Writing the drives in Nancy Spero’s
Her letters-drawings have an address, harangue and apostrophise the passers-by
Hélène Cixous, ‘Spero’s Dissidences’1
It is the scale of CodexArtaud that first announces its claim to aggression.
Akin to a colossal frieze, CodexArtaud consists of thirty-three large format
collage panels that Spero composed to extend across and around museum or
gallery walls. The extreme proportional disparities among the individual collages
(some are two feet high and ten feet long and others are eleven feet high and
In the late 1960s and 1970s, women artists in the United States and Britain began to make texts and images of writing central to their visual compositions. This book explores the feminist stakes of that choice. It analyses how Adrian Piper, Nancy Spero, and Mary Kelly worked with the visual dimensions of language to transform how women are perceived. To illuminate the specific ways in which these artists and writers contribute to the production of a feminist imaginary, Part I charts the correspondences between the artwork of Piper and the writings of Davis. It analyses the artwork she created in the late 1960s and 1970s, when she began using text to create artwork that moves between what Piper identifies as 'the singular reality of the "other."' Davis's writing exposes the fictions animating projections that the black female body is perceived to be a malleable ground upon which fears and fantasies can take visual form. Part II focuses on aggression and traces how its repression plays out across Spero's Codex Artaud and Solanas's SCUM Manifesto. It argues that in Post-Partum Document, texts and pieces of writing become fetish objects that Kelly arranges into visual and linguistic 'poems' that forestall a confrontation with loss. Part III demonstrates that the maternal femininity thought to naturally inhere in woman is also restricted and muffled, quite efficiently repressing the possibility that women could address each other across maternal femininity's contested terrain.
the incisive work she produced in the late 1960s and 1970s, Piper worked
with the interplay of words of images to break down how sexism and racism
function as visual pathologies that call black women into subordinated positions
and thereby exposed the fears and fantasies projected on to black women’s
bodies. Typing the writings of Antonin Artaud on paper and placing them in
proximity to monstrous, sexually ambiguous figures in her epic scroll CodexArtaud (1971–1972), Spero staged an elaborate protest against the repression
of aggression white American women are
scene in which the clergyman seems to use the woman's tongue as a rope to climb, we are reminded of the feminist artwork of Nancy Spero, CodexArtaud , in which the artist uses Artaud's texts (in his native tongue) with her own images (women who stick out their tongues) to liberate herself from strictures that prevent her from speaking out.
Equally interested in the power of rhythmic cinematic composition to engage and provoke the viewer, Nancy Spero's work can be seen as a modern counterpart to Germaine Dulac
Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto and
the texts of aggression
‘Read my manifesto and it will tell you what I am.’
Valerie Solanas, statement after shooting Andy Warhol, qtd in
the Village Voice.1
Spero chose Artaud as her anguished kin, but the monstrous figures and
typewritten texts of CodexArtaud also corresponded with another writer,
Valerie Solanas. Author of the infamous SCUM Manifesto, radical lesbian
feminist, ill-fitting lurker who dirtied up the narcissistic sheen of Andy Warhol’s
Factory with her butch-dyke persona, Solanas exemplifies the claim to
(Amsterdam: Roma Publication, 2008), p. 15.
7 Spero first began making scrolls with her 1971–72 work CodexArtaud. Inspired by
Egyptian hieroglyphics, Spero talks of this as a means to develop her work spatially and
to maintain the fragility of her works on paper. See Lyon, Nancy Spero, p. 136.
8 Ibid., p. 195.
9 Schlegel, for example, describes Notes in Time on Women as an ‘attempt … to make
visible the invisible: by exposing clandestine contemporary torture practices and
ancient creation myths predicated on the torture of women; and by assembling a