photographs were commissioned for a fashion magazine and instead of doing typical model shots she wanted “ugly” models, bad styling and an obscure setting. Not your typical magazine cover shoot, Sherman is making fun of fashion.

Guerrilla Girls’ Pop Quiz 1990

Guerrilla Girls;

The Guerrilla Girls were a group of feminist (they also fought racism) artists, fighting for equality between men and women especially in the art world. They created bold statements such as the one above, urging people to own up to the reality of the world we live in. They use visual language, advertising techniques, short snappy slogans – much like Barbara Kruger. An interesting art movement which we do not see much of today.

This lecture was very useful in showing me how an artists work develops from conception to consumption – by the audience / user. There is great need for art in our world and it is useful to see how it can be used to create social change. It is interesting when looking back to see how our culture has changed and what as stayed the same. Overall, an engaging topic which relates directly to me and most of my peers, as female artists.


This is an image from the Photographers Gallery. There was a lot to look at, and a couple of the rooms featured many artists whose work was based during the 1970’s and centred around feminism. Feminism at the time argued that identity is not something we are born with, but rather shaped from our social upbringings and how we experience life. We are not taught to be men and women – it is society who shapes and gives us our respective roles – in the home and workplace. Many female artists during this time used photography and performance. They were often aggressive, blunt and brash in their portal of their core message. This was a tactic used on purpose to shock and force their views on everyone. They were no longer the quiet woman; who only spoke when spoken to. They had a brain and thoughts of their own that they deserved to share with the world.











Tate. 2016. ARTIST ROOMS: Louise Bourgeois at Tate Modern | Tate. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15 November 2016].
Tate. 2016. Colin Self | Tate. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15 November 2016].
Google UK. 2016. colin self – Google Search. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15 November 2016].
Emin, T. (1997). Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995. [image] Available at: [Accessed 15 Nov. 2016].
Parker, R. (2010). The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine. 1st ed. I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited.

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