Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other

In British and Irish Art, 1990-2020

by Valérie Morisson (Author)
©2022 Monographs XIV, 388 Pages


This volume addresses how spatialized identities, belongingness and hospitality are interrogated in British and Irish contemporary art (painting, installation, video, photography, new public art) at a time when economic and political crises tend to encourage individual or exclusive usages of space. It sketches a cartography of encounters encompassing the home, the neighbourhood, the village or city, and the nation. Artists interrogate how intimacy is both facilitated and threatened by spatial devices, how space fashions our perception of gender, social or ethnic identity and activates power relations. They explore the need for a home or a homeland and the various forms exile or placelessness can take. They may also take part in the restoration of the Commons and the constitution of alternative communities. Whether the analyses focus on the private sphere (in urban, suburban or rural contexts), or on shared communal spaces, they ponder the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion at work in human encounters and shed light on how artistic apparatuses make the tensions between openness to the other and rejection or withdrawal perceptible. The approach, borrowing from art history as well as anthropology, lays emphasis on context, situationality and field work; it proposes to repoliticize relational art and concludes on the dialogical positionality which lies at the core of art.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 Intimacy from the inside out
  • Chapter 2 Domesticity gone awry: Parodying gender
  • Chapter 3 Transitional objects: Collecting, recollecting, reconnecting
  • Chapter 4 Revisiting rurality
  • Chapter 5 Class-based perspectives: Occupying social and discursive spaces
  • Chapter 6 Stranded souls
  • Chapter 7 Toward utopia: Envisioning the future, restoring the commons
  • Conclusion Dialogical positionality
  • Bibliography
  • Index

←viii | ix→


Figure 1. Shizuka Yokomizo, Stranger no. 9, 1999. Colour photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 2. Emma Talbot, How to Grow a Wisteria. Acrylic on Canvas, 2015, private collection, Luxembourg. Courtesy the artist and Petra Rinck Galerie.

Figure 3. Juliette Blightman, Installation view, Extimacy, Kunsthalle Bern, 2016. Photography: Gunnar Meier. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin.

Figure 4. Vanessa Marr, Mediating the Materiality of the Duster, 2018. Embroidered yellow cleaning cloth. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 5. Alannah Louët, hand-printed doilies from Ectoplasm on the Kitchen Floor, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 6. John Paul Evans, Untitled 8 from the series Home & Away. Black-and-white photograph, size variable, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 7. John Paul Evans, Untitled 9 from the series Till Death Us Do Part. Black-and-white photograph, size variable, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 8. John Paul Evans, Be Careful What You Wish for, from the series Home Sweet Home. Colour photograph, size variable, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 9. Leslie Hilling, On Longing (detail), The Lightening. Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 10. Laura Blight, Dust Cave, installation view, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.←ix | x→

Figure 11. Geraldine Pilgrim, Dreams of a Winter Night, 2007. Installation view. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 12. Mark Edwards, Pantry, Wormingford, taken from the series Countless Edens, 2017. Colour photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 13. Justin Partyka, Farmhouse, Kitchen Pantry, Norfolk, 2008. Colour photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 14. ‘Ferrybridge Power Station, Knottingley, West Yorkshire, 5 July 2016’ from the series, Merrie Albion © Simon Roberts.

Figure 15. ‘Diamond Jubilee Celebration, Craven Vale Estate, Brighton, East Sussex, 2 June 2012’ from the series, Merrie Albion © Simon Roberts.

Figure 16. Mark Edwards, Council Houses II, Norwich, 2005, from the series Longing & Indifference. Colour photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 17. Eoin O’Conaill, 141 Residential Units, from the series Reprieve. Colour photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 18. David Farrell, An Archaeology of the Present, The Courtyard at Church Hill, Tullamore Offaly, 2011. Colour photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 19. David Farrell, An Archaeology of the Present, Grand Canal Quay, Dublin, Some Time in the Early Noughties. Colour photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 20. Kate Genever, You Complete Me, 2018. Scratched digital A3 print installed and now accessioned into the Museum of Contemporary Farming. University of Reading. Photograph credit and courtesy of the artist.←x | xi→

Figure 21. Deirdre O’Mahony, X-PO annual Mapping Group exhibition, 2014. Photograph Deirdre O’Mahony. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 22. Deirdre O’Mahony, Portrait of Mattie Rynne, former postmaster in Kilnaboy, Wall drawing in soot from the stove, 2008. Photograph Ben Geoghegan, courtesy the artist.

Figure 23. Oliver East, Mahers Gardens, 3rd visit, mixed media. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Figure 24. a) b) c) Carrie Reichardt, mosaïc house (detail), home of the artist, Chiswick. Photograph Mark Baker. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 25. Tom Hunter, from the series The Ghetto, 1993. Colour photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 26. David Moore, Untitled from the series Pictures from the Real World. Colour photograph, 1987–88? Dewi Lewis / Here Press, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 27. Karen Knorr, from the series Belgravia, 1979–1980. Black-and-white photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 28. Farwa Moledina, Interwoven, (wallpaper and colour photographic print), Ways of Belonging, 2018, Midlands Art Centre. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 29. a) b) c) Phoebe Boswell, The Matter of Memory, installation view, variable dimensions, 2014. Göteborg International Biennial For Contemporary Art 2015, A story within a story..., Hasselblad Center. Photo: Hendrik Zeitler. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 30. Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, still from Great Good Places, Four screen video installation, 2011. Images courtesy the artist and domobaal, London. Original in colour.←xi | xii→

Figure 31. Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, still from The Suspension Room, Six screen video installation, 2010. Images courtesy the artist and domobaal, London. Original in colour.

Figure 32. a) and b) Gil Mualem Doron, The New Union Flag, Parliament Square, 2018, <https://www.gmdart.com/>. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 33. Isabelle Graeff, from the Exit series. Colour photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 34. Seoidín O’Sullivan, Hard/Graft, toward community orchards, 2017–2020, with Common Ground, supported by the Irish Arts Council. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Figure 35. a) and b) Yvonne McGuinness and Rhona Byrne, The Central Field Project, 2018. Courtesy of the artists.

Figure 36. Sam Meech and Chris Paul Daniels, One Square Mile, film (7 min.) 2017. Video stills. Courtesy of the artist.

←xii | xiii→


This book would not have been written without the generous support of Catherine Bernard, professor at the Université de Paris Diderot, who encouraged me in this research project and its preparatory phases and followed the evolution of the various drafts for this book. Her renowned critical writings and her rigorous methodology have long been a model and a source of inspiration for me. My thanks also go to Isabelle Gadoin, Eamon Maher, Laurent Gauthier and Cécile Roudeau who helped me secure a CNRS research grant. I would also like to acknowledge the financial support of Textes Images, Langages (Université de Bourgogne Franche Comté) and the Laboratoire de Recherche sur les Cultures Anglophones (Université de Paris) and to thank my editor and the publishing team for their work.

My greatest thanks go to the artists who have generously shared information or material about their works, devoted time to online interviews even during the various lockdowns imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, proofread quotes or excerpts and provided images without requiring recompense that, unfortunately, could not be granted for reasons I regret. I would like to voice their fair demand for payment when images of their works are reproduced, even in academic contexts. The health crisis has made the situation of visual artists even more precarious and exhibition opportunities scarce. It requires from us – art writers and readers – even more respect, recognition and unflinching support.

To the artists. To those who devote their energy to the beauty and force of imagination even when it means going against the current. To all the young people and older adults who do not cease to chase their dreams despite a lack of encouragement or direct reward. When I was a teenager, my father would often deride my ambition to become an art writer. I dedicate this book to him to excuse his incapacity to understand who I was and who I am.

←xiv | 1→


Since the early 1990s and “the loss of a collective political horizon,”1 the multiple crises Western societies have faced – whether economic meltdown, climate change, the legacy of colonialism, unexpected migratory flows, or epidemics – have spurred artists, art critics and curators to position art as a means to imagine alternative ways of approaching these issues to foster inclusive, remedial and emancipatory practices. Our phenomenological and affective relation with space, belongingness and hospitality must be reconsidered in the face of these urgent problems. How can one define, think and imagine one’s relation to place in the context of recent cultural, social and political upheavals? What can artists contribute to contemporary debates on spatialized or localized identities that are too often pitted against global cultural forms and networks? How can art articulate individual and collective imaginings of space and map out new terrains of encounters between the self and the other? These are the questions I intend to ponder in this volume. I argue that artists have things to say, ideas to implement, projects to carry out so as to chart alternative conceptions of belongingness and citizenship.

If, as an art historian, one pays attention not only to art objects but also to art projects, processes and apparatuses, the capacity of artistic intervention to remap belongingness as profoundly relational becomes evident. Studying both artistic praxis and experience as situational, embodied and intersubjective allows us to acknowledge the capacity artists have to make us think anew and embrace being decentred. I have selected works addressing spatialized identities and deploying various forms of relational praxis to map out a three-dimensional cartography of encounters, which considers not merely artistic output but also the creation process and its reception.←1 | 2→

The corpus constituting this volume does not spring from the desire to explore the iconography of the home or to hierarchize practices according to their aesthetic merit, but from a preoccupation with praxis as an operative distribution of the sensible (partage du sensible), hence a constant attention to creative processes, to the way artists envision their relation to their environment and conceive meaningful apparatuses, which articulate phenomenology, ethics and politics. While works, installations and collaborative art are extensively discussed because they require a sustained immersion of the artist in a given place/situation and often allow for an interactive viewing experience, other forms are equally explored. Analyzing how art lodges relational ethics within aesthetics and charts the contours of inclusive belongingness has led me back to Jacques Rancière’s key notion of the distribution of the sensible, which relates art to the experience of the political and puts to the fore the intersection of the individual and the collective, of what divides and what connects.2

One of the assumptions behind this volume is that art does not illustrate political situations: its political dimension lies in praxis. Artistic creation is part and parcel of what Rancière calls “l’agir humain” [human activities].3 It is a matter of doing with: with reality, with material and format, with exhibition spaces or digital platforms. It does not produce consensus or homogeneity but fosters intersubjectivity:

A “common” world is never simply an ethos, a shared abode, that results from the sedimentation of a certain number of intertwined acts. It is always a polemical distribution of modes of being and “occupations” in a space of possibilities. It is from this perspective that it is possible to raise the question of the relationship between the “ordinariness” of work and artistic “exceptionality”.4

It is my hope to demonstrate that, as Rancière claims, artists combine the ordinariness of labour and the exceptionality of art. By foregrounding the situationality and relationality induced by artistic praxis, I intend to ←2 | 3→suggest that, in times when political discourse on identity and citizenship brandishes the spectres of regressive forms of nationalism, the distribution of the sensible activated by artistic praxis shores up the dialectical essence of belongingness, which Derrida’s portmanteau word, hostipitalité, encapsulates.5 This intersection of situationality and relationality is what I argue is central to a critical understanding of praxis, namely positionality.

The shifting grounds of place-bound identity

To some extent, this book finds its origin in a few lines written by Lucy Lippard in her often-quoted book, The Lure of the Local:

Most often place applies to our own “local” – entwined with personal memory, known or unknown histories, marks made in the land that provoke and evoke. Place is latitudinal and longitudinal within a person’s life. It is temporal and spatial, personal and political. A layered location replete with human histories and memories, place has width as well as depth. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there.6

Lippard convincingly states that “the search for homeplace is the mythical search for the axis mundi, for a centre, for some place to stand,”7 but she equally holds that our attitude to space needs to be understood in relation to geopolitical changes and identity politics. This introduction purports to articulate an invariant or structural understanding of our connection to space and a more time-dependent or contextual approach of spatialized identities. It equally puts stress on relationality, as this volume ←3 | 4→sketches a cartography of encounters through an in-depth review of contemporary British and Irish artworks dealing with domestic space.


XIV, 388
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (April)
Representation of domestic space in art Belongingness vs. nomadic identities The crisis of hospitality Locating the Self Valérie Morisson
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XIV, 388 pp., 1 fig. col., 36 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Valérie Morisson (Author)

Valérie Morisson is a senior lecturer at the Université de Bourgogne Franche-Comté (Dijon, France). She has studied Irish contemporary art and its relation with post-nationalist culture extensively and has published many academic texts on British contemporary art. Though firmly anchored in art history, her approach stresses the relevance of context in the understanding of visual culture and the arts and borrows from anthropology to shed light on the position of the artist as well as the role of art in society. Her publications focus on a wide range of subjects (feminist art, memory and the commemoration of history, the Northern-Irish situation, postcolonial art, lens-based art) and consistently emphasize field work and praxis in art as key vehicles for expression, analysis and critique.


Title: Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other
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