Too often in academia the protracted footnote or endnote carries a reputation for pedantry and windbaggery. The writer so immersed in a subject she doesn’t know where to stop herself. ‘Look!’ the half-page-long footnote proclaims, ‘Look at all this research I have done.’ [1]

But of course, many writers have also manipulated annotation to great effect, using it as a method of literary trickery. Among the most famous of these was Vladimir Nabokov. In his 1962 novel Pale Fire, the madness of scholar Charles Kinbote is gradually revealed to the reader through a series of bizarre editorial endnotes accompanying a 999-line poem. Nabokov’s book thus weaves together two distinct reading experiences: the poetic tale itself, and the fantastical ramblings of the editor (which are three-times the length of the ‘original’ verse). In doing so, the text becomes simultaneously a reflection on the very processes of storytelling and annotating themselves.

This paratextual experimentation became a customary trope in postmodern fiction of the twentieth century, surfacing in later books by David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers, or in films by Trinh Minh-ha (especially her meditation on language and translation, Surname Viet Given Name Nam ). Endnotes have been used creatively to provide additional information, to tease out conflicting versions of the same story, or to highlight what is missing from the main text .

My article for MAP is a response to Kate Davis’s film Weight, 2014, which is currently available online at BBC iPlayer. In the film, a 1961 documentary script about the sculptor Barbara Hepworth is adapted and the transformed dialogue superimposed upon a montage of mid-twentieth-century photographs. These photographs record women bathing children, washing dishes, buying groceries, mopping floors, cooking meals—in short, the range of activities that fall within the remit of ‘social reproduction’. This, fundamentally, is the message of Davis’s film. Weight is an elegantly montaged footnote crying, ‘Look! look at all of this! all of the hard work that’s been left out of history.’ And, significantly, the film asks its audience to consider why this is the case, why this work is so devalued.

In recent years there has been plenty of excellent scholarship written on the topic of social reproduction. So rather than writing an extended endnote that spills more ink on the subject, I’ll direct you towards Viewpoint Magazine’s excellent themed issue on the subject, Mute Magazine’s interview with Silvia Federici, and a short, sharp video put together by the political organisation Plan C to answer the question: What the fuck is social reproduction?

As a revelatory footnote Weight asks not only what is missing from the narrow discipline of art history, but directs attention to women’s (re)productive activities much more broadly. Such a shift insists upon feminist art’s relation to a broader terrain of struggle over gender, labour and value—as Angela Dimitrakaki outlines below:

The first thing that needs to be contested is an art-world feminism that takes the art world as its exclusive point of reference. This would not just justify criticisms about art as an ivory tower cut off from popular struggles but would also indicate a profound inability of grasping how art as a terrain of production is connected with the general regime of production that generates such devastating data for women. In 2015, feminism in art cannot be about making more women visible in the art world (as in the 70s) but about understanding the terms of women’s participation in the art world and what this illuminates about women and production at large. [2]

‘The Weight of History’ by Victoria Horne can be read here.

Victoria Horne is a Paul Mellon Centre Postdoctoral Fellow. Her research focuses on feminist art, historiography, and contemporary art’s periodical culture. Her writing has been published in Feminist Review, Radical Philosophy and Journal of Visual Culture.

Published as part of ‘Endnotes’, a series of online and printed commissions edited by Suzanne van der Lingen and Claire Walsh, MAP: Footnoting the Archive 2016. Contact to receive a copy of the limited edition printed publication. Also available from Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and the Edinburgh Art Festival Kiosk throughout Edinburgh Art Festival 2016.

[1] As a pre-emptive defence I should note that the scholarly footnote can also be used to clarify and illuminate.

[2] Angela Dimitrakaki, ‘Feminism, Art, Capitalism: A Note on Social Reproduction and the Art World’ (Introduction paper to the two-day seminar ‘Feminism, Art, Capitalism’ at Tensta Konsthall and Konstack, Stockholm, June 2015).