‘At Home in Dust’: Francesca Woodman’s House Series, Revisited

  • Meaghan Thurston University of Edinburgh


A reassessment of Francesca Woodman’s work is due, particularly with respect to how her photographs contribute to theorizing “the space of the subject” (Kirby 11). Woodman’s House Series, which she completed in Rhode Island between 1975 and 1978, then a young student photographer of the Rhode Island School of Design, provides fertile ground to assess the importance of ‘space’ to Woodman’s work and its critical reception. Carol Armstrong’s essay “Francesca Woodman: A Ghost in the House of the Woman Artist” argues that Woodman’s “use of space—that of the house most often—of very old houses (inhabited by very young bodies)” is indicative of an identity resting on the threshold of gender (348). The “spatial aspect” of Woodman’s work, Armstrong argues, reveals the female as a “figure of irruptive difference” occupying a “ludic space”, where play is an act of self-definition (350).

Woodman’s affinity with places marked by dirt, dust and decay, however, is discordant with the easy categorization of her as one on the verge of a preoccupation with ‘feminine space.’ “Space and where we are in it” writes Kathleen Kirby in Defining the Space of the Subject: Investigating the Boundaries of Feminism, “determines a large portion of our status as subjects” (Kirby 12). It is my suggestion that the issues of identity in theHouse Series demand a fresh look, which considers their spatial context. Looking closely at photographs House #3 and House #4, I will explore the themes of identity and place, woman and artist, with the conviction that these contrasting themes are united. Edward Casey argues in Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place World that “body and place belong together” (45) and I begin this analysis of Woodman’s House Series with the assertion that place, or where we are, “has everything to do with what and who we are” (Casey xiii).

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