Feminist Groupwork: On feminist collectivity as social and psychic community

Lead Research Organisation: Goldsmiths College
Department Name: Art


This project examines the Women's Art Library in London as a key feminist collaborative art organisation that was influenced by feminist politics and the organising principles of the Women's Liberation Movement (WLM) in the 1970s and 80s. This research will embed this organisation within the broader landscape of feminist collaborative art practices developed by artists from this period, many of which are documented in the library's archive. Undertaking primary research in the Women's Art Library, and gathering oral histories from participants in its formation and development across the decades since the 1970s, this project will map women's collaborative art practices in the United Kingdom through a history of, and research within, the Women's Art Library. This research will utilise writings on organising from the WLM and psychoanalytic theory on groups to develop a theoretical model of the psychic community built by group work and collaboration. Ultimately, this project will frame the Women's Art Library as a psychical feminist space and contribute a previously unwritten narrative of collaborative feminist arts organisation in the United Kingdom.
This project's primary aim is to research and theorise the history of the Women's Art Library, understanding its origins as drawn from the lateral organisational structures of the WLM. The project will incorporate the social and psychic relations of women into its history, an important dimension of the WLM illustrated by phrases such as 'sisterhood is powerful,' creating an understanding of women as a lateral network of peers instead of competitors. The project will use primary materials such as journals, newsletters and contemporaneous texts to understand issues of organising, as well as establishing further networks and discourses that surrounded art making in feminist circles. This project will mobilise the Women's Art Library's archive to write a feminist art history that is attentive to collaboration and group practices, and in doing so, create a critical and methodological approach to the material that both highlights its significance and foregrounds its political work.
Using primary materials from the archive, such as the unique collection of meeting and workshop notes, ephemera and exhibition documentation, and gathering oral histories from figures in the British feminist art movement, the secondary aim of this research is to map women's collaborative artistic practice in the UK. Defining artistic collaboration as a key feminist method gleaned from political work, the project will narrate ties between organising structures of the WLM, such as the small group process, consciousness-raising and group work, and methods of art production contemporaneous to it (Hanish: 1970, Sarachild: 1975). This will enable the project to articulate an understanding of British feminist art decentralised from individual histories, highlighting collaboration as both a foundation and impetus for its production.
Theoretically, this project will focus on two aspects of feminist collaborative artistic practice that are gleaned from feminist group work: the drive towards non-hierarchical structures, and sisterhood as an idealised mode of psychic and social community. In considering these thematics in the work and organising by artists informed by feminism, including their interrogation of the creative process, this project will draw out the political stakes of artists' group work in the 1970s and 80s. In addition, thinking with Juliet Mitchell's work on psychoanalysis and feminism will be crucial to understanding transitions from unilateral familial structures to the social and psychic communities propelled by the WLM.These sources will develop a methodological model of a psychic community: a shared energy and psychical connection between collaborators that both constitutes a support network and shared body politic.


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