In SCUMB MANIFESTO, Justine Kurland recompiles her library of male photobooks by cutting their works beyond recognition into cathartic collages
On 3 June 1968 Valerie Solanas walked into The Factory and shot Andy Warhol for stealing the script to her play Up Your Ass. A year previously she had published SCUM Manifesto, a roiling declaration of men’s uselessness, impotence and abject nature, and a damnation of the violence they perpetrate against women (a damnation, too, of the ‘insecure, approval-seeking, pandering male-females’ and ‘Daddy’s Girls’). Solanas’s manifesto for the Society for Cutting Up Men concludes that the only reasonable action to take is to kill all men. Perhaps leave some for ‘breeding in a cow pasture’, but only until such a time as they can be replaced by machines.
After rereading this radical feminist text, photographer Justine Kurland took to her own library of photobooks, pulled out each one published by a male photographer, and proceeded to snip, slice and cut away at the photos. She recompiled these into a series of 116 collages, each arranged on either the inside or the outside of the now-empty, splayed-open book covers, many of which sport severed binding materials and other evidence of the violence done to them. Accompanying the photos are five texts (including one by Kurland), ranging in style from literary prose (Renee Gladman’s ‘We Were Cuts Cutting’) to more straightforward essays on the history and development of collages made by women (Marina Chao’s ‘Cunts with the Kitchen Knife: Notes on Feminist Collage and Torn Paper’).
None of the male photographers’ names are mentioned; the only clues are in some of the collages’ titles (Los Alamos Revisited, America by Car, The Animals). Some of the sources are more instantly recognisable: the images of daily meals and monotony of wood-panelled rooms and tabletops indicates American Surfaces, while a row of Victorian portraits of young girls, each with their face cut out, is reminiscent of Reflections in a Looking Glass. But those photographers are cut out of SCUMB, like their photos are cut out, and then mashed back together into a nameless reconstituted mass of body parts, signs, landscapes, bits of ‘everyday life’. This is a work of catharsis, an exhale before the real work begins. But what is the real work? Solanas put it best: ‘Dropping out is not the answer; fucking-up is.’
SCUMB MANIFESTO: Society for Cutting Up Men’s Books by Justine Kurland. Mack, £60 (softcover)