Hackney Flashers at Tate Britain

December 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

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The Hackney Flashers currently have a display at Tate Britain. It’s combined with a spotlight on Jo Spence, a member of the group who went on to do a photography degree and produce innovative solo work, as well as collaborating with others. She died in 1992.
One side of the room is taken up with Jo’s prints, including some from a photo-therapy project with Rosy Thomas. On the other you can see examples of Hackney Flasher pictures from Women and Work and Who’s Holding the Baby? There’s also a slideshow with images from both exhibitions.
This is material the Tate has acquired from sources other than ourselves, and it will be kept in the Tate’s archive. The curators have described us as ‘an arts collective’. Right now there is a revival of interest in 1970s photography. Hackney Flashers’ work has appeared twice this year at major art institutions, the Tate and the Hayward, and is also on permanent display in Madrid, at the Reina Sofía Museum, yet we’ve never thought of ourselves as a collective of artists (even though at least one of our number had a fine arts training). This is all accidental, deriving from the confusion between art that is agitprop and agitprop that becomes art by virtue of being in an art gallery.
Our work was made to be shown at Women’s Movement and trade union events, in libraries and community centres, and that’s where it was seen in the 70s. Of course, people can call it what they like, but we are in no doubt that what we were doing then was agitprop. Agitprop is indeed a category within art (applicable in part to the Russian avant-garde: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Tatlin, Stepanova etc – as well as to John Heartfield and Hans Haacke among others), but one which the art establishment has forgotten about, or perhaps is just uncomfortable with, because it’s political.
After much debate on the subject in the past, we have no objection to our work being seen in museum and gallery contexts, because we think it still raises questions about women’s work and childcare within a wider political framework. At the moment you can’t see it anywhere else (except on our website).
It’s a free display at the Tate and will be on for some time (on the upper level, above the ticketing area).
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