This article will be entered through a space, a theoretical and gendered space and also a space of narrative. This narrative is about l’écriture féminine and will contextualize the framework for this paper.
Let me begin by firstly introducing the key proponents or heroines of the story; Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. Some 40 years ago, Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva developed what many would now term as the French poststructuralist movement l’écriture féminine. They developed l’écriture féminine as a ‘feminine’ writing practice; to create an alternative textual economy in an attempt to destabilize their greatest foe … the masculine/feminine binary opposition and the illustrious beast of patriarchy. Being outraged that the term ‘feminine’ was placed in a subordinate position to the dominant ‘masculine’ term in this relation, they wanted to challenge the patriarchal structures that are embedded within language and culture and to destabilize this dualistic power relation so that the ‘feminine’ was no longer marginalised.
Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva together united in their great cause, aimed to recognize the complexity of binary oppositions. In time they found strategies to transform knowledge and experience and create sexual difference through this ‘feminine’ writing practice. They did not simply want to replace the masculine binary or phallocentrism with a ‘feminine’ textual strategy as they felt that they would be maintaining this scandalous dualistic relation … instead they aimed to create an alternative space; a space in-between.“ We’re going to show them our sexts!” [i] declared Cixous in ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’. And so, Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva utilised linguistic and narrative structures through deconstructive and reconstructive strategies, where in doing so they explored relations between sexuality and textuality, the materiality of writing, the complexity of subjectivity and the transformative potential of the literary text. They built on texts written by their non-phallocentric but biologically phallocentric allies, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida who wereinterested in ethical, linguistic and historical structures. Kristeva also recognised male writers such as James Joyce and Stéphane Mallarmé as having produced anti-phallocentric texts.
In time their plight became more well known, where the critic Morag Schiach described some of l’écriture féminine’s textual strategies as an “intertextual collage of allusion, theory and autobiographical exploration … which transform, reshape, and re-invent the narratives, myths, and philosophical discourses that shape our identities” [ii] (1991:69).Terms were constantly reworked and focused on language as a material form where signifiers such as sounds created meanings that exceeded descriptiveness and offered pleasure. And lo and behold … a great plethora of texts that were dense, complex and had an excess of language that were often associated with the poetic was recognized by Cixous as being produced and understood in relation to the body, placing experience before language, and privileging non-linear, cyclical writing that evaded the discourses that regulated phallocentrism.
Feminist art practice has engaged in the ideas developed by l’écriture féminine in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in the fields of body art, installation and performancewhere the work of artists such as Carole Schneeman, Hannah Wilke, Mary Kelly and Judy Chicago called for female subjectivity to be acknowledged as acceptable subject matter in art practice. Although both l’écriture féminine and feminist art practice were considered essentialist and the use of the female body, criticized as “too unproblematically pleasurable and totalized an entity”, [iii] the use of the female body in these art practices has been instrumental in disrupting patriarchal structures embedded in culture, language and art history, especially those situated within Modernist art. Indeed, according to Amelia Jones, “the most powerfully subversive features of feminist ideas are alive and well today” [iv] and still offer multiple perspectives of representation and strategies to disrupt patriarchy.
Women’s painting practice, however and other process-led practices such as printmaking have largely been disregarded by feminist artists as oppositional to these structures and have been criticized as essentialist. In particular, abstract painting has been disregarded by feminist artists where “women painters have been marginalized by Modernism as an institutionalized discourse”. [v] Katy Deepwell asserts that painting, like language, is heavily coded and governed by patriarchal structures and women’s painting practice has also been maintained as oppositional to Modernist painting and Abstract Expressionism. Cixous herself articulates the connections between painting and writing and argues that painting can transcend conventional structures through poeticality and metaphorisation, where we can seek to explore the inside, the underneath, the taste and the texture rather than the surface of the painting. [vi]
Some contemporary women painters have utilized the strategies employed within l’écriture féminine as a partial strategy in painting. They have also been criticized for maintaining the masculine/feminine dichotomy by using terms such as tactile, fluid and gentle which insinuate passive qualities of what traditionally constitutes the ‘feminine’. Indeed, the notion of a ‘nonphallocentric’/’feminine’ painting practice is still under scrutiny and labeled as problematic, as any concept that involves the dreaded ‘f’ word is.  
By briefly focusing on four artists who refer to elements of l’écriture féminine in their practice, we can begin to examine how artists who seek to rethink patriarchal structures in painting have employed l’écriture féminine. Nancy Spero referred to her art practice as ‘peinture feminine’, the painterly equivalent of l’écriture féminine and addressed the struggle of women in what she described as a patriarchal society. She utilized a mixture of strategies including painting, collage, printmaking and installation in her work; embodying the notion of intermateriality where these different materialities overlap and interweave with each other in her work to create new materialities. Spero was particularly interested in the complexity of symbolic language and created her own symbolic hieroglyphs that made up a poetic visual language which challenged the ‘masculine’.
The artist Rosa Lee builds on Kristeva’s notions of intertextuality in her paintings, not as a stylistic or formal strategy but as a foreground for more complex debate by opening up the painted surface as a critical discourse. She tries to create a structure in her paintings as a kind of language which allows for the possibility of fluidity and the shifting nature of meaning and experience that is identified within l’écriture féminine. For Lee, it is important that the materials she uses become, through painting, analogous to understanding process of change which critiques its own history from the inside, from engaging with the painted surface. Lee also focuses on the notion of the decorative in terms of ‘gender’ and ‘identity’ as a strategy to shift or deconstruct modernist painting practice and create an alternative spaces for painting.
Neal Rock explores the materiality of painting and the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Rock’s paintings transcend the historical structure of the canvas frame where we are confronted with what could be described as amorphous abstract painterly forms made out of pigmented silicone. These densely layered forms are displayed on the gallery wall or are freestanding and resting on supports. The silicon itself spreads across and away from its support like an organic form; their visceral surfaces being almost poetical and referring to the Baroque in their decorative excess. [vii] Rock develops an intense relation between surface and material where he is concerned with notions of the painterly, the gestural and abstraction where there is no distinction between the works’ form and what it represents. For Rock, the use of silicone allows him to explore the physical limits of painting and to challenge notions of Western art history.
Katharina Grosse creates site-specific paintings that too challenge the structures of the canvas frame; blurring the distinction between painting and sculpture. She transforms the materiality of paint through her process of painting using a giant compressor and spray gun to spray layers and layers of acrylic paint straight onto the gallery wall. She asserts that her paintings are created performatively where the criteria and the ideas she has about a space emerge through the process of making the work. Yvonne Hindle touches upon notions of l’écriture féminine in Grosse’s work where she says that “pleasure for both the artist and the viewer may be the driving force behind the continual shifting and transgressive attention to new ways of using and applying the simple media of paint”. [viii]
By utilising l’écriture féminine as an intertextual, poetical and theoretical framework to examine art practice and Derridean notions of textual space, it can be argued that there is a possibility for it to be transferred as a ‘feminine’/’non-phallocentric’ painting practice. That in doing so, challenging and renegotiating the masculine/feminine binary relation and subverting those structures identified as masculine within painting to be used as a partial strategy to renegotiate the problematic status of women’s painting practice. Although the term ‘feminine’ is used to describe this alternative practice, it is important to recognize that it extends rather to non-phallocentric and marginalized subjectivities that can be queer, neutral, androgynous, black and biologically female or male.
The development of a theoretically grounded hybrid writing/painting methodology that includes multiple strategies to potentially renegotiate the masculine/feminine dualistic relations as identified within l’écriture féminine and feminist critiques of Modernist art practice can be utilized to create an alternative spaces for representation. The term ‘intermateriality’ has been developed in my research to explore the material potential of the notion of intertextuality and the interaction between writing and painting by creating an intertextual/intermaterial multilayered, cyclical and reflexive dialogue. It is an alternative space of possibilities, challenging the boundaries and gendered spaces of painting and art practice; spilling into the margins to create an in-between or ‘other’ space so that women are not marginalized.
The work also challenges the theory/practice relation in practice-led research where both are traditionally thought of as dual outputs [ix] through these notions of hybridity and the continual reflexive dialogue between the two. Rather than strengthening polarization, this writing/painting practice allows theory and practice and notions of intertextuality and intermateriality to inform one another dialogically.
Oozlificationwas a mixed media paintsculptstallation, allowing paint to be itself; dribbling, oozing, splodging, splatting and reacting with other materials. Using self-reflexive materials such as paint, liquid polyurethane foam and 70 kilos of salt, that reacted to create transformative forms, a painterly and intermaterial space evolved that was situated between painting, sculpture and installation. It focuses on the strategies used in l’écriture féminine to rethink painting as being limited to a two-dimensional surface and to examine new spatiality’s in-between.
The use of a research diary throughout the research process has enabled the processes of writing to take place alongside the making of artworks and to document subjective responses to the research process. This enables multiple reflections and re-reflections of writing and making processes and their interconnections and for new knowledge to be generated through these processes. The research diary is performative and intertextual and evolved quite sculpturally, itself becoming an artwork.
The concept and physical process of mapping lends itself to strategies used in l’écriture féminine and has been used as a strategy to develop ideas cyclically and reflexively. Textstallation is a research-stallation which built on the concept of mapping more sculpturally to create an intertextual/intermaterial dialogue …
As the textstallation was created, ideas formed and emerged through the processes of making; almost as if performatively. In the spatial construct of the pristine white gallery space, the textstallation functioned as a sort of research-installation that explored a hybrid writing//painting methodology. Ideas were mapped out and interconnected through strips of text, thread and by other means, on the walls and floors of the space and also in the in-between gallery space. It also developed the methodology of mapping, where the process of creating the textstallation and mapping out ideas allows ideas to evolve and unfold through making, creating another space in between.
The book-paintings originally included in the exhibition alongside this paper aimed to be in dialogue with each other, rather than one supporting the other. This intertextual and intermaterial dialogue developed previous notions of mapping and interconnected different concepts in the research textually and sculpturally, referring to strategies used in l’écriture féminine. Text and painting exceed themselves and transcend the structures of the books, spilling out onto the margins and invading the textual and material space. Through the processes of making, these book-paintings became hybrid sculptural forms and start to explore an alternative intertextual and intermaterial spatiality. They are works in progress and are continuously being reworked and are constantly evolving. Text has been combined from different languages so that the it becomes diagrammatic, blurring the boundaries of cultural, subjective and linguistic spaces to create a hybrid in-between.
Using a multi-layered and self-reflexive approach, the future possibilities for non-phallocentric painting practice can further evolve. By considering our own experience as situated in the margins of culturally embedded patriarchal structures, meanings can be created through dialogue with other texts, opening up spaces of writing within writing and painting within painting, interweaving and interlacing where difference can be enveloped into the text or the painting; physically, spatially, textually, materially and metaphorically. Indeed, as Barbara Bolt argues, “where materiality exists, the visual language begins to stutter, mumble and whisper”. [x]
And so, in the same way that we have entered this paper, we will exit this paper … through a series of spaces; a muliplicit hybrid space, an intertextual and intermaterial space, a theoretical, painterly non-phallocentric space. There may be a long way to go but most certainly a space of possibilities has begun to open up …
[i] Helene Cixous, “Laugh of the Medusa” in Signs, Keith Cohen & Paula Cohen (trans.) (Cambridge: University of Massachusetts Press, 1976), p. 885.
[ii] MoragSchiach, Helene Cixous: A Politics of Writing (New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 69.
[iii] Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), p. 67.
[iv] Ibid, p. 53.
[v] Katy Deepwell, “Paint-Stripping: Feminist Possibilities in Painting After Modernism,” in n.paradoxa, issue 1, 1996, p. 1.
[vi] Schiach, Helene Cixous, p. 36.
[vii] Anthony Shapland, Neal Rock, available at:
[viii] Yvone Hindle & Mike Stanley, Base and Awesome: Conversations on Contemporary Painting with Frize, Grosse, Milhazes (Birmingham: Article Press & Ikon Gallery, 2004), p. 48.
[ix] Timothy Emlyn-Jones, “A Method of Search for Reality: Research and Research Degrees in Art and Design,” in Lin Holdridge & Katy Macleod Thinking Through Art, (2006), (London & New York: Routledge), p. 233.
[x] Barbara Bolt, Art Beyond Representation: The Performative Power of the Image (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004), p. 47.