Catherine Elizabeth Spencer


  • KY16 9AJ

    United Kingdom

Personal profile

Research overview

My research and teaching from the 1960s to the contemporary moment explores art’s relationships with political formulations, with particular interests including intersectional feminisms, internationalism and transnationalism, technologies of mediation, and abstraction, focusing on the Americas and Europe. Current writing examines the constructs of the border and the trace in connection with art using abstraction in Britain since the 1970s, looking at the practices of Rasheed Araeen, Diego Barboza, Sonia Barrett, Frank Bowling, Rita Donagh, and Veronica Ryan, among others. Supported by an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellowship, in 2021 I co-organised (with Amy Tobin) the event series Grassroots: Artmaking and Political Struggle with Kettle’s Yard Gallery, and co-curated (with Caroline Gausden, Kirsten Lloyd and Nat Raha) the exhibition Life Support: Forms of Care in Art and Activism at Glasgow Women’s Library. A growing strand of research focuses on feminist photographic practices, and I have a longstanding interest in the abstract painter Jay DeFeo. I regularly write exhibition reviews, and my art criticism has appeared in Apollo, Artforum, Art Monthly, Burlington Contemporary, Burlington Magazine, the International Review of African American Art, and MAP Magazine

Previous publications have traced connections between transnational performance art, embodiment, sociology, psychology, psychoanalysis, cybernetics and system theory. My book Beyond the Happening: Performance Art and the Politics of Communication (Manchester University Press, 2020) examines how artists across Latin America, particularly Argentina, the US and Europe transformed performance art into a site of psycho-social analysis during the 1960s and 1970s. Related articles have appeared in Art History, Art Journal, ARTMargins, Oxford Art Journal, Tate Papers and Parallax. With Jo Applin and Amy Tobin I co-edited London Art Worlds: Mobile, Contingent and Ephemeral Networks, 1960–1980 (Penn State University Press, 2018); I have also co-edited special issues of Tate Papers and the Journal of Curatorial Studies.

I have supervised four PhD projects to completion at St Andrews and would be delighted to hear from potential students whose work intersects with any of the above research areas; however the earliest I am currently able to take on prospective PhD applications is for 2025 entry.

Profile Keywords

Performance art, abstraction, photography, intersectional feminism and queer theory, internationalism and transnationalism, art in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and the US, modern and contemporary art

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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