Breaking Down A Woman's Place
Amy Tobin

For a few spring months in 1974 a small terraced house in Lambeth, South London at 14 Radnor Terrace was taken over by the feminist art group S.L.A.G. (South London Art Group). They transformed it into a large-scale installation artwork titled A Woman’s Place, which offered a temporary critique of family life. The building was also the location of the South London Women’s Centre, one of many squatted houses in the area that provided homes for a fluctuating and itinerant community of women. By the end of the decade the street was evacuated, the buildings were knocked down and the community was dispersed to make way for new property developments in the Vauxhall area. If traces of the street have all but disappeared from view, A Woman’s Place is even harder to see. 


This publication occupies that absence, documenting the fragments that remain of the installation and the context in which it came to be. It is a story about art, activism, squatting, and the women’s liberation movement. Despite renewed interest in the politics of the 1970s, this story has been hard to piece together. It depends on the memories of those who were there, and I am thankful to Gail Chester, Frankie Green, Roberta Henderson, Lesley Mair, Kathy Nairne, Su Richardson, Rosemary Schonfeld, Lisa Tickner and Sue Madden, for sharing their stories. Thanks must also go to the families of Kate Walker and Monica Ross, who granted access to their personal papers and spoke with enormous generosity about their life and art. (1)


The almost-disappearance of this installation-exhibition from history is political. It is evidence of the precarious position that work by women artists occupies, often little supported in its production or its preservation. But A Woman’s Place was purposefully impermanent; it was intended to respond to the particular conditions of the women who made it, women who were politicised by the women’s liberation movement. It was never supposed to be collected or preserved: Walker called it a ‘gift’ to the movement. (2Whatever is constructed here remains ghostly and incomplete, because in some sense this was also the point and the power of the artwork. And yet I hope that in these pages some of the friction of the past remains and makes evident that art can resist our best attempts at containment, and can continue to serve as an irritant, even after the historical fact and when the issues have changed. 


A Woman’s Place shows the fragility of working outside institutions and yet also the possibility of doing so. As a response to this history the publication includes a number of commissioned illustrations. These additions represent different perspectives on family, housing and domesticity, while also adding to a long a tradition of illustration in queer and feminist publishing, a tradition that Walker was also part of. (3This publication offers a set of coordinates for orientation in memory and history. It is an invitation. 


The poster for A Woman’s Place is also an invitation of sorts. [p. 1] The list of names in the bottom right corner ends with the phrase ‘and all you who come too’, as if visitors became part of the work simply by attending. The poster also notes the address. 14 Radnor Terrace appears twice: above the title of the installation and again upside down, in and on the roof of a diagram of the house. The London postcode ‘SW8’ and a phone number are stacked together on one side of the surface, while dates and opening hours trail up the left hand edge. This information is crowded out with other portions of text, rendered in different scripts and running in all directions. The densely packed surface is a territory of signs for decoding the artwork. 


Looking at the poster here, you might be tempted to turn this publication around, following the portions of text as they skirt up the edges of the page. While turning the poster you might recognise that the outline is that of a painter’s palette: the dent in the top corner and the oval grip give it away. Here the palette has been redeployed into something more functional, something like a map. If this poster oriented visitors to the installation in 1974, it also provides direction decades later. It is not a straight line that we will follow, but one that spirals inward and expands. To get close to A Woman’s Place means journeying to other places and into other stories. But the installation also suggests routes into other histories. It shows the relationship between women’s liberation movement politics and housing struggles in London, the connection between explorations of gendered subjectivity and sexuality in feminism, and the importance of art for political imagination, as well as political critique for creative experiment. 


A Woman’s Place was not the only artwork that explored the family. In the 1970s a number of artists began to make homes and the domestic environment into the subject of their artwork. Much of this work was influenced and inspired by the women’s liberation movement, as well as other kinds of political struggle and experiments in alternative living. In 1972 another house-based installation opened in Los Angeles, California. Womanhouse was also a group project with seventeen separate installations conceived and executed by Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, Faith Wilding, the students of the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of Art and a number of local artists. Each of the installations differently attacked the structure of the house, breaking down the naturalised relationship between women and the home. Womanhouse garnered an overwhelming audience in its month-long occupation, and was widely reported in the local, national and international press. Knowledge of the work quickly spread to the UK and to the women artist’s groups that had sprung up there. In 1973 the American art critic Lucy R. Lippard showed slides of Womanhouse to audiences in London, while other artists found documentation of the work in mainstream publications such as Time, which is where members of S.L.A.G. encountered the work. (4) [p. 8] The transmission of Womanhouse to the UK was surprisingly fast, given the difficulties many women artists had finding exposure and the slower pace of print dissemination. But in this case the interest of the mainstream press in the spectacle of women’s liberation worked in the movement’s favour, and a number of UK-based groups considered making their own version. (5


In the June 1973 issue of Spare Rib, a review of Carla Liss, Susan Hiller and Barbara [Ess] Schwartz’s exhibition ‘Three Friends’ at Gallery House ends with a call out for another show titled ‘Women’s Work’. For this show, the article explains, the group ‘plan to take over a street of houses vacated for demolition and hold an open women’s exhibition’. (6In the same year the minutes of another women’s group, the Women’s Workshop of the Artist’s Union (WWAU) record the intention of the group to organise their own version of Womanhouse. The undated pages of Kate Walker’s sketchbook are also peppered with pages of sketches titled ‘womanhouse’. (7[pp. 48–53] The desire to redo Womanhouse, or at least to borrow its framework, indicates that this installation-exhibition had a different status for these artists than other art objects. A copy would not be derivative, but a chance to explore the particular context of their experiences of domestic life. Presumably these artists understood that this experience would be distinct and specific to the socio-economic context in 1970s London. Perhaps they also understood this exhibition format as a way to explore their relationships to the home and family life. Importantly, it must have also provided a solution to the continuing problem of space. In the minutes of the WWAU, the idea to remake Womanhouse appears in a list alongside suggestions for a show in a library and in the foyer of the Almost Free Theatre in Soho, London. Museums like the Tate and Hayward, and West-end galleries, where women artists were rarely shown, were not likely venues. But libraries and foyers were not simply compromises; they provided access to different audiences, including mothers, housewives and those unemployed or working in the community. A domestic installation, on the other hand, would have been quite different, with no pre-determined audience or casual viewer. This more intimate setting may have seemed a more attractive option, given that a number of women-only exhibitions in London had recently been censored, closed down, or forced to move location. 


In 1971 Margaret Harrison’s exhibition of watercolours at Motif Editions Gallery in London was closed early after a complaint about the indecency of her images of male comic book heroes trussed up in the heels and corsets of their female counterparts. In April 1973 an exhibition of women’s art at Swiss Cottage Library was visited by the police after the evangelical group Festival of Light complained about Monica Sjöö’s painting God Giving Birth. (8) A year later Lippard’s touring exhibition of conceptual art by women, ‘c. 7, 500’ was forced to move from the Royal College of Art galleries to the newly-opened Garage Gallery in Covent Garden. With none of the expected and promised help from the RCA the exhibition was realised with volunteer labour from local women’s groups. (9) This atmosphere of complaint and controversy continued through the 1970s, with newspaper outrage at the soiled nappies displayed at the ICA as part of Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1976) and at Cosey Fanni Tutti’s magazine actions included in the Coum Transmissions ‘Prostitution’ exhibition at the same venue a few months later. (10) Despite, or perhaps because of this hostile environment, neither ‘Women’s Work’ or the WWAU’s Womanhouse came to fruition, although the latter group – which included Pauline Barrie, Celia Edmonds, Deborah Halsey Stern, Margaret Harrison, Roberta Henderson, Alexis Hunter, Tina Keane, Mary Kelly, Sonia Knox, Jane Low, Sue Madden, Liz Moore, Diane Olsen, Hannah O’Shea and Alene Strausberg – organised an open exhibition of women’s work at the Almost Free theatre in 1973 and another group exhibition called ‘Hang Up, Put Down, Stand Up’ at Art Meeting Place, Covent Garden in 1974. 


In London a number of artists were making work about the home and the family through the 1970s. Alexis Hunter’s photographic slide show Domestic Warfare (1970) showed homely scenes wrecked by violence. In Rose English and Sally Potter’s Berlin (March–April 1976), mysterious figures performed a cabaret between their squatted house at 41 Mornington Crescent, and at an ice rink and a swimming pool. While the rink and the pool provided elemental others, the house was transformed into a stage for a haunting. (11) Bobby Baker’s An Edible Family in a Mobile Home (1976) staged a more straightforward breakdown of the family home. Baker made use of her recently acquired Acme studio – a prefabricated building in Hackney – as a site for a public installation. The formerly domestic rooms of the building were papered in newsprint, and occupied by sculptures of mother, father, son, daughter and baby. Most of the figures were made of cake baked by the artist, except the daughter, who was composed of spindly wire, and the mother, whose body was made out of a dressmaker’s dummy with a teapot for a head. During the exhibition run, visitors could explore the installation, eat the sculptures and have tea served straight from the mother figure’s spout. As the days went on, the cake was eaten and left to moulder, while the brittle daughter and mother remained. (12


The installation at 14 Radnor Terrace was similarly destructive. Like Womanhouse and Baker’s Edible Family, A Woman’s Place used the architecture of a house as a conceptual framework. So bedrooms remained bedrooms, bathrooms were bathrooms and the kitchen, a kitchen. Unlike the newspapered walls in Baker’s work there was no unifying motif, and unlike Womanhouse, which took place in a deserted Los Angeles mansion with twenty spacious rooms, providing distinct areas for the artists to work individually or in pairs, 14 Radnor Terrace was a much smaller house, typical of the less grand streets of South London. The London work was also distinct from other installation practices in Britain and North America, which rarely focused on the gender politics of space. Artists like Ed Kienholz, Gordon Matta-Clark, Claes Oldenburg and George Segal recreated public sites like bars, roadsides or stores, as well as private or domestic spaces. When the latter appear in their work they are contained, quiet and cut off from the jamboree of colour, mess and violence in the former. For the 1972 exhibition ‘3 Life Situations’ at Gallery House, Stuart Brisley, Marc Camille Chaimowicz and Gustav Metzger occupied the floors of the grand South Kensington building. Each artist created an environment in the space: among other things Metzger had a newsroom titled Controlling Information From Below, Chaimowicz a counter-culture party setting called Celebration? Realife, and in ZL 65 63 95 C, Brisley lived on one floor for the duration of the show. (13) While the proliferation of newsprint, disco balls and debris expanded the possibilities of artistic experiment, housework did not form part of the life performances of these avant-garde artists. For the S.L.A.G. artists the house was a frame rather than a blank canvas. A Woman’s Place examined the invisible, ideological structures that held-up the everyday, which Brisley, Chaimowicz and Metzger acted out against. While the Gallery House artists renegotiated the place of art, at 14 Radnor Terrace the artists explored its gendered division. 



Retracing A Woman's Place


Although there are only a few images of A Woman’s Place it is possible to retrace the installation through other descriptions and recollections. 14 Radnor Terrace comprised five rooms: a hallway and kitchen, two adjoining downstairs spaces, and two upstairs bedrooms. For A Woman’s Place each room was filled with an immersive installation. In the upstairs bedroom for instance, the participating artists hung wall-based work, most of it individually-authored, apart from one canvas that Shireen Banu and three artists now only known by their first names Clara, Joy and Martine had worked on together. According to Rozsika Parker’s Spare Rib review this room also included a display of ‘note books, sketch books… old essays… lists, postcards, plans, poems, cuttings, quotations and photographs’ revealing the ‘thoughts and motivations behind the house’. (14) [p. 20] This material not only showed the gestation of the work, but also traced the process of collaboration, evidencing the group process that supported A Woman’s Place


Importantly, the space was not divided up equally. Madden took a whole upstairs bedroom for her Chrysalis, while Walker’s installation Death of a Housewife occupied the length of the downstairs space and kitchen. This allocation betrays a latent hierarchy between women in the group. Walker was older than most of the participants – she already had a post-graduate degree and was a mother of two children – and she had pursued the exhibition. Madden was younger than Walker, but had just graduated from Camberwell College of Art where she had made large-scale installations of a similar size to those in A Woman’s Place. Madden has recently recalled the supportive experience of working on the group exhibition, but also commented in 1974 that A Woman’s Place did not create a ‘significant working situation’ because ‘the women involved were working together without sufficient emotional commitment and contact’. (15) This lack of ‘commitment and contact’ between participants might suggest why some of the contributions to the exhibition are now harder to trace. The social connections that sustained relationships between Walker and Madden did not necessarily extend to the other women, although they may have had their own network and their own sets of relations. For instance, while there is little evidence of Shireen Banu’s art practice, frequent visitors to the South London Women’s Centre remember her commitment to women’s liberation activism. That diverse women showed their work together suggests that the group wanted to represent different approaches to art-making and concomitantly to reimagine who could be an artist. However, without the testimonies or even evidence of what these women’s art was like it is harder to tell whether A Woman’s Place explored their understanding and approaches to family and domesticity. Walker has claimed that the exhibition specifically addressed working class experiences of the family, but it is unclear from the evidence we have whether this also took into account the age, sexuality and race of the diverse participants. This publication collects what has been found so far, and primarily relies upon the archives and remembrances of Madden and Walker to break down A Woman’s Place and consider their take on family and domesticity. 


While the age, experience or training of the women is now unclear, in a 2001 conversation with the art historian Judith Batalion, Walker suggested some were considerably younger than her and had little art making experience. Batalion has argued that the uneven spread of the exhibition represented the intergenerational context that made up the S.L.A.G. (16) Here inequality was not the result of a failure of commitment or an instance of overbearance. Instead it evidences how the artists cooperated to find a structure that worked for them; a structure that annulled what the American feminist activist Jo Freeman named the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’ in a 1972 pamphlet on women’s liberation organising. (17) Freeman described the destructive power dynamics that accompanied supposedly equal groups, suggesting that some degree of agreed structure protected members from informal elites and prejudice. In this way the sharing of space and responsibility in A Woman’s Place mirrored the openness of the S.L.A.G, which did not demand singular commitment from its members who had conflicting responsibilities at home and in the workplace. Nonetheless commitment to the group provided the means to claim space to show creative work and to resignify the old adage that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’. 


The show at 14 Radnor Terrace had two elements: it was a collective group exhibition and an installation that critiqued heteronormative white British family life. It dealt with the experience of being a housewife and growing up as a girl to fulfill that role. Together the installations narrated this life, from adolescence to untimely death. The first chapter was Madden’s Chrysalis, which had the second title Second Skin. Batalion described it as an all-white ‘virginal bedroom’ that was ‘claustrophobic and lined with girl-paraphernalia’ overwhelming the viewer with the material weight that pressed upon the girl to imprint womanhood. (18) Madden performed in the room wearing her ‘second-skin’, a stiffened fabric armature onto which was embroidered every hair, mark and pimple on her body. The skin exposed everything concealed and removed from a woman’s body after adolescence. In the performance Madden enacted the rituals of shaving, plucking and cutting on the second skin. This was a solution to using her own body, after she had given up shaving her legs and began ‘to experience [her] body as an integrated whole’. (19) If Chrysalis staged the pressure on adolescent girls to resist the transformation to adulthood, the adjoining room cut to the next big event in this predictable trajectory. In one of the rooms downstairs a mannequin was trussed up as a bride with arms outstretched to receive her husband. Walker’s sketchbook diagram of the room depicts the figure enclosed in a wedding dress, surrounded by a cube frame, which is also draped in white tulle. [pp. 50–1] Parker’s review describes ‘an all white environment with chocolate box landscapes and collages of Princess Anne’s wedding’. (20) In the next room another figure, the antithesis to the bride, lay prone and wrapped in a grey blanket. On the mantelpiece of the room an epitaph read: ‘died… believed… had failed… half embalmed… road of love and unselfishness’. (21) The morbid theme carried on down the black staircase and into the kitchen. In the centre of the room was an oven, painted silver with a wedding cake assemblage nestled within. On the messy, debris-covered floor, lay another female figure surrounded by plastic baby dolls, providing pops of pink in the murky mess. The dolls’ stubby arms, fixed in beseeching poses like that of the bride in the room above, found no response in the lifeless body. Instead the mother lay, perhaps suffocated by the material excess of the home, but absolutely worn-out by housework. 


A Woman’s Place offered a dark story of mature female life. Literary allusions were spread about the space, including a copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which sat on the ledge of a fireplace, linking the tulle-bound bride to Miss Haversham, while lines of fairy tales written in chalk were scrawled on the floor of the corridor. The monochrome colour scheme lent the work a graphic air, as if the emotions of first love, romance, sex, marriage and motherhood had been evacuated, transformed into the dark humour of the political cartoon. Crucially the images were environmental in scale. The three mannequins that made up Walker’s contributions were encased by the home; caught or bound in the space like victims in a web of violent, domestic oppression. But if the content of the installation laid down the problem, the form of the artwork resisted it. Lippard noted this effect in an early analysis of art about the home, ‘Household Images in Art’, which was first published in March 1973. She wrote: 


Probably more than most artists, women make art to escape, overwhelm, or transform daily realities. So it makes sense that those women artists who do focus on domestic imagery often seem to be taking off from, rather than getting off on the implications of floors and brooms and dirty laundry. They work from such imagery because it’s there, because it’s what they know best, because they can’t escape it. (22


A Woman’s Place announced a symbolic death, breaking from the fixed roles of female life and the repetitive temporality of the domestic world. Walker was aware that her work traded in clichés and pointedly argued for the necessity of working through this inescapable imagery for all ‘those who crack under the pressure’. (23) She commented: 


I am sorry that my descriptions are inadequate. Here I am whistling in the dark to a second hand song. All I can make are sick, cheap jokes because all these images of women are borrowed and overused already. In the absence of a feminist art we must invent it as we go along. Here is a start, please carry on. (24


The starting point was remarkably terminal. A Woman’s Place was an attempt to escape the household imagery that Lippard described by arresting the activities of the figures that populate it. The static tableaux paused the dailyness of domestic life, letting all the bits and pieces usually concealed in the maintenance of order clog-up the house. This was a different kind of show home; comfort and belonging were exchanged for the ‘dead looking’ and ‘artificial’ according to Walker’s sketchbook notes. On the same page under the heading ‘Themes’ she wrote: ‘preservation, collection, reservation, (museum effect), death, decay, poison, artifice’. (25) [p. 48] A Woman’s Place sought to make history of housework, and in this way, it provided occasion for an autopsy of everyday life. 



Domestic Politics


At 14 Radnor Terrace housework had been made history before A Woman’s Place was installed. In 1972 Lambeth council cleared the street of its permanent residents to make way for new estate developments. (26) For many London boroughs, new tower block estates provided a solution for streets of poor quality and inefficient terraced housing. But before the buildings on Radnor Terrace and the neighboring Rosetta Street could be demolished they were squatted. While most of the occupied buildings remained residential, 14 Radnor Terrace became the South London Women’s Centre (SLWC) and paid a small amount of rent to Lambeth Council. Walker was involved in South London Women’s Centre from early on and a list in the back of her sketchbook notes some of the activities at the centre. [p. 53] Perhaps this list collated information for the Women’s Liberation Workshop Newsletter, which was published from Radnor Terrace between July and October 1973. (27) [pp. 88–9] In the early years of the movement this newsletter functioned like a listings page, noting the activities happening at the South London Women’s Centre and at centres across London. Some entries ask for support for causes including a ‘working party to assist battered women’, the Abortion Law Reform Association, and Aware. In addition to these activist groups the newsletter advertised meetings of Mothers in Action, the Power of Women Collective, a women’s studies group, pre and antenatal classes as well as self-defence courses. Later issues contained listings of accommodation and call outs for conferences and open exhibitions, including that organised by the Women’s Workshop of the Artist’s Union at the Almost Free Theatre. These documents situate the South London Women’s Centre and 14 Radnor Terrace in the network of small groups that made up the women’s liberation movement and provide an index of feminist political activism in early 1970s London. 


The women’s liberation network in London was called London Women’s Liberation Workshop (LWLW), and by the end of the 1970s it numbered more than 300 groups and organisations with a central London office. The newsletter was the organ of the network, but the central office provided a direct port of call for those in and outside the movement. After a difficult period of finding stable premises the LWLW central office moved to Earlham Street, Covent Garden in November 1973. The availability of the Earlham Street office was also the result of the changing economic conditions of the city. After the fruit and vegetable market that had populated Covent Garden was moved to Vauxhall early in the 1970s, the ex-commercial properties remained vacant awaiting demolition. In the meantime, small groups and arts organisations were granted leave to occupy the buildings, gaining increased security as property developers like Terence Conran took interest in preserving the architecture. Conran’s Garage Gallery provided the location for Lippard’s women only exhibition ‘c.7,500’ in 1974, while the group exhibition ‘Hang Up, Put Down, Stand Up’ took place in the adjacent building – Art Meeting Place – some months later. Situated in the centre of the city the Earlham Street office was a hub for women’s liberation organising. Eventually newsletter production moved there and it became a clearing zone for all kinds of information and advice. By the late 1970s the London Women’s Liberation Workshop had moved again to larger premises near Hungerford Bridge, and the centre became known as A Woman’s Place, rewriting the association of woman and the private sphere of the home. Each centre survived on limited resources, including volunteer labour, but they also often received portions of support from the local council and the Greater London Council (GLC), who often found and leased central London spaces to activist groups. The abolition of the GLC in 1986 in tandem with increasing restrictions on unemployment allowance and eventually the criminalisation of squatting in 2012 have made this kind of political organising much harder, but even in the 1970s it was difficult to find long-term space and many political groups suffered from vandalism and unsympathetic landlords. The historian Eve Setch writes that this ‘impermanence was significant’ in that groups were ‘always fighting off crises, rather than having the security to focus on more fundamental issues’. (28


Despite this precarity Radnor Terrace and Rosetta Street were home to an active community of women through the 1970s. Somewhat beneath the radar in Vauxhall, off the South Lambeth Road, the area played host to a range of groups, with divergent political interests. Some groups focused on legal reform, such as the campaign for family allowance, while others, like the Power of Women Collective – affiliated with the international Wages for Housework campaign – had revolution in mind. Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Silvia Federici and Selma James of Wages for Housework reasoned that work in the home be recognised as part of a ‘social contract’. (29)

They argued that this was a revolutionary demand, writing: ‘when we struggle for a wage we do not struggle to enter capitalist relations, because we have never been out of them. We struggle to break capital’s plan for women.’ (30) The Wages for Housework campaign had roots in workers’ inquiries in North America and workerist struggles in Italy and understood housework as a class issue, because no matter the wealth of the household, the woman inside it had to work for free. For many activists in the women’s liberation movement the economic position of women was crucial to understanding the structure of oppression, as well as the links between gender, race and sexuality, although not all adhered to the rigid organisation and party line of the Wages for Housework group. The prone mannequins in A Woman’s Place speak to this broader, if amorphous, political perspective. The home was no longer a place of safety and security, but a monochrome mess of posed bodies and cluttered surfaces. Walker’s Death of a Housewife staged a withdrawal of domestic labour, and made the hidden work of housewives visible. Like the effect of the London waste collector strikes in 1970 and 1979, rubbish accumulated and threatened health and wellbeing, as well as damaging the value of the property. However, the artists were not necessarily campaigning for a wage or better working conditions, but highlighting the total entanglement of work and life for women. The artwork cast the decline of the wife and mother onto the architecture of the house and emphasised the interconnection between the public world of paid work and politics, with the apparently private sphere of the home.


A Woman’s Place performed an ideological critique of gender oppression through the division of labour and the association of the home with private property. This was a subject that other artists and designers analysed through the 1970s. The Berwick Street Film Collective’s film Nightcleaners (1975) not only exposed the conditions women in the Cleaner’s Action Group faced at work, but also the labour of care and reproduction they did at home. (31) Margaret Harrison, Kay Hunt and Mary Kelly’s large-scale installation Women and Work: A Document on the Division of Labour in Industry (1973–5) described the same situation for workers at a metal box factory in Bermondsey. As part of this multi-part installation the daily schedules of women workers were displayed alongside their male counterparts. For the women, the mornings were always earlier, the shifts shorter or split, and the evenings populated by cleaning, cooking and care. The documentary form of Women and Work connected the supposedly separate public and private spheres, revealed the gendered division of labour in both, and forged alliances between working women and women artists. While Women and Work partook of the administrative aesthetics of conceptual art, the poster collective See Red Women’s Workshop, founded in London in 1974, represented this political position in an accessible, reproducible form. (32) The See Red posters visualised the continuum between women’s work at home and work, as well as the housewife’s role in reproducing the wage labourer. The poster Capitalism Also Depends on Domestic Labour (1975) shows a conveyor belt of anonymous figures on a circuit leaving and entering a factory. In the foreground an aproned figure embraces one of the workers, sits him down, serves him, irons his clothes and sees him off again with lunch. The stepped-roof factory in the background recalls that on the posters produced by the Parisian Atelier Populaire in 1968, linking this feminist critique with a broader socialist and anarchist politics. Capitalism Also Depends on Domestic Labour was one of a suite of posters designed and produced while the See Red collective were resident at 14 Radnor Terrace in spring 1975. The space provided respite after the windows of the vacated Camden shop that the group had previously occupied were broken. (33) The domestic architecture concealed their activity and equipment from vandals, but also provided a base from which their political posters were made and distributed. There was an obvious pragmatic reason for the group’s move to Radnor Terrace – a number of its members lived nearby – but the issuing of these images from the space and out into the movement also suggests a symbolic breakdown of the boundaries of the home through collective work. 


Although See Red’s occupation of Radnor Terrace did not crossover with A Woman’s Place, the posters and the installation share an ideological critique. Likewise the proximity of the exhibition of Women and Work at the South London Gallery and the metal box factory in Bermondsey, also loops this work into a shared geography and as such a shared context with 14 Radnor Terrace and A Woman’s Place. Crucially this indicates the interconnections between different architectures – art galleries, women’s centres, homes and factories – and the movement of politics between them. This flow of information was part of the women’s liberation practice of consciousness-raising and the emergence of political critique from personal experience. Theoretical language and visual art both provided tools for women to diagnose and describe their oppression. Another artwork by Walker, a banner titled The Other Side of the Blanket (1977), illustrates this process of personal politics. [p. 13] 


The Other Side of the Blanket has six panels, three of close-up shots of lips painted with lipstick, a slice of cherry pie and cream, and another of steaming coffee. Another section shows a fetus in pink and red, while the two central panels are quilted, with sections from the top appearing to drop down into the second like rain, where they morph into smaller versions of the foetus motif. In the centre of the banner stacked text blocks read: ‘Girly Art/ We are the other side? / Means of production/ reproduction’. The banner does not document women at work; instead Walker plays with the haptic quality of the textiles to show another aspect of the housewife’s labour, namely intimacy and sensuality. The cherry pie and coffee offer sustenance but also indulgence, underscoring the tangle of pleasure and oppression. The language of Marxist theory ‘means of production’/ ‘means of reproduction’ interrupt the soft surface, abstracting individual experience into theory and underscoring the translation of medical and advertising imagery into hand worked embroidery. The banner reclaims the feminine associated with craft practice for a heady political critique. Here mixed messages are unraveled, with ‘Girly Art’ and ‘We are the other side?’ repurposed into a call to arms, a call to repurpose quilts into political banners. 



Art and the Home


The Other Side of the Blanket is one of a series of banners Walker made in the 1970s. Most of these works hung in her studio or around the large home in Camberwell, South London, that the artist occupied with her two daughters Catriona and Imogen and her partner Jim. The house at 1 Grove Park was a Georgian home built when the area was a fashionable address. By the early 1970s when Walker and her family moved into the building it was in some disrepair. In our conversations Imogen and Catriona both tell stories of mouldy walls, exhausted water and gas meters and the family occupying a single space to keep warm in the winter months. (34) Walker also used the building to make art and a photograph dated 1977 shows her working in a makeshift studio at Grove Lane. The room is large with floor-to-ceiling windows, heavy drapes and a parquet floor. The grandeur of the room is undercut by two silver spray painted clouds on the back wall and an ironing board, which stands between two rattan chairs like an impromptu coffee table. Walker stands in the foreground with her feet apart, dressed in wide-leg flares and gesturing toward a stack of canvases. The image captures her in action and Walker’s daughters remember that the room was previously used as a bedroom and eventually cleared so the artist could work at home.


It is tempting to suggest that Walker exchanged the labour of housework for art making. The home as place of work was no longer reproductive, but instead creative, as if the actions and gestures of the bride and the housewife had been shrugged off in A Woman’s Place. In the background of the studio an image of a bride reappears painted on a canvas, stood with a groom as if posing for a photograph. The words ‘pudenda’ and ‘prudential’ are stenciled on the bottom in a continuous script. The painting is a companion piece to another banner, ‘Prudential Banner’. [p. 15] This piece is narrower than The Other Side of the Blanket; it is arranged into eleven lines of text, with an embroidered image of the Prudential Insurance building in the upper section. Apart from the dark purple shadows that pick out the lines, windows and doors of the building, the fabric fades from light pink at the top to blood red at the bottom. The lines of text play around with the word ‘prudential’, transforming ‘prudent’ to ‘prude’, then ‘pudenda’ and ‘rude’. On the left the last three letters ‘ial’ become ‘lie’, repeated twice for emphasis. The sketchbook lists the dictionary definitions for these words next to other plans for a performance titled: Major Blunder: The Marriage of the Man from Prudential. Walker’s play with words unlocks the semiotic chain upon which the insurance company’s brand depended. It is a tongue in cheek nonsense, sounding out the iconography of authority. The building on the banner is grand in the neo-gothic Victorian style, with the architecture underscoring the Prudential’s institutional authority. Likewise, the image of the bride and groom on the painting suggests that marriage is just another form of insurance policy, another prudent credential. A meaning underscored by the fact that the photograph on which the painting was based derived from a Prudential advertisement. 


Walker’s Prudential works, like the The Other Side of the Blanket banner and A Woman’s Place installation, point to the socialisation of gender roles on multiple levels: in industry and advertising, in theory and at home. (35) Her artwork was part of a life lived outside of these structural constraints. Imogen and Catriona remember their mother opening Grove Park to women and families who had left abusive relationships, as part of a group based at South London Women’s Centre. Walker also made the house her canvas by painting elaborate and colourful motifs across the walls and altering the fabric of the building to suit its current inhabitants. In her work the line between art and life dissolved, as craft practices like quilting and embroidery learnt from her mother and grandmother were redeployed into artworks (although she passed these skills onto her daughters too) and the broken down fabric of the Grove Lane house became a support for pieces of work. (36) In one picture the ‘Prudential Banner’ hangs against the garden wall with talismanic accoutrement – a baby doll, baby shoes and a child’s embroidered jacket – hanging from the top and bottom poles like weights. The jacket rests upon a pile of bricks and debris, which connect the surroundings – including tiled floor, empty plant pot and broom – into the ensemble. This is another environment, like A Woman’s Place, but one that takes place amidst domestic life, rather than taking it over. 


Madden’s environmental art also sought to open up and signify space. Her installations made while she was a student at Camberwell College of Art and also shown in ‘Hang Up, Put Down, Stand Up’ comprised permeable enclosures. These structures transferred the frame from the periphery of the canvas onto the world beyond. Often the frames themselves were part of the work with newspaper walls or black and white tulle standing for the image of woman presented in the public world of newspaper print and the arch femininity of the ballet. Within the frames interiors veered from welcoming to hostile. Some such as the untitled piece illustrated on page 18 threatened entrapment, while others welcomed visitors whose presence would be marked in chalked gum footprints. Black Box: The Inside and The Outside, however seemed to eschew trespassers with black tulle marking a cubic space that extended out from the wall. [pp. 70–5] This area appeared to be abandoned, with an empty chair and a pair of footprints picked out in the bits and pieces of debris strewn across the floor. A large bowl of water filled with mossy growth sat on the floor, which, along with dried flowers, candles, cups and a washing up liquid bottle signaled a ritual or spell. But these elements also gestured to other narratives like the daily washing up left to stagnate, the time spent pressing flowers and the duration of a candle’s burn. The installation had a memorial effect, with quotations marked on the hearth like an enlarged tombstone. (37) In the transcript printed in this publication Madden suggests that the fireplace and ashes were suggestive of a phoenix, born from the embers and escaping enclosure. [pp. 29–31] 


Madden advertised her degree show in the Women’s Liberation Workshop Newsletter, where it attracted the attention of Walker as well as Rozsika Parker, who gave Madden a feature in Spare Rib. (38) [pp. 68–9] In this way the invitation opened the space of the art school to feminist politics, offering an escape route from a stifling, male-oriented environment. Madden grew up in Peckham, close to the Camberwell School of Art and Walker’s house at Grove Lane, and she has recalled the vibrancy of women’s liberation politics in that area of South London. Her mother Mignon Madden’s home also provided accommodation for many young activists and as such another space for young women to meet and live together outside the nuclear family unit. (39) The newsletter, the women’s groups, and her mother’s home all connected Madden to a broader community, these new domestic arrangements created a different environment for her work to be seen. For her contribution to A Woman’s Place, Madden used the architecture of the home differently from Walker. Instead of building a space, as she had in the studios and exhibition galleries at Camberwell, and as Walker did in Death of a Housewife, Madden used the space for a performance. Perhaps this was because at 14 Radnor Terrace the frame was already in place. In Chrysalis Madden explored the everyday labour of bodily maintenance. The title referred to the constant task of self-reproduction, but also to the effect of sloughing off that second skin, which was also the suit that the artist wore like armour. Comparable to the allusion to the myth of the phoenix in Black Box, Chrysalis suggested the possibility of release and concomitantly self actualisation. 





1. While this essay contextualises the artwork A Woman’s Place, the rest of the book is given to reproducing primary evidence found in archives both public and private. In the following pages you will find a review of A Woman’s Place published in Spare Rib and an article from the art magazine Studio International on one of the artists involved, Kate Walker. There is also one of the newsletters put together by members of the South London Women’s Centre, along with images of work and sketches by participating artists Walker and Sue Madden, as well as pictures of squatted houses and interiors from Vauxhall resident Lesley Mair, and posters by the See Red women’s workshop. Although there are few pictures of the installation, the artists’ descriptions of it are recorded in tapes of talks given at the Franklin Institute conference ‘The Maker and The Muse’ in 1975, from the private collection of the art historian Lisa Tickner. A transcript of this discussion is published here. 

2. Kate Walker, ‘South London Art Group’, undated audiocassette, Kate Walker archive. 

3. Walker contributed illustrations under the pseudonym ‘Kate Shrew’ to a number of publications including MAMA: Women Artists Together, Birmingham: MAMA collective, 1977, and Ar:zak Women’s Comik, Suzy Varty [ed.], Birmingham: La Luna Comic, Arts Lab Press, c.1976. The series was a feminist satire on the agony aunt and was also shown as a series of framed printed stills in the Whitechapel exhibition ‘Art for Society: Contemporary British Art with a Social or Political Purpose’ (10 May–18 June 1978). 

4. Sandra Burton, ‘Bad Dream House’, in ‘The American Woman’ special issue, Time (20 March 1972): 65. 

5. Notably there was another remake of Womanhouse in Glasgow between 1990–5 by the artists Julie Roberts, Rachael Harris and Cathy Wilkes, with the organisation Women In Profile. The Glasgow Women’s Library holds the archive of this project, which has also been digitised and edited by Kate Davis. See uk/discover-our-projects/house-work-castle-milk-woman-house/, accessed 29 March 2017. 

6. Unattributed author, ‘Spare Time’, Spare Rib, no.12 (June 1973): 27–8. The organising committee of ‘Women’s Work’ was Helen Dracup, Marilyn Halford, Susan Hiller, Signe Lie, Carla Liss and Christina Toren. See ‘Handout about proposed exhibition “Women’s Work”’, Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970–1985. Edited by Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock, London: Pandora, 1987: 193. 

7. Women’s Workshop of the Artist’s Union, Minutes, dated 15 October 1973, Women’s Workshop of the Artist’s Union folder, Miscellaneous Early Years of the Women’s Liberation Movement Box, Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths. Kate Walker, undated sketchbook, artist’s personal archive. 

8. See Peter Cole, ‘Porn Squad eyes Women’s Lib Art’, the Guardian (19 April 1970) and Clive Borrell, ‘Police see Women’s Lib art show’, The Times (19 April 1973). Both reprinted in Parker and Pollock [eds.], Framing Feminism: 191. 

9. See Griselda Pollock, ‘A Response to “26 Conceptual Artists in London”’, 24 April 1974, reprinted in Parker and Pollock [eds.], Framing Feminism: 198–9 and Kathy Battista, Renegotiating the Body: Feminist Art in 1970s London, London: I.B. Tauris, 2013: 122–3. 

10. See John A. Walker, Left Shift: Radical Art in 1970s Britain, London: IB Tauris, 2002: 173–4. For a detailed timeline of women’s art in the 1970s see Margaret Harrison ‘Notes on Feminist Art in Britain, 1970-1977’, Studio International vol.193 no.987 (1977). 

11. See Guy Brett, Abstract Vaudeville: The Work of Rose English, London: Ridinghouse, 2014: 26–108. 

12. For more information on Berlin and Edible Family see Kathy Battista, ‘Performing Feminism’, Art Monthly, no.343 (February 2011). 

13. See Tom Holert, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Celebration? Realife, London: Afterall Books, 2007. 

14. Rozsika Parker, ‘Housework’, Spare Rib, no.26 (August 1974): 38. 

15. Madden quoted in Parker, ‘Housework’: 38. 

16. Judith Batalion, ‘Mad Mothers, Fast Friends, and Twisted Sisters: Women’s Collaborations in the Visual Arts 1970–2000’, PhD thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, 2007: 84–107. 

17. Jo Freeman (Joreen), ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’, The Second Wave, vol.2 no.1 (1972). 

18. Batalion, ‘Mad Mothers’: 88. 

19. Madden quoted in Parker, ‘Housework’: 38. 

20. Parker, ‘Housework’: 38. 

21. Ibid. 

22 . Lucy R. Lippard, ‘Household Images in Art’, Ms. vol.1 no.9 (March 1973). Reprinted in From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1976, 56–60: 56. 

23 . Walker in MAMA: 19. 

24 . Ibid. 

25 . Kate Walker, entry into sketchbook titled ‘Womanhouse Project’. [p. 48] 

26 . Gail Chester, who worked for Lambeth council in 1972, was sent to vacate the houses on Radnor Terrace and Rosetta Street. After leaving her council job she later became an activist and worked at the South London Women’s Centre. Gail Chester interview with the author, 24 November 2016. 

27 . Kathy Battista notes that Walker was instrumental in finding the property and negotiating with Lambeth council. See Battista, Renegotiating the Body: 125–9. 

28 . Eve Setch, ‘The Face of Metropolitan Feminism: The London Women’s Liberation Workshop 1969–1979’, Twentieth Century British History, vol.13 no.2 (2002), 171–190: 175. 

29 . Silvia Federici, Wages Against Housework, London: Falling Wall Press, 1975. See also Mariarosa Dalla Costa, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, London: Falling Wall Press, 1972. 

30 . Federici, Wages Against Housework: 5 and 7. 

31 . See Siona Wilson, Art Labor, Sex Politics: Feminist Effects in 1970s British Art and Performance, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015: 1–53 

32 . A facsimile of the collective’s working document gives 14 Radnor Terrace as their address: it is reproduced in See Red Women’s Workshop: Feminist Posters, 19741990, London: Four Corners Books, 2016: 8–9. 

33. See Red Women’s Workshop: 11. 

34 . Catriona Laing and Imogen Laing in conversation with author, 21 January 2017. 

35 . The language of ‘socialisation’ is evident in contemporary literature, see Lee Cromer, Wedlocked Woman, London: Feminist Books, 1974. 

36 . See Kate Walker, ‘Starting with Rag Rugs: The Aesthetics of Survival,’ Women and Craft, edited by Gillian Elinor, Su Richardson, Sue Scott, Angharad Thomas and Kate Walker. London: Trafalgar Square, 1987: 27–30. 

37. The quotations include statements by Jean Dubuffet and Jean Tinguely, both artists who experimented with bringing everyday materials and life processes into their work. 

38 . Rozsika Parker, ‘Exhibitions in new shapes and sizes’, Spare Rib, no.15 (1973): 41–2. 

39. Two frequent visitors to the South London Women’s Centre, Gail Chester and Frankie Green have recalled their time living in Mignon Madden’s house. Mignon Madden was also involved in women’s liberation groups and the house was sometimes a site of gatherings.