Dr Alice Butler
- Tutor (Research)
- Photography MA
Alice is a writer and interdisciplinary scholar who works across feminist art history, practice, theory, and literature to explore questions of sickness, sexuality, and gender.
Alice is a Tutor (Research) in MA Photography at the RCA. She also contributes to teaching school-wide, as well as college-wide, as part of AcrossRCA.
Alice has previously held research fellowships at The Courtauld Institute of Art (2021-2022), Paul Mellon Centre (2020) and the AHRC/Freud Museum London (2019). She was awarded her PhD from the University of Manchester—for an AHRC-funded creative-critical project on the queer feminist art writing of Kathy Acker and Cookie Mueller—in 2019. Prior to this, she was awarded a First Class Honours in English Literature and Art History from the University of Sussex (2011) and an MA in Critical Writing in Art and Design from the Royal College of Art (2013).
Alice’s interdisciplinary research supports the breadth of her interdisciplinary teaching across the arts and humanities. She has taught widely across practice and theory-focused programmes at UK higher education institutions, including the Courtauld, University for the Creative Arts, University of Gloucestershire and University of Manchester.
School, Centre or Area
As a writer-theorist-historian of contemporary art, art writing, visual culture, and word-image relations through feminist, queer, and critical race frameworks, Alice’s research is focused on representations and performances of embodied states, encounters, and scenes of writing, desire, sickness, and love. Her creative and critical (often cross-genre/cross-historical) work engages intersectional feminist and queer perspectives and experimental, embodied approaches to archive, autotheory, and correspondence. She is interested in how taking risks with literary form—like the writing of a love letter—can open out new and inventive ways of taking risks with content and critical ideas. This is central to her extensive research on, and with, the autofictional archives, letters, literatures, artworks, images, performances, and photographic portraits of downtown New York feminist writers, Kathy Acker (1947-1997) and Cookie Mueller (1949-1989). It also informs current research on feminist and queer artists and writers’ embodied usages of textiles in photographic, poetic, and performance work.
Further research interests, fields and methods include:
- Art history and visual culture through feminist, queer, decolonial, postcolonial, and critical race frameworks
- Feminist and queer art and writing practices
- Art writing as object, practice, and critical methodology
- Histories, practices, and theories of letter writing and correspondence
- Formations, representations, performances, and theories of gender, sexuality, dis/ability, sickness, and race
- Archival methodologies
- Feminist theory
- Queer theory
- Affect theory
- Performative writing
- Psychoanalysis and feminism
- Theories and histories of textile
A practising art writer, Alice contributes regularly to contemporary art and literature publications, with recent criticism appearing in Cabinet, MAP Magazine, frieze, Art Monthly, the art writing anthologies ON CARE and ON FIGURE/S, and exhibition catalogues, through which her writing develops in collaboration with artists and galleries. Recent catalogue essays include long-form feminist texts written for the group show Staying with the Trouble at l’êtrangere gallery (2021) and the two-artist exhibition THROBWERK: Kate Lyddon and Angela Maasalu at Tallinn Art Hall (2019). She also performs and presents her work widely in collaboration with publishers (The Brooklyn Rail, 2022), galleries (Studio Voltaire, 2017), festivals (Whitstable Biennale, 2016) and museums (Freud Museum, 2019) across the UK and internationally.
Terra Foundation for American Art Research Travel Grant: awarded travel grant for a research trip to the US to consult archives for the monograph in development, The Perversions of Textile in Feminist Practice
Terra Foundation Centre for American Art Postdoctoral Fellowship: awarded research fellowship to curate and convene an events series on correspondence and letter writing in feminist art, art writing, and art history, alongside related book and long-form article projects, including the academic monograph Close Writing: Kathy Acker, Cookie Mueller, and Love-in-pieces and the edited collection Gestures: A Body of Work
Paul Mellon Centre Fellowship: awarded research fellowship to conduct archival work and develop a book project on textiles, perversion, and feminist art and writing practices
AHRC Innovation Placement: awarded research fellowship to work as the University of Manchester’s AHRC Knowledge Transfer Partner, in collaboration with the Freud Museum, London, on a research, writing, and curatorial residency focused on the interrelation of kleptomania, psychoanalysis, and feminist art/writing
[email protected] grant: awarded events grant for Gestures: writing that moves between, an interdisciplinary conference on gesture and experimental art writing
Collaborative Skills Development Scheme: awarded collaborative research grant for Gestures: writing that moves between, an interdisciplinary conference on gesture and experimental art writing
North West Consortium Fieldwork and Conference Fund: awarded research grant to conduct archival work and disseminate doctoral research
North West Consortium Student Development Fund Award: awarded research grant to conduct archival work and disseminate doctoral research
University of Manchester North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership: awarded AHRC doctoral funding for the thesis 'Close Writing: Touching Kathy Acker and Cookie Mueller'
University of Manchester Faculty of Humanities Award for Distinguished Achievement
AHRC North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership Award
President Doctoral Scholar Award, University of Manchester
Critical Writing in Art and Design Prize, Royal College of Art
Frieze Writer’s Prize
Art History Prize, University of Sussex
Current and Recent Projects
Close Writing: Kathy Acker, Cookie Mueller, and Love-in-pieces (forthcoming)
An interdisciplinary, creative-critical study that circles around the entangled lives, works, images, and piecemeal archives of two women artist-writers associated with New York’s downtown scene of the 1970s and 1980s, Kathy Acker and Cookie Mueller. Drawing on queer feminist approaches, the book theorises and performs an original epistolary methodology involving affective and speculative love letters to explore the vitalities, complexities, pleasures, and perversities of Acker and Mueller’s own autofictional experiments with epistolary writing. The book contends that their interdisciplinary work shifted the boundaries of sexual desire, the sick body, and love, as well as the line separating art and writing. (Funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the AHRC.)
Gestures: A Body of Work (forthcoming, under contract with Manchester University Press)
A co-edited cross-disciplinary collection that gathers feminist approaches to gesture in theory and aesthetics, across dialogues, correspondences, experimental essays, and creative/critical articles. The book proposes that gesture—as either a minor form of bodily movement, or a broader attempt to intervene within social structures—can unsettle gendered, sexed, and racialised relations, norms, and affects. In articles, essays, and dialogues, contributors explore the interdisciplinary works of artists and writers from the 1960s onwards, including well-known figures such as Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman, alongside those less recognised by canonical feminist art histories: artist-writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Portuguese visual poet Ana Hatherley, the Italian art collective Le Nemesiache, and Oglala Lakota poet Layli Long Soldier. (Funded by the Paul Mellon Centre, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the AHRC.)
The Perversions of Textile in Feminist Practice (in development)
An interdisciplinary book project in feminist art history and theory that explores the complex meanings and manifestations of perversion as represented and performed in feminist practices, with a focus on photography, performance, and poetics. It examines the ways gendered, pathologized sicknesses become socio-political and/or sexual perversions when reinterpreted by feminist and queer artists and writers such as Francesca Woodman, Senga Nengudi, and Dodie Bellamy. Focusing particularly on the role of textiles within such a configuration, I am interested in how this turn to ‘the perverse’ renegotiates bodily, sexual, spatial, and creative agencies. Essays emerging from this research have appeared in MAP magazine, ON FIGURE/S: Drawing After Bellmer, and ON CARE, with a peer-reviewed article on Woodman’s autoeroticism also forthcoming in Gestures: A Body of Work. (Funded by the Paul Mellon Centre, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the AHRC.)
With Professor Gemma Blackshaw, Sick Women: correspondences and performances (2020-ongoing)
A collaborative letter writing project that develops a multi-form and multi-disciplinary approach to its embodied, critical, and theoretical investigation of sickness, gender, and cross-historical correspondence and care. Across presentations, performances, readings, experiments, exhibition essay interventions, and a peer-reviewed academic article (“Sick Women Correspondents”, 2022/2023), it explores the potential of experimental feminist methodologies to ‘care for’ the ‘sick women’ figures (artists, writers, portrait sitters) of a global art history and visual culture.
Publications, Exhibitions and Other Outcomes
Butler, A. and Blackshaw, G (2022). Sick Women Correspondents: Practices of Care in Cross-historical Love Letter Writing. MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture, forthcoming [peer reviewed].
Butler, A. (2022). Too Likeable: To the Side of Rosemary Mayer, Parts 1 & 2. MAP Magazine, Issue 66, August, https://mapmagazine.co.uk/too-likeable-to-the-side-of-rosemary-mayer-part-1
Butler, A. (2021). ‘Have you tried it with three?’ Ann Quin, Love Triangles, and the Affects of Art/writing. Capacious: Journal of Emerging Affect Inquiry 2(3), pp. 82-107 [peer reviewed].
Butler, A. (2021). Nylon Perversions. In: S. Kivland, K. Macfarlane, and M. Newman, eds., ON FIGURE/S: Drawing After Hans Bellmer. London: MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE / Drawing Room, pp. 24-31.
Butler, A. (2021). Textiles of Trouble, Or, Dropping Threads and Finding New Ones. In: Staying with the Trouble. London: l’êtrangere gallery, https://letrangere.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Alice-Butler-Texiles-of-Trouble.pdf
Butler, A. (2020). Looking and Touching, Desire, Closely. In: S. Kivland and R. Jagoe, eds., ON CARE. London: MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE, 2020, pp. 30-38.
Butler, A. (2019). Fan Letters of Love. In: C. Grant and K. Random Love, eds., Fandom as Methodology: A Sourcebook for Artists and Writers. London: Goldsmiths Press, 2019, pp. 149-164 [peer-reviewed].
Butler, A. (2019). feel it throb. In: THROBWERK: Kate Lyddon and Angela Maasalu. Tallinn Art Hall, 2019.
Butler, A. (2019). Eleanor Antin on Art, Ageing and Grief. frieze.com, 29 May 2019, https://www.frieze.com/article/eleanor-antin-art-ageing-and-grief
Butler, A. (2019). Stitching Bodies: Mari Katayama’s Handiwork. In: MARI KATAYAMA. London: White Rainbows, 2019.
Butler, A. (2017). With Love, A Letter to Cookie, and her Stories. Cabinet 62, Fall 2016-Winter 2017, pp. 23-33.
Butler A. (2017). Postcards to Performance (about time). In: S. Tomaselli, ed., Gorse 8. Dublin: Gorse, pp. 105-128.
Butler, A. (2017). A Love Letter to a Klepto. In: J. Auman, T. Chadwick, J. Dunn, and D. Jaeckle, eds., Hotel 2. London: Hotel, 2017, pp. 57-66.
Butler, A. (2016). The Peach Slip. In: M. Michalowska, ed., Transition Transformation Transience. London: Wapping Project Commissions, pp.16-23.
Butler, A. (2016). Autobiographical Bodies. Cabinet 58, Spring/Summer 2016, pp. 56-62.
Butler, A. (2015). scrolling the banal babe, in the work of Clunie Reid. Photoworks Annual Issue 22: Women, 2015, pp. 98-107.
Butler, A. (2015). To Ann, Finally: barf, body and writing. In: S. Tomaselli, ed., Gorse 4. Dublin: Gorse, pp. 113-126.
Butler, A. (2016). Fan Letters of Love, Whitstable Biennale.
Conferences and programming
Butler, A. (2022). Together, With, To: A Workshop on Correspondence and Letters. Centre for American Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 16-17 June.
Butler, A. (2021-2022). ‘What a hazard a letter is’: Correspondence in Feminist Art, Art Writing, and Art History. Centre for American Art events series, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, December 2021-June 2022.
Butler, A. and Blackshaw, G. (2021). Sick Women: The Chronic-poetics of Feminist Art History. College Art Association Annual Conference, 10-13 February [co-convened with Professor Gemma Blackshaw, RCA].
Butler, A. (2019). Stealing Desire: Kleptomania Talks, Freud Museum London, April-July 2019.
Butler, A., and N. Osborne, A. Rouverol, and H. White (2019). Gestures: writing that moves between. Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, and HOME, 15-16 February.
Recent conference papers and invited talks
Butler, A. (2022). Writing Beside, Outside and Inside: The Reparative Desire of Cookie Mueller’s Crochet Gloves. On: Forms of ‘Outside’ in Art Writing. Experimental Writing in English (1945-2000): The Anti-Canon, Brussels, 15-16 September [invited presentation].
Butler, A. and G. Blackshaw. (2022). To Reply, To Risk, To Resemble: Bessie Bruce and Cookie Mueller. Together, With, To: A Workshop on Correspondence and Letters, The Centre for American Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 17 June [invited presentation].
Butler, A. (2022). The Pieces of Cookie Mueller’s Adolescent Reverie (pieces in loving reply). Queer Afterlives in Artist Archives, University of Pittsburgh/Mattress Factory, 15 April [invited presentation].
Butler, A. (2021). Around Valentine’s Day, 1980: Kathy Acker and Cookie Mueller’s Lovesick Letter-pieces. ‘What a hazard a letter is’: Correspondence in Feminist Art, Art Writing, and Art History, The Centre for American Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 9 December [research seminar].
Butler, A. (2021). ‘How close can we get to someone? Will we become each other?’ Epistolary Subjects, Objects, and Methods in Feminist Art, Art Writing, and Art History. ‘What a hazard a letter is’: Correspondence in Feminist Art, Art Writing, and Art History, The Centre for American Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 9 December [research writing workshop].
Butler, A. and G. Blackshaw. (2021). Correspondence as Care: Writing to Bessie and Cookie. Confabulations: art practice, art history, critical medical humanities, Durham University, 6 October [invited keynote talk].
Butler, A. and G. Blackshaw. (2021). Sick Women: The Chronic-poetics of Feminist Art History, An Epistolary Introduction. College Art Association Annual Conference, 10-13 February [conference presentation].
Butler, A. (2019). Looking and Touching, Desire, Closely. To Write Art, University of Copenhagen, 14-15 November [conference presentation].
Butler, A. (2019). Dear Cookie: A Letter to Your Adolescent Reverie. Modern Language Association International Symposium, Lisbon, 23-25 July [conference presentation].
Butler, A. (2019). Close Writing in Three Acts. Afterlife of the Object Summer School, University of Copenhagen, 18-22 June [conference presentation].
Butler, A. (2019). Touching Desire. Gestures: writing that moves between, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester and HOME, 15-16 February [conference presentation].
External collaborations and activities
- (2019) Writer in Residence, Freud Museum London
- (2019) Conference organiser, Whitworth Art Gallery
- (2015) Writer in Residence, Jerwood Visual Arts / Film and Video Umbrella
Advisory boards and research networks
- (2022-2024) Member of advisory committee, ‘Gendered Experiments: Refiguring the Category of 'Women’s Experimental Writing' led by Dr Kaye Mitchell and Dr Nonia Williams
- (2022) The Brooklyn Rail
- (2022) The Courtauld Institute of Art
- (2021) Durham University
- (2021) Drawing Room
- (2017) University of Manchester
- (2017) Studio Voltaire
- (2016) New York University
- (2016) Wapping Project