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Kim Dhillon

MPhil work

More Than Words: Text Art Since Conceptualism

With the rise of the digital age, the materiality of the linguistic signifier offers artists today something different than it did in the 1960s. Since the late 1990s, there has been a proliferation of works by contemporary artists in the UK and US that I refer to as text art, made by artists such as Fiona Banner, Janice Kerbel, Shannon Ebner, Pavel Büchler, or Paul Elliman. Part of my original contribution to knowledge is to explore the ways contemporary artists use text, to interrogate how this is different from work seen before, and to question the demands it places on the audience who reads it, as well as the challenges it places on the act of reading an artwork made of words. The literature emphasises a turn away from looking or the visual to a turn towards reading which occurred in conceptualism (Kotz, 2007; Blacksell, 2013). I explore the binary of this turn in the conceptual art period of 1966-1973 and suggest that artists are engaging with text today not only to challenge how an audience encounters written language as art, but the very act of reading text in a digital world. My thesis makes a feminist art historical analysis to explore how such contemporary works are being positioned curatorially in survey exhibitions of text in/as art in the past ten years, and argues the importance of feminist artists such as Mary Kelly, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Adrian Piper to the development of the use of text in contemporary art.


  • MPhil


    School of Humanities


    Critical & Historical Studies, 2009–2017

  • I am a writer, art historian, and artist. Broadly speaking, my research examines the legacies of second wave feminism, its intersections with conceptualism, text, written language and material culture. More specifically, past projects have explored 1970s feminist publishing collectives in the US, the relationship of the Bauhaus to the kindergarten, and legacies of care and labour in art school infrastructures.

  • Degrees

  • BA English (Cultural Studies) and Art History, McGill University, Montreal, QC., 2003; MA Curatorial Studies, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 2005
  • Exhibitions

  • 2017, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, The Reading Room, The Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (solo).; 2017, Forms of Action, Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow, UK, curated by Viviana Checchia (group).; 2016, Changing Play, Serpentine Gallery, London, UK (solo, in collaboration with Andrea Francke).; 2015, Pequeñas Histórias de Maternidad III (Small Stories of the Maternal III), Miro Quesada, Lima, Peru, curated by Natália Iguiñiz (group, in collaboration with Andrea Francke).; 2010- , Crib Notes, the Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (solo).
  • Conferences

  • 2017, ‘We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live,’ The Children’s ’68, University of Tours, France; 2017, ‘A Matter of Words: How 1970s Feminist Critiques of Conceptual Art Embraced Language,’ Making Women's Art Matter: New Approaches to the Careers and Legacies of Women Artists, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, UK. 10-11 February.; 2016, ‘Critiquing Text from Within: From Informational and Analytical Texts to Textual Subjectivities: Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1973-9),’ Text at the Museum, National Museum, Krakow, Poland. 26-27 October.; 2015, ‘Politicising Motherhood: Creative Practice, Activism, and the Mother,’ Creative Practice and Motherhood, London Southbank University, London, UK. 1-2 June.; 2014, ‘Growing Pains: Childcare, Children, Parents, and the Royal College of Art,’ Creche Course, The Showroom, London, UK. 11 January.; 2013, ‘Shouts and Murmurs: Sue Tompkins’ Textual Repetition as Visual Documents and Verbal Utterances,’ Non-Reproduction: Politics, Ethics, Aesthetics, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK. 31 January – 1 February.; 2011, ‘The Looking Glass and the Crystal Goblet: Typography and Pornography in Fiona Banner’s Arsewoman in Wonderland,’ Art, Aesthetics and Pornography, Institute of Philosophy, Birkbeck College and University of Kent, London, UK. 17 June.
  • Publications

  • 2016, ‘The C-Word: Art, Activism, Motherhood, and Childcare,’ Studies in the Maternal, Birkbeck, University of London, UK. 8(2): 12, pp. 1-22.; 2011, ‘See It Now or Miss It Forever: Visuality, Materiality, and the Written Word in Janice Kerbel’s Recent Artwork,’ Canadian Art Review/RACAR, Vol 36, No 1, pp. 17-28.