Promotionsvorhaben: Mela Dávila-Freire
Working title: Women Artist’s Books Archive – Publishing as an “Auction of the Mind”?
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Nora Sternfeld, Prof. Dr. Anja Steidinger
This research project aims to put forward and make easily accessible a corpus of relevant artist’s books created by women artists, drawing attention to the many women artists whose publishing practices have been consistent and original, and yet remain overlooked, reduced or omitted altogether within art history. Artistic practices involving publishing and printed matter, dating from 1950 to the present day, will constitute its field of study. Its goals include the outlining of a new canon of works, the development of an alternate archival framework for these works, and the exploration of publishing as a tool for self- subjectivation, creative endeavor and speculative engagement.
The context for this research is the art-historical narrative which unravels the genealogy of the artist’s book, which started off in the mid-twentieth century and has been developing up to the present time. This project has been triggered by a pragmatic fact: in this genealogy, women artists are still almost entirely missing. Historical exhibitions, as well as public and private collections, concentrate on works by male artists; seminal essays and reference publications about the topic – which have often been written by women, i.e. Anne Moeglin-Delcroix’s L’Esthetique du livre d’artiste or Johanna Druckner’s A Century of Artists’ Books– contain few mentions, often repetitive, to artist’s books by women; and not only in traditional academia but also in fine art schools, university teaching and academic research devoted to artists’ publishing is scarce, all the more so when it comes to women artists.
As a consequence, despite the fact that publishing initiatives are flourishing among artists of younger generations – who have incorporated printed media into the range of formats available to them with great naturalness and conviction –, opportunities to get to know the work of women artists in this field do not abound, as this specific area of art-history still tends to be male-centered or, at best, redundant. It is therefore essential to undertake the task of filling the gap in the canon, by identifying relevant experiments and analyzing their modes of self-subjectivation, creative and intellectual dynamics, and formal languages.
This research will be undertaken from a feminist point of departure, circumscribing the project’s field of interest to the groundbreaking question that Linda Nochlin posed in 1971 in relation to art in general: “Why have there not been any great women artists?”1 (...Making artist’s books, one could add?) The aim is to put forth a critique of the deep gender bias with which the current canon of artist’s book “masterworks” is built. Besides: so as there have not been consistent feminist approaches to the field of artist’s books, no attempts have been made either to revise and update the canon from a postcolonial point of view, and its prevailing Eurocentric – if not purely Anglo- Saxon – narrative has seldom been called into question. This research also aims to counterbalance this fact by developing a more accurate cartography where the so-called Global South is at least partially acknowledged. This will be achieved by focusing also on artistic practices by women artists from/in the regions with which I share a cultural background and language(s): Latin America and the South of Europe.
Mela Dávila-Freire (O Grove, Spain, 1970) lives and works between Hamburg and Barcelona. Her interest lies in publishing as an artistic genre, with a particular focus on the conceptual and physical intersection between contemporary art and archives. Her practice work encompasses researching, writing, curating and lecturing about artist’s books and experimental publishing. She also develops organizational models for the management of archival collections in museums and art archives, aiming to facilitate public access, increase visibility and establish a good connectivity with art collections. She has published widely, and is the author of the books Mission and Commission – documenta and the Art Market 1955 – 1968 (Barcelona: Polígrafa, 2022) and Legible – Visible: Between the Film Frame and the Page (Barcelona: Tenov Editorial, 2018). She holds a degree in English and German Literature and Language, and a postgraduate degree in Publishing Sciences. She has been a resident of the Paul Klee Summer Academy of the Bern Academy of the Arts – HKB in Bern from 2022 to 2023.