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Valérie Morisson, Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other in British and Irish Art, 1990–2020

Bern: Peter Lang, 2022, 388 p.
Marie Ruiz
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Morisson Valérie, Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other in British and Irish Art, 1990-2020. Bern: Peter Lang, 2022, 388 p.

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1Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other in British and Irish Art, 1990–2020 offers an overview of the process of identity-making in the British Isles from a spatial perspective spanning three decades of British and Irish art production. The objective of this monograph is to assess art’s relation to space and make the case for art’s power to mediate both place-making and placelessness. As such, it opposes spatial belonging and otherness, and pins down the fertility of both artistic praxis and preliminary groundwork. Grounded in artworks’ symbols of experience, Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other in British and Irish Art, 1990–2020 reassesses the importance of territorial belonging, redefines the meaning of home, and interrogates the notions of rootedness and connectedness.

2Valérie Morisson’s book proves that art can redefine one’s sense of belonging and mediate encounters between the self and the other, which she proposes to map so as to account for art’s experience of belongingness, defined as resulting ‘from our physical and imaginary inscription in the space we inhabit as well as from spatialized interactions’ (352). As such, she does not only consider the creation process, but also artistic reception, turning spatial positionality and relational art into cornerstones of her argument. Furthermore, the author does not only focus on artistic representations, but also on artistic practices and processes, and their relations to inclusion and exclusion in the domestic sphere and process of self-location.

3Her methodology is based on an exploration of praxis and experience, and she contends that ‘art does not illustrate political situations: its political dimension lies in praxis’ (2). Clearly transdisciplinary, Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other in British and Irish Art, 1990–2020 draws upon such disciplines as geography, psychology, politics, sociology, history, philosophy and anthropology, which gives it a wide appeal. The case studies developed in the monograph run the gamut of artistic productions with objects, paintings, photographs and installation art, among other visual artistic forms. The spatial focus lies in the home (bathroom and lavatories included), the city and the countryside, including communal spaces such as neighbourhoods and villages. The analytical standpoints are threefold, starting with the study of groundworks; followed by the examination of display processes in public or private spaces; and ending with reflexions on the viewing experience.

4The introduction provides a space for key definitions distinguishing place and space (determined boundaries versus place-making’s sensory power) and delineating the contours of the notions of home and house (by opposing the notion of space and the emotional experience of place), among others. Valérie Morisson further grounds her arguments in historical events that have participated in framing the notion of home and the essence of belongingness in the British Isles. From this vantage point, she includes a reflexion on Brexit, and on ethnic relations and structural powers in the British Isles. According to the author, the construction of gender is related to place-making, she thus proposes fruitful analyses of the ways art mediates the construction of spatially gendered spheres.

5The book starts with a study of the relationship between the spatiality of the house and identity-making. Hence, chapter one focuses on artistic representations of the house connecting private and public spaces, and in turn the self and the other, thus somehow turning the viewer into a voyeur experiencing the intimacy of the other’s house. The objective of this chapter is to reflect on ‘extimation’ as a product of art’s exploration of intrusion.

6This is followed by a chapter on the interrelation between gender and the construction of domestic spaces. Stepping away from traditional approaches of the home as women’s secluded private sphere, artistic creation has long shown domestic spaces as paradoxical loci of emancipation. Resorting to war imageries, the home has also been represented as the home front locating struggles for enhanced agency, as well as a place to transgress normative sexuality.

7Chapter three introduces Valérie Morisson’s reflexion on ‘transitional objects,’ which she defines as domestic objects also connected to others. She therefore expands her spatial analysis to include the notion of time including the longevity of objects as well as their second-life. Through objects’ materiality, artists can trace other people’s lives through time, with recycling bridging the gap between past and present, and introducing otherness into artworks.

8Rurality is central to chapter four, which is set in the countryside and rural imagination of people’s connectedness—a steadfast inspiration for artists. The notions of community and neighbourliness are investigated in this chapter in relation to artistic creation and place-making in the rural context.

9This is followed by a chapter on social classifications, as Valérie Morisson shows that the objects represented by artists are class-oriented and embedded within material hierarchies. She bases her analysis on discursive praxis and shows how artistic staging participates in legitimising the notion of community, power relations and spatialized identities.

10In chapter six, the author introduces the migration question through the analysis of dislocation and exile in artistic productions, focusing on the Brexit and migration ‘crises.’ Resorting to the notions of centre and periphery, she shows how material exchanges, but also circulation of knowledge have contributed to the consolidation of multiculturalism through home-making practices. This chapter also reassesses the notion of citizenship by anchoring its creation in participatory art.

11The notion of community is at the core of the last chapter which touches on the politics of art, as art’s democratic power is analysed by examining communal gardens and reconstructed houses. In this chapter, Valerie Morisson resorts to city-scaping and communal spatial occupation to account for art’s inclusiveness and power to shape democracy and citizenship.

12The book ends with a reflexion on positionality in the conclusion, as the author reflects on how otherness and identity-making are spatialised, artists being framed as outsiders-insiders. Morisson’s argument is based on dialogical positionality—which she defines as a way to ‘replay or restage the complex ethics of encounters within the space of the home or in communal places’ (351). Contrary to traditional approaches featuring artworks as key revealers of self-intimacy turning viewers into voyeurs, the artworks under study lay the ground to assess the production of otherness within the space of the self.

13Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other in British and Irish Art, 1990–2020 is an important contribution not only to art history, but also to the history of the British Isles, border studies and spatialities. It makes for pleasant reading, and the timely themes developed by Valérie Morisson address concerns of our time while being rooted in history, her approach being both innovative and fruitful. Its fertile transdisciplinarity opens dialogues across disciplines to account for art’s power to mediate belongingness, but most importantly the author proposes an original methodology that locates the self and the other at the core of artistic creation. Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other in British and Irish Art, 1990–2020 is a much-needed addition to the literature on otherness, identity-building and art in the British and Irish contexts.

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Marie Ruiz, « Valérie Morisson, Locating the Self, Welcoming the Other in British and Irish Art, 1990–2020 »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 65 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2023, consulté le 18 juin 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/ebc/14293 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/ebc.14293

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Marie Ruiz

Université de Picardie — Jules-Verne

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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