(First published in Art Monthly April 2014)
I first met Alexis Hunter in late 2012 while curating a two-person exhibition of her work alongside Jo Spence at the Richard Saltoun gallery. She had just been diagnosed with motor neuron disease and the illness had robbed her of her voice. We would often communicate via email, and while in person, Alexis wrote things down on an LCD tablet. One moment in particular stands out. We were at her flat in Camden, and I had just helped her to download a text-to-speech app for her iPad. She quickly realised that you could change the voice on the software and spent the rest of the day relaying orders to me, changing the tone from male to female — chuckling to herself. Alexis could be tough, but she also had a keen sense of humour and an enormous generosity.
Alexis Hunter came to London from New Zealand in the early Seventies as a painter and quickly shifted to a more conceptual photographic practice. She would return to painting in the early Eighties, and articulated to me the frustration she felt at the lack of support for conceptual art in the UK. Her work could be polemical, yet also lyrical and understated, informed as much by her love of cinema as by feminist issues. Alexis subsidised her practice through working in commercial animation, and one can see a pervasive interest in narrativity within her work. Ultimately, Alexis wanted to make popular culture that communicated beyond the art world, and this ambition was something I greatly admired. Like many of her generation, art for Alexis was not separate from the everyday. She taught me that history is written in a very practical way, and that often we historicise events that were originally born out of necessity.
Alexis was thoroughly invested in the personal is political strategies of feminism, and her avid use of Facebook in many ways was an extension of her artistic practice. She posted updates until the end, her writing was at times impassioned and playful — she had a keen eye for life’s ironies. I was very lucky to have complete access to Alexis’s archives, and looking through the press clippings we would talk about how much the art world had grown. “If things have changed, how have they changed?” This was a question that Alexis continually asked. One day before the exhibition was due to open last summer, Alexis sent me a typical email, “Why is a man born in the Eighties curating a show of feminist art from the Seventies?” My response was that “great art is great art.” To which she quickly replied with, “if a man can get my work, then I’ve done my job, and feminism achieved some of the things it set out to do.” Alexis was good at asking questions – she was great at answering them too.