The Disoeuvre is a durational project realised through multiple voices and media, made as a series of up to 27 variations, and in different collaborations. Variations respond to contingency, in tune with the concept of the Disoeuvre. Felicity Allen’s neologism was first published in 2016.
The Disoeuvre, a speech
a neologism meaning an oeuvre not easily recognised as one
She says, OK oeuvre, a rethink’s overdue
this Disoeuvre, unpicking
analytical and anarchic
teenage perhaps old age: do I Disoeuvre recognition?
She’s wresting the French word oeuvre into
the English-dominant present
switching it with the French désoeuvré: out of work, idle, with nothing to do
creating a Disoeuvre is not a progressive route to creating an oeuvre but vice
cradling a life’s work
a labour of beings, process and product
made through and with people and institutions
and the not (yet) identified as art
revealing the not (yet) identified as artists
the not (yet) identified as good
The Disoeuvre accommodates shifts of
direction, language or discipline
an artist sustaining a practice
despite and in response to contingency
whether structural-political or fluke
She builds on feminist and black critiques of exclusive conventions to
dismantle the elevated
She’s backing off judgement
sloughing off the binary
to uncover a Disoeuvre
track the trails of a marginalised artist’s labour across the domestic and her employment
think duration when you think maintenance
think commitment when you think thought
again and again and again
Name it. The Disoeuvre recognises art’s otherwised orphans
unaligned, unbranded, disowned in a fog of expanded field
The Disoeuvre, an introduction
First published in Creating the ‘Disoeuvre’: interpreting feminist interventions as an expanded artistic practice in negotiation with art’s institutions (PhD, 2016), I am further developing the concept through a range of solo and collective art projects, and discursively with a range of individuals and groups. For the session convened on the Disoeuvre at the 2022 annual conference of the Association for Art History, it was introduced thus:
People positioned as marginal to art’s production have to work socially and institutionally, as well as in the studio, in order not only to make work, but to change the structures to allow their work to be recognised and critically received as art. Rather than disregarding those whose conventional oeuvre seems interrupted and inconsistent, we should look for artistic consistency in an artist’s work made in and beyond the studio, through employment at art’s institutions – which may include activism for structural change, or connected, for instance, to the labour of care, activism, or other social practices.
This neologism, the Disoeuvre, was first published by Felicity Allen (b.1950s) in 2016 to elucidate the art careers of women of her generation, as an exemplar for others who might identify quite differently. As a critical tool, the Disoeuvre takes account of artists’ training in adaptability and their working lives across different sites. It responds to practices encountering and persisting through ‘feminised’ labour (as maintenance or precarity), domestic instability, transience of documentation, new recognition for overlooked visual activisms and curatorial strategies, archival gaps; and is open to more.
(Dr Felicity Allen, Dr Janice Cheddie, Dr Lina Dzuverovic, Dr Althea Greenan, Dr Alexandra Kokoli, Identifying the Disoeuvre: artistic labour beyond the oeuvre)
The word ‘Disoeuvre’ is a play on the ‘oeuvre’ – which either means a single work but more usually describes the life-long work of an artist. I also suggest that girls of my generation were trained principally to be domestically supportive and thus adaptable, in contrast to boys who were trained to develop linear careers. Thus we were unlikely to be perceived as pursuing the single-minded Picasso-esque career we were taught was the correct way to be an artist and, hence, produce a simple progressive oeuvre which would gain increasing acclaim. Instead, we are more likely to produce a Disoeuvre which has profound continuities of artistic attention and thought, but whose individual works superficially seem disparate and interrupted.
My own career (and practice) is a model for the Disoeuvre, and I currently work alone and with others to develop and fine-tune the concept. I hope others will develop it further, especially as the framework of adaptability and suggestibility that has conditioned my own practice is now much more widespread as work/life conditions are made generally more precarious (or ‘feminised’).
As an artist employed by art’s institutions you may develop and produce projects that otherwise you would conceive in or for the studio. As art institutions positions certain groups as peripheral to artistic practice, as an employee one is not simply carrying out a job, but is likely additionally to work to change the art institution’s position. The Disoeuvre also offers possibilities to contribute to discussions reflecting on women’s work in the home.
The Disoeuvre: Household Mix
20 August – 18 September 2022
Felicity Allen, Denise De Cordova, Moyra Derby, Jane Gifford, Vanessa Jackson, Reem Khatib, Jenny Matthews, Chiara Williams
A publication is planned.
Recognising the often intermittent nature of an art practice for many women and those who are positioned as marginal to art’s production, this is the second in an intermittent series of Disoeuvre Household exhibitions. Rather than failure to achieve consistency through an interrupted oeuvre, we can find originality and consistency by tracking work undertaken not only in the studio but, for instance, at home or in paid employment during a career’s apparent interruptions.
Household Mix posed four pairs of artists in actual or imaginary dialogue with one another: Felicity Allen with Chiara Williams; Denise De Cordova with Jane Gifford; Moyra Derby with Vanessa Jackson; and Jenny Matthews with Damascus-based Reem Khatib. Taking a single trajectory within the disoeuvre, the exhibition carried an underlying question about the use of proxy as a feminist strategy. To varying degrees, each artist has worked with proxy or anonymity for very different motives, but often with a need to disguise or reinvent oneself because of gender.
The Disoeuvre Household Mix exhibition is part of a larger project to explore the concept of the disoeuvre collaboratively and individually. As well as a vernissage and a finnisage, two Poetry Readings with Tomi Adegbayibi, Felicity Allen incl. proxying for Mohammad Kebbewar, David Hayward, David Herd, Simon Smith, Moyra Tourlamain; and a closing event with Artists in Conversation, in pairs, and the launch of Catherine Grant’s book A Time of One’s Own took place.
Images (installation images by Ollie Harrop. Event images by Jenny Matthews, Cathy Rogers, Felicity Allen)
1 Hall: Moyra Derby (Pseudonym Pairings, detail); Vanessa Jackson (b&w Drawings and Wall Work); Felicity Allen (Baby II)
2 Hall: Vanessa Jackson (Wall Work, detail)
3 Sitting Room: Moyra Derby (Number Key for Disoeuvre); Denise De Cordova (The Quiet Heroine); Denise De Cordova, aka Amy Bird,
(The Mother’s Bone Needle); (mantelpiece, l to r) Denise De Cordova, Rock Raptures ( Women who love Rocks), Clasp; Lust; Kate and Mabel Say No
4 Sitting Room: Felicity Allen (Household Mix Sketch, sitting room)
5 Sitting Room: Denise De Cordova (Rock Raptures ( Women who love Rocks), Clasp)
6 Sitting Room: Denise De Cordova (Kate and Mabel Say No)
7 Landing: Reem Khatib (Damascus Streets – mirrors)
8 Bedroom: Reem Khatib (Damascus Streets); Jenny Matthews (Afghan Women – Facial De-recognition)
9 Bedroom: Jenny Matthews (Afghan Women – Facial De-recognition, detail: Dedicated to all Young Girls and their Hopes and Dreams)
10 Bedroom: Jane Gifford (Dancing with the elders – dream 8.7.2016)
11 Studio: Felicity Allen wall (Chiara Williams 2); easel (Cooling Tower); Chiara Williams, wall (linoleume series from Turquoise Fresco
to Green Wellness); Denise De Cordova aka Amy Bird, planchest (Grows Her Own Stones); Moyra Derby, planchest (Picture Storage )
12 Denise De Cordova aka Amy Bird (Grows Her Own Stones)
13 Studio: catalogue, books, drawings, info
14 Studio: Jane Gifford (After they’ve gone (5) – dreams July – September 2015)
15 Study: extras by Felicity Allen
16 Artists in Conversation, 18 Sept 2022: Denise De Cordova with Jane Gifford. Behind them l to r, Felicity Allen, Vanessa Jackson, Chiara Williams
17 Artists in Conversation, 18 Sept 2022: Catherine Grant launching A Time of One’s Own
18 Artists in Conversation, 18 Sept 2022: Audience
19 Poetry Reading, 19 Aug 2022, Tomi Adegbayibi
20 Poetry Reading, 19 Aug 2022, Felicity Allen reading Aleppo-based Mohamad Kebbewar poems
21 Poetry Reading, 19 Aug 2022, David Herd
22 Poetry Reading, 9 Sept 2022, Moyra Tourlamain. David Hayward seated following his reading. Jeff Hilson listening.
The Disoeuvre: Household Solo (Felicity Allen, no 1), Roseville, Ramsgate
The first of a series of intermittent exhibitions to explore the Disoeuvre, hosted in the home.
A catalogue from the first Household exhibition, with an introduction by Celia Lury, and texts by Althea Greenan and Rachel Warriner, and images from the exhibition is available for £5.00 p+p from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dark Energy xhibit_Eschenbachgasse 11, Vienna, with Althea Greenan, group exhibition curated by Véronique Boilard, Andrea Haas, Nina Höchtl, Julia Wieger
For Dark Energy: Feminist Organising, Working Collectively Felicity Allen worked with Althea Greenan, building on the work they made together for their exhibition Slidewalking Towards the Disoeuvre (see below). On the opening night they made a participatory performance of ‘The Disoeuvre, a speech’ which was also shown as a wall-height print.
Image: Felicity Allen and Althea Greenan performing The Disoeuvre, a speech at the opening of Dark Energy, 2019. picture: Viktor Brazdil
The Disoeuvre Ex Libris gallery, Newcastle, solo, curated by George Vasey
Showing The Disoeuvre: an Argument in 4 Voices (WASL Table); 2:27, with portraits made with people involved with Refugee Tales, either as activist/advocates or as asylum seekers experiencing the British Government’s ‘hostile environment’ strategy of indefinite detention.
Photo Credit: Mark Pinder
Slidewalking towards The Disoeuvre Limbo, Margate, with Althea Greenan, curated by Claire Orme
The WASL Table is a table used by the artist since 1978, originally donated to her when she was co-founding the Women Artists Slide Library. The Library, later the Women’s Art Library, is currently curated as an archive at Goldsmiths, University of London, by Althea Greenan. In Felicity Allen’s work the WASL Table, in its very varied uses, stands as an object manifesting the concept of the Disoeuvre. For this exhibition the artist made a series of 15 giclée prints, an iteration of The Disoeuvre: an Argument in 4 Voices (WASL Table), displayed alongside a large portrait of Althea Greenan, and her film Slidewalking, the projector propped on a pile of books significant to feminist art histories.
Image: Slidewalking towards The Disoeuvre, installation view of The Disoeuvre (WASL Table), series of 15 prints, 2018
2022 First in a series of planned publications from The Disoeuvre Household intermittent exhibitions The Disoeuvre Household Solo: Felicity Allen published by Roseville, Ramsgate. With texts by Celia Lury, Althea Greenan and Rachel Warriner, and images from the exhibition. Available for £5.00 p+p, order via email: email@example.com
Click here to see the catalogue
2021 Do you remember gossip? (Power relations in cultural institutions and what cannot be found in their archives?) in eds. Alina Belishkina, Yana Klichuk, Joana Monbaron The educational U-Turn: Who else is producing knowledges in culture? publ. in Russian translation, Pushkin Museum & the National Center for Contemporary Arts (NCCA), St. Petersburg
2020 LK, LS, LY, MY, Y, Rose B Dicks, Margaret Laing Allen in eds. Monika Oechsler with Sharon Kivland, Salon for a Speculative Future MA Bibliotheque press
2019 The article The Disoeuvre: the complexity of an oeuvre for the marginalised artist was accepted for publication in PARSE, issue 9, 2019 ‘Work’ but for personal reasons the author decided not to go ahead with its publication at that time.
2019 Erasure, Transformation and the Politics of Pedagogy: a feminist artistic/curatorial practice, article in Maria Buszek & Hilary Robinson (eds), A Companion to Feminist Art, Wiley Blackwell
2018 The Disoeuvre: an Argument in 4 Voices (WASL Table); 4:27, artist’s project, Visual Resources, Vol 34, Nos 3-4, Sept-Dec, pps 420-435
2018 Re-visiting, Re-situating Gallery Education: reflections on education as a strategy for expanding the concept of ‘public’ in art museums and galleries, in an era of increasing privatisation, article in Jenna Ashton (ed.), Feminism and Museums: Intervention, Disruption and Change, Museums Etc
This list only refers to texts authored by Felicity Allen. Others have also referred to the Disoeuvre in their critical writing.
Discussions (informal events plus academic presentations and conferences)
2022 Women’s Art Library archive, Goldsmiths, with Althea Greenan and Janice Cheddie, convening a series of discussion groups on The Disoeuvre
2022 ‘Identifying the Disoeuvre: artistic labour beyond the oeuvre’, Co-convening a session for the AAH Annual Conference
2021 ‘Circumventing fixed borders, from oeuvre to Disoeuvre’ for online conference Knowledge Production and Research in Art Practice, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi
2021 ‘Grounded in Lockdown: circumventing fixed borders in three collaborative works’ for online Terrain series at Das Learning Lab Arts, Institut Lehrberufe für Gestaltung, Kunst an der Hochschule Gestaltung and Kunst der Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz
2021 ‘The Disoeuvre’s Missing Mother’ for Missing Mothers, online conference convened by Martina Mullaney for Bolton University
A series of films relating to the Disoeuvre are currently in various stages of research and production
The Disoeuvre no 1 a short film exhibited in Dark Energy, xhibit_Eschenbachgasse 11, Vienna, with Althea Greenan