Jo Spence & Oreet Ashery: Misbehaving Bodies

Jo Spence & Oreet Ashery: Misbehaving Bodies

Wellcome Collection

Jo Spence, A Picture of Health: How Do I Begin?, 1934-1992. Collaboration with Rosy Martin. © The Jo Spence Memorial Archive / Wellcome Collection.

May 14, 2019
Jo Spence & Oreet Ashery
Misbehaving Bodies
May 30, 2019–January 26, 2020
Wellcome Collection
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE
United Kingdom
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10am–6pm

T +44 20 7611 2222

Wellcome Collection presents Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery: Misbehaving Bodies, a major new exhibition opening in May 2019 which brings together two artists who explore the representation of chronic illness and experiences of care. Through their work, and an accompanying live programme, the exhibition foregrounds health diversity and challenges our understanding of “untypical” bodies, reflecting on how illness can disrupt and shape the way we think about the body, family and identity. 

Influential photographer Jo Spence’s (1934-1992) work documents her diagnosis of breast cancer and subsequent healthcare regime throughout the 1980s. Her raw and confrontational photographs will be shown alongside Oreet Ashery’s (1966-) award-winning mini-series Revisiting Genesis, 2016, which explores death and dying in the digital era. Together the artists question how we look beyond a patient’s diagnosis and articulate a more complex understanding of illness and life-limiting conditions. It will be one of the most significant exhibitions of both artists’ work to date and marks Wellcome’s acquisition of six works by Spence as part of the Arts and Health collection.  

Jo Spence explores the therapeutic potential of photography and confronts us with uncomfortable images of divorce, ageing and illness to challenge conventional representations of perfect lives. Her moving works offer a unique insight into a patient’s perspective, while challenging victim-blaming language often used to describe diseases and those who suffer from them. Spence’s work remains particularly relevant today, highlighting the importance of putting patients at the centre of their treatment, whilst engaging with broader issues around our knowledge and understanding of cancer. 

The exhibition brings together two of Spence’s most renowned photomontage series: “The Picture of Health?” (1982-86) (developed with Terry Dennett, Maggie Murray and Rosy Martin), charting her journey from diagnosis to treatment over a four-year period, and “Beyond the Family Album” (1978-79), presenting an alternative to idealised family photography. Other works on display will include “Phototherapy,” (1984-86), (developed with Rosy Martin) and “The Final Project,” (1991-92) (developed with Terry Dennett). A selection of Spence’s journals and scrapbooks will be included as well as a contact sheet of Susan Sontag from 1978, the year Sontag published her celebrated essay “Illness as Metaphor.” 

Leading contemporary artist Oreet Ashery’s socially-engaged practice incorporates moving image and performance. Constantly experimenting and ever-evolving, her often satirical yet poignant work addresses questions around politics, community and identity. Presented on digital screens in the gallery, the exhibition includes Ashery’s 12-part mini-series Revisiting Genesis which explores the legacies of artists living with life-limiting illness, alongside the fictional story of Genesis, a dying artist. From augmented reality (AR) gravestones and digital estates to avatars generated by harvesting data, Ashery takes an absurd and critical approach to emergent technologies surrounding death and dying. Fact and fiction merge throughout the series as topics such as vulnerability, mourning and loss are reflected upon within minority communities, creating an open dialogue around these challenging subjects. 

In Autumn 2019, a new Wellcome film commission by Ashery exploring the recent death of her father, will be displayed in the exhibition. The work raises questions around the representation of death and dying in the era of the selfie. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of live events and discussions, developed in collaboration with Ashery. Hosted in the gallery, it will be a space for visitors to congregate, watch, reflect, share and participate.  

Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery: Misbehaving Bodies runs at Wellcome Collection from May 30, 2019 until January 26, 2020. It is curated by Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz and George Vasey.  

For press information please contact: 
Kate Moores, Lead Media Manager, Wellcome Collection 
T +44 (0)20 7611 5713 | E k.moores [​at​] | W  

Oreet Ashery (b.1966 Jerusalem) is a UK based interdisciplinary artist whose practice includes time-based image, performance, text, sound and music. In 2017, Ashery won the 10th Film London Jarman Award. Ashery’s work has been exhibited and performed at the Brooklyn Museum, ICA (London), Kettle’s Yard (Cambridge) and Tate Modern (London), as well as in biennales including Rennes, Thessaloniki, Venice and Whitstable. Her large-scale commissions include Artangel and LPS Malmo. Ashery’s work is held in a number of collections including Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid), ZKM (Karlsruhe), and the Brooklyn Museum and she is currently an Associate Professor of Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. Revisiting Genesis was commissioned by Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University London, and supported by the Wellcome Trust, Tyneside Cinema, fig-2, and Arts Council England 2016.  

Jo Spence (1934-1992 London) worked across photography, writing and teaching. She was an integral figure within photographic discourse from the 1970s onwards and is well known for her highly politicised approach to photography which incorporates socialist and feminist themes. She most frequently worked with others, including her long-time collaborators Terry Dennett and Rosy Martin, and co-established the Hackney Flashers collective. Past exhibitions of Spence’s work have taken place at SPACE (London), Stills Gallery (Edinburgh), Studio Voltaire (London), Tate Britain (London) and White Columns (New York). Her work is held in collections including the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, MACBA (Barcelona), Tate (London), V&A (London) and Wellcome Collection (London). Her estate is represented by Richard Saltoun Gallery.  

“The Picture of Health?” (Jo Spence, Terry Dennett, Maggie Murray and Rosy Martin) (1982-86), and “Beyond the Family Album” (1978-79), are loaned from Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA).  
About Wellcome 
Wellcome Collection is the free museum and library for the incurably curious. Inspired by the medical objects and curiosities collected by Henry Wellcome, it connects science, medicine, life and art. Through its exhibitions, live programming, and digital and publishing activity, it makes thought provoking content which aims to challenge how we think and feel about health. 
Wellcome Collection is part of Wellcome, which exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation. 

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May 14, 2019

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