9am - 5pm
This event is free and open to the public.
THE M WORD
The theme of the 2014 TFAP day of panels is the representation of the maternal in art and visual culture. Topics of discussion include art historical readings of maternity, the maternal body, exhibitions that address maternity/motherhood, collaboration with children, and what it means to be a mother and an artist today in relationship to the issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G on artists/mothers.
PROGRAM OF EVENTS:
Welcome and Introductory Remarks
Connie Tell, Interim Director, Institute for Women and Art, The Feminist Art Project, Rutgers University
Co-organizers: Jennie Klein (Associate Professor of Art History, Ohio University); Myrel Chernick (Independent Artist, Pratt Institute)
Historical Perspectives on Representing the Maternal
Chair: Denise Amy Baxter (University of North Texas)
Panelists: Heather Belnap Jensen (Brigham Young University), Laura Larson (Ohio University), Paula J. Birnbaum (University of San Francisco), Andrea Liss (California State University San Marcos)
10:40 am-12 pm
Motherhood and the Exhibitionary Platform: Considering the Implications of Maternity Through the Curatorial Lens
Chair: Jessica Cochran (Columbia College Chicago)
Panelists: Iris Anna Regn and Rebecca Niederlander (BROODWORK), Bruria Finkel (artist/independent curator), Lucian Gomoll (Wesleyan University), Rebecca Trawick and Denise M. Johnson (Chaffey College), Christa Donner (Cultural ReProducers)
From Sentiment to Sexuality: Revisiting the Maternal Body as Threat
Chair: Natalie Loveless (University of Alberta, Edmonton)
Panelists: Jess Dobkin (Independent Artist, Toronto), Laura Allred Hurtado (Independent Curator), Christen Clifford (SUNY Purchase), Miriam Schaer (Columbia College Chicago), Margaret Morgan (Independent Artist, Los Angeles)
Mothers / Artists / Children
Chair: Rachel Epp Buller (Bethel College) Panelists: Lynn Somers-Davis (Drew University), Jill Miller (San Francisco Art Institute), Marni Kotak (Microscope Gallery, Brooklyn), Lise Haller Baggesen (Independent Artist, Chicago), Courtney Kessel (The Dairy Barn Arts Center)
Revisiting M/E/A/N/I/N/G #12
Round Table Discussion Panelists: Sharon Butler (Brown University), Laura Letinsky (University of Chicago), Irene Lusztig (University of California, Santa Cruz), Beverly Naidus (University of Washington, Tacoma), Jennifer Wroblewski (Purchase College School of Art and Design)
MAP to Columbia College Chicago – Stage TWO
For more information contact:
The Feminist Art Project, Manager
Institute for Women & Art, Rutgers University
640 Bartholomew Road
Piscataway, NJ 08854
Jennie Klein‘s primary areas of research lie in contemporary art, art criticism, feminist art, and performance art. She is a contributing editor for Art Papers and a member of the editorial board of Genders. She has published in Feminist Studies, Art Pulse, PAJ, n.paradoxa, Art History, New Art Examiner, and Afterimage. Jennie is the co-editor, along with Deirdre Heddon of the University of Glasgow, of Histories and Practices of Live Art (Palgrave McMillan, 2012) and, along with Myrel Chernick, The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art (Demeter Press, 2011). She has published articles in several anthologies, including West of Center (Minnesota) and Entering the Picture (Routledge).
Myrel Chernick is a writer and artist working in video, photography and installation. Recent screenings include Tanya/Sam 17 at the Greenpoint Film Festival and Democrascope in Montreal and Hong Kong. Chernick has shown her text-based multimedia installations nationally and internationally, lectured widely and edited The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art with Jennie Klein. She is currently writing and illustrating a hybrid novel that takes place in Paris and New York.
Panel: Historical Perspectives on Representing the Maternal
Building upon burgeoning scholarship such as Rachel Epp Buller’s anthology Reconciling Art and Mothering, Myrel Chernick’s and Jennie Klein’s The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art, and the work of the MaMSIE (Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics) network, this panel presents historical perspectives on maternal subject positions and the depiction of maternal imagery.
Heather Belnap Jensen – Fashionable Maternity, or, The Emergence of ‘The New Mother’ in Post-Revolutionary Visual Culture
The institution of motherhood and production of the maternal body were critical and contested components of post-Revolutionary French culture. From political, medical, and philosophical discourses surrounding maternity emerged a new and progressive maternal ideal, one that posited the bourgeois woman’s ability to be both happy mother and active socio-public subject. This “New Mother” embodied bourgeois values. She was culturally literate and well acquainted with philosophical rationales and political rhetoric regarding the virtues of motherhood—and was committed to its public enactment. She was also invested in conspicuous consumption, and thus wore the latest couture and frequented the chicest urban spaces. Moreover, she did not view sexual desirability and maternity as mutually exclusive. Stylish, urbane, educated, confident, and decidedly public, this figure challenged notions of maternity promulgated by the ancien régime.The emergence of “The New Mother,” which was facilitated by the industries of art, publishing and fashion, is registered in the proliferation of representations in which women performed motherhood in distinctly modern ways c1800. Indeed, visual media articulated this progressive ideal of maternity. From iconic history paintings and portraits of high-profile socialites foregrounding the maternal subject to genre scenes and fashion plates representing the refined bourgeoisie as mother, the significance of this subject position was highlighted. This material reads as surprisingly modern in its positing of an expansive ideal for women as mothers. I argue that the study of these early visual strategies of representation is productive for understanding later developments of the maternal aesthetic.
Laura Larson – Hidden Mother
Hidden Mother emerges from my research on the widespread but little-known practice in 19th-century portrait photography known as the “hidden mother.” The term refers to the strategy of concealing a mother’s body as she supported and stilled her infant during the lengthy exposures demanded by early photographic technology. In the final portrait of the child, the mother—typically covered from head-to-toe in a black drop cloth—appears as an uncanny figure, emphatically present in her “absence.” These melancholic and disturbing images speak to the fragile balance a mother must maintain in raising a child—cultivating both attachment and autonomy. The book enlists hidden mother photographs as a critical and lyrical frame for an account of the adoption of my daughter, considering how photography itself is a maternal medium. Hidden Mother encompasses two complementary but distinct projects, an exhibition and a book of experimental non-fiction, which will be the subject of my talk.
Chana Orloff was one of the best-known sculptors of the School of Paris and a pioneering woman in the early Israeli art world, yet her story has been marginalized. Born in 1888 in the Ukraine, Orloff left her native country at 16-years-old when her Jewish family escaped the pogroms and relocated to Palestine. Soon afterward she moved to Paris and established a reputation as a portraitist and sculptor of powerful female nudes and maternities. Her friends and sitters included an international cast of now famous artists and writers, many of them modern women and Jewish émigrés. In this paper I explore Orloff’s sculpted images of motherhood produced throughout her career in light of changing attitudes about gender and Jewish identity in European modernism as well as in early Israeli art. Orloff regularly created classically inspired sculptures of anonymous mothers and children, as well as portraits of her own son. Some of these works vividly express the embodied experiences of pregnancy, nursing and the physicality of the maternal body. Such imagery appealed to French critics who supported a widespread interest in representations of the maternal body as a site of cultural rejuvenation in the wake of World War I. Orloff’s Parisian maternal imagery influenced her later Zionist public monuments honoring Jewish women, created in Israel after World War II. I conclude by examining Orloff’s deep commitment to representing motherhood in light of her Jewish diasporic background as well as at her own experiences as a single mother across continents.
Andrea Liss – Maternal Self-Portraits: Revolutionary Promises of Justice
Maternal Self-Portraits: Revolutionary Promises of Justice addresses the sophisticated evolution of the concept of mother-and-child portraits taken by the mother produced from the mid-twentieth century to the contemporary moment. My presentation reconceives these maternal self-portraits from the recent past and the present as vital new forms of feminist knowledge. This knowledge holds the potential for articulating new strategies of respect for the concept of the maternal and for the real mother, in other words for thinking m(o)therwise.I consider the radical possibilities for such embodied knowledge within generative maternal photographic self-portraits by Diane Arbus, Pregnant Self-Portrait, 1945; Renée Cox, Yo Mama, 1993; Catherine Opie, Self-Portrait Nursing, 2004 and Kate Just, The Armour ofHope, 2012. These revelatory images articulate maternal portent and power: they are self-reflective, self-embodied, self-confident. They decidedly challenge self- and cultural effacement.Concepts of intersubjectivity deeply inform the construction and power of maternal self-portraits. Furthermore, images made by mothers distinguish themselves from media images of mother and child that relentlessly attempt to control maternal images and continue the hateful denigration of women/mothers. Artists’ maternal self-portraits strategically revalue traditional characteristics of the maternal such as care, empathy and passion, and project these supposedly “sentimental” maternal traits outside of their previously limited range. They can be seen anew as loving and political actions. Thus reconceiving maternal self-portraits as new bodies of knowledge offers revolutionary ways for rethinking compassionate forms of justice and human relationships.
Panel: Motherhood and the Exhibitionary Platform: Considering the Implications of Maternity Through the Curatorial Lens
This session will address exhibitions that have been premised upon the idea of motherhood and the maternal, within the broader context of feminism and the history and theory of exhibition making. In addition to considering the curatorial role itself through a “curator as maternalist” paradigm, presentations will reflect various curatorial methodologies from traditional museum scale exhibitions to hybrid or itinerant curatorial projects that engage various forms of social space, including the home. By bringing together various critical feminist positions alongside divergent curatorial strategies the goal of this session is to chart an evolution of practice via exemplary models for thinking and doing. As such, an important outcome of the dialogue will be an assessment of the kinds of critical attention paid to these projects, and an analysis of the quality of discourse that orbits them.
Rebecca Niederlander and Iris Anna Regn – Curating BROODWORK: Encouraging the Intergenerational Relationship of Creative Practice and Family Life
What is the relationship between creative practice and family life and how can a curatorial endeavor explore this relationship?All creative practitioners find themselves at crossroads throughout their life; however, being affected by the specific juncture of practice and family is not generally acknowledged for its true impact. Who would have thought that writing for his son about a bear named Winnie-the-Pooh would catapult the political satirist A. A. Milne from Punch magazine into the stratosphere of literary history.His era’s exception, however, is now our rule for all parents, male and female; the convergence of family and practice is recognized by BROODWORKas a pivotal influence to produce profound and unexpected work.It is BROODWORK’s mission to seek out this work and to influence and encourage an intergenerational relationship with creative practice.Our multi-disciplinary project includes curatorial installation, design, talking, blogging, site-specific object creation, and event-making; these diverse modalities give us a unique ability to bring together disparate communities through the great lens of Family.We foster a communal space that stimulates innovation in tandem with familial connection.
Bruria Finkel – Breaking in Two
Breaking in Two (2012)was the first comprehensive exhibition of work by women artists who are mothers based on the west coast (Maternal Metaphors, curated by Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein, took place in 2004). The exhibition featured art works that integrated the maternal experience, the relationship to the body,the child, the family, and the society at large. The exhibition, which featured a number of artists associated with the Los Angeles Woman’s Building debuted as part of the Getty initiative Pacific Standard Time, a city-wide series of events and performances in 2011 and 2012 that celebrated art made in California.The comprehensive exhibition engaged a multicultural group of four generations of nationally and internationally recognized artist-mothers including Cheri Gaulke, Eleanor Antin, Mary Kelly, June Wayne, Betye Saar, Kim Abeles, Judith Hernandez, and Bruria Finkel, who is an artist as well as a curator. The works represented the multi-faceted and changing realities of motherhood through painting, drawing, sculpture, collage and assemblage,installation, photography, film/video, poetry/writing and live performance. The film Breaking in Two by Sabine Sighichelli will be discussed as well.
A critical genealogy of the curator-as-maternalist reveals a rich history of intergenerational exchange between feminist artists, curators, and mothers who have significantly transformed how art is produced and displayed. Collaborative efforts such as Womanhouse (1972)nurtured feminist productions that intervened into popular presentations of menstruation, sex, birth, and raising children, as the contributors aestheticized domestic forms of labor that are often degraded in Western society. More recently, a number of feminist exhibitions such as Amelia Jones’ Sexual Politics (1996), Connie Butler’s Wack! (2007), and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (2007), have assembled artistic matrilineages, alternatives to what Mira Schor has called the artistic patrilineage, a conventional system of inheritance that denies history to women artists and thus casts them as orphans. Such matrilineages have not gone uncriticized, within and outside of feminist spheres, but nonetheless they reveal how the etymological overlappings of motherhood and curation – which include “caring for,” “keeping,” and “guardianship” – are more than superficial. Other projects concerned explicitly with motherhood in their content, such as the Museum of Motherhood (2011) and Natalie Loveless’ New Maternalisms (2012), further demonstrate the extents to which curation and maternity productively intersect, as well as how in some cases they are impossible to distinguish.
Rebecca Trawick and Denise M. Johnson – Separation Anxiety: Curated by Denise Johnson & Rebecca Trawick
As shifting economies and the successes of the feminist movement have resulted in women comprising a slight majority of paid workers in the U.S. for the first time, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s long honored notion of the “Good Mother” and the demand that she blithely sacrifice all for the good of her children and family has been dutifully challenged. But as women have claimed presence within the domestic AND public realms, conservative groups have predictably lamented the decline of “family values.” Within that cry, the child is portrayed as tragically endangered, while mothers seeking to redefine their obligations are characterized as frantic and perpetually on the brink of unraveling. In contradiction, celebrity moms appear to have it all; fulfilling careers, beautiful biological and adopted children, plenty of bling, and active social lives – but only because they engage in that most despicable practice of paying for childcare. All the while, frank discussion of the practical complexities that the everyday mom faces are rarely considered with genuine interest. Far from being resolved, such contretemps are symptomatic presentations of longstanding cultural anxieties concerning evolving states of family brought forth by critiques denouncing historically and culturally unusual notions of family-hood that are entirely unattainable. Drawing from the curators’ own efforts to balance the demands of motherhood with creative and professional endeavors, Separation Anxiety explores contemporary artistic negotiations of the unstable and inhospitable terrain of modern parenthood, family, and gender roles.
Christa Donner – Investigating Spaces for Cultural ReProduction
To be a vital cultural creator and an engaged parent need not be mutually exclusive. Despite this, many artists find the art world closed to them once they have children. This continues to have a profound impact on the making, experiencing, critical writing, and curation of contemporary art. While many have worked to expand the art world to include those who are not autonomous white male artists, the inclusion of cultural producers raising children must include a rethinking how institutions structure the possibility of participation. From pram mobs to residency reports, a growing number of projects employ public intervention and web-based platforms to curate new spaces for visibility, support, and artistic dialogue, expanding the field to include the work of parents in the arts.
Panel: From Sentiment to Sexuality: Revisiting the Maternal Body as Threat
This panel revisits the “threat” of the maternal body, both in practice and theory. Amongst other topics, papers will address the historical rejection of sentimentality by feminist artist mothers, the sexuality of the mother-child relationship, non-reproductive and non-heteronormative maternal bodies, and the changing perspectives on essentialism and the female/maternal body today.
I will contribute a discussion of my recent performances including,The Lactation Station Breast Milk Bar, Being Green and Fee for Service as they challenge conventional presentations of maternity and motherhood. I will reflect on how my personal and professional life experience meets my performance practice, and how I confront and am confronted by real and imagined risk. I’m interested in things that are potently queer – where our publics and privates are blurred, where social and animal bodies connect, where transgressions are cherished and sweet.
In spring of 2007, a loud dripping sound echoed in the quiet galleries of Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center for Feminist Art. The source was Turkish artist Canan Senol’s Fountain (2000), a video where two engorged breasts swell at the nipple then dripping in syncopation. Rhythmically, the breasts move up and down filling the picture frame as the color flickers. Through a close visual analysis, my research positions this video in dialogue with Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) as an inversion of his infamous urinal, a gesture that codes the maternal breast as phallic and Duchamp’s Fountain, in comparison, as a feminine form. Further, my paper explores how Senol uses such an iconic reference to challenge masculine conventions that exist in the larger art historical discourse. Such framing, in contrast to theories that code the maternal body as abject and excessive, Senol’s Fountain frames such maternal excessiveness as endowed with power. Lastly, I explore the leaking maternal breast of Fountain, as a speaking one. I position the significance of the sound of dripping milk in relationship to Julia Kristeva’s linguistic theories as published in “Revolution in Poetic Language” and ultimately suggest that Senol’s Fountain seems to answer Kristeva’s call for more complex exploration of the maternal experience.
BabyLove examines maternal sexuality, the abject areas and eros that lie between a mother and infant son, and the praxis of performing the maternal body. How does one practice sex in everyday life, and how does that change when the body becomes maternal? Is the sexualization of the naturalized maternal body part of the pharmacopornographic industrial economy, and if so, why is the sexualized mother still such a threat? Are we still trying to re-imagine the maternal body beyond being an agent of reproduction? Clifford will perform a very short excerpt of BabyLove and discuss online responses and threats. “People like this woman should not be having fucking kids, and her son needs to be taken away from her. The fucked up part is that there are people in the comments praisingher for her “braveness””(KidFree4Me)”Hilarious!” 4 STARS, Critic’s Pick (Time Out New York)“You are one breeder brained fucktard.” (Reader response)Starred Critic’s Pick (New York Magazine)”Seriously, has anyone arrested this heifer yet?” (Reader Response) “Hilarious and uncensored!” (Flavorwire)
The Presence of Their Absence explores the disparagement of childlessness and childless women by the maternal establishment, a reigning cultural norm in virtually every country and historical era. Non-maternity, whether chosen or imposed by circumstance, falls outside the biological ideal, usually to its disadvantage. Childless, or child-free, women throughout the world face a spectrum of cultural disdain that ranges from simple disrespect to explicit hostility.Non-maternity as a normative standard represents an idea as controversial today as when it was suggested by Shulamith Firestone in 1970’s The Dialectic of Sex. “Women will not be fully emancipated,” she wrote, “until they are free from the demands of biology.” Then, she tookemancipation’s tools to be concepts like artificial insemination and surrogacy, options that at the time were little better than science fiction. Today, these and other alternative maternities are widespread.Yet, rather than release women from maternity’s grip, they have added new pressures to women in pursuit of biological childbearing, often at great cost in terms of health and finances. The maternal body is less a threat it turns out reality than the non-maternal one is to popular notions about motherhood.
This paper addresses the avoidance of ‘mother’ in children’s animation. Even as their cinematic narratives employ increasingly multiple and diverse families, even as female roles are more complexly drawn, even when more films pass the Bechdel Test, much of the action only begins with the negation of the mother: her evil, her death, her tyranny: old women supplanted by young; moms dying at the outset; girl-power suppressed by a mother’s politesse: the protagonist’s growth only exists in that hole where the mother isn’t. Of anti-maternal films, we ask how they might deconstruct themselves: When children’s film recoups hetero-normativity at the expense of the mother, we beg the question: What is the norm in hetero-normativity? The absenting of the woman in the narrative heart of conventional hetero-normative storyline suggests a homosocial or at least onanistic culture. Indeed a viewer may spend ninety minutes in a wild and weird ride through polyglot cultures full of cross-genderings, adoptions, interspecies blends, and electronic fairylands that are only resolved, in the very last moments of the narrative, into the Happily-Ever-After conventions of heterosexual normativity. This paper considers possible counter identifications during the narrative arc and the transferal of maternal value.What of recent cinematic contributions to the child’s diet, such as Brave and Frozen, that seem overtly to redress these concerns? Are animated mothers and daughters getting on better these days? What about the mothers of sons? Wherein lies the mother’s return? How are these animated films received by critics? Lastly, this paper considers how ‘mother’ has changed in the meta-arc of children’s movies: her biology, her identity, her humanity: Maybe she’s not so scary afterall.
Panel: Mothers / Artists / Children
What are the implications when an artist brings her children into her work? Where is the line between collaboration and exploitation? When can children give consent, or even be considered artists in their own right? This panel addresses twentieth-century and contemporary incarnations of the often-controversial mother / artist / child triangle.
Lynn Somers-Davis – When the Artist is a Mother: The Risks and Rewards of “Family Pictures”
The embodiment of a mother’s desire, in its most visceral physical, psychological, and emotional states, shapes the photographic oeuvre of Sally Mann. This paper looks at the ways in which maternal desire, ambition, and intellectual acuity are involved in work that turns traditional narratives of the “feminine” on their head. Mann uses the material of her of life to create and explore powerful new myths of motherhood while also questioning our received notions of childhood innocence. Mann’s beguiling photographs of her children—typically nude, often verging on the erotic—climax in a vision of the of sublime that has at the same time left her open to accusations of questionable morality and even child abuse. Made with a large format camera, these pristine images emerge from a depth of liquid blackness, resulting in surfaces redolent with sumptuous pictorial effects that recall the Late Victorian Romanticism of Julia Margaret Cameron and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). Unlike her predecessors, however, Mann’s images have also been described as brutal in their refusal to romanticize common childhood moments—cuts and scrapes, wet beds, bloody noses, and fluidly erotic nudity and play. In addition, she unabashedly aestheticizes her “family pictures.” As a result, much of the criticism directed at Mann revolves around ethical debates of what a “good mother” would do in these situations: clean up the wound or get the camera and frame the shot.Through examining the work of Mann and that of Louise Bourgeois, I pose the following questions: Can we identify anything specific to the “mother-artist’s” vision? Can we see patterns in the role that desire, ambivalence, and even empathy (or lack thereof) play in such work? The paper seeks to create a critical framework through which to address these questions.
Jill Miller’s recent series (Homeschooled) examines the constraints and opportunities that motherhood creates for visual artists. By collaborating with her two young sons, her body of work explores their relationships through use of video, photography, drawing and sculpture. In order to authentically create these works, Miller undertook a six month study of her own “homeschooling” with her older son. Using their domestic quarters as a backdrop, she creates an ongoing body of work that examines family constructs, the maternal-child relationship, and the ways that parenthood may be considered a locus for creativity rather than a distraction or an obstacle in the making process.
My work with my son Ajax, aka Baby X, began with his live gallery birth in my durational performance/exhibition The Birth of Baby X at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, on October 25, 2011, and now continues through a project called Raising Baby X, in which I am re-contextualizing the everyday act of raising a child as performance art from the perspectives of both mother and child.For The Birth of Baby X, the entire gallery was installed to create my ideal homebirth center, and the show, culminating in the birth, entailed the weeks spent in the space preparing physically and mentally for labor, and the days after, nursing and caring for the baby. The follow up to this piece, Raising Baby X, has evolved to focus on Raising Baby X: Little Brother, an ongoing video collaboration between myself and my son, where I outfit Ajax with a small wearable video camera capturing the intricacies of his infancy and toddlerhood from his own perspective, flipping the traditional viewpoint of early childhood documentation. Many have accused me of exploiting my child by making his birth and life into my art. My response has been that the gallery is my temple, and art is my spiritual practice and that therefore, in giving birth to Ajax in an art gallery, and raising him as a work of art, I am honoring his life in a deeply spiritual manner. It is my premise that life – in this instance both mine and Ajax’s lives – is itself is the work of art, and that therefore how I give birth and raise my child are part of an ongoing artistic process.
The title of this paper Children are a People infers the (progressive) perspective that children are not only fully-fledged human beings but also members of a group with its own cultural significance, and that collaboration with them would therefore imply navigating a shared (psychological) space with diplomacy and curiosity.In it, I will examine some of the cultural anxiety about the intersection of childhood, motherhood, and art making, but also how this contested territory–the intersection of family life and artistic practice–can be fertile ground on which a bilateral knowledge transfer, based on trust between adults and children, can serve as starting points for new artistic strategies. The issue of “exploitation” in relation to children as collaborative art producers can only arise because we, collectively, are not taking children seriously as cultural agents, and as (critical) producers and consumers of cultural capital and artistic projects, alongside adults.Even to many of those who are open to the benefits of art education for kids, the idea of kids as topics or as participants in the “real” art world remains an uneasy notion, as it is assumed that they don’t “get it” and henceforth can have no real investment in it.I order to challenge this assumption I will relate my own experience from collaborating with my kid(s) as artistic producers, performers and consumers, mainly from my collaboration with my (then) 4-year old son, Adam, but also draw from my own childhood (art) experience.
Through sculpture, performance, and video, my work strives to make visible the quiet, understated, and often unseen love and labor of motherhood. The work transcends the local binary of public/ private and extends into the repositioning of the ongoing, non-narrative, excessive dialogic flow that occurs within the domestic space. I hope to offer a space that examines language and maternity through a feminist lens thereby opening a dialog between what is seen and not seen. My work, both curated and performed, seeks to address the intimacy and helplessness a mother shares with her child. The shared space of a hug differs when the body becomes a record of measure by which the child can see her own growth. In the sculpture, Cut From the Same, clothing offers a gauge that can visibly describe this difference and similarity. My choice in materiality is based on the constant state of construction that a relationship is in. I am not interested in creating a slick veneer to hide what is underneath. The materials are the work. Both what is present and absent. The absence references the ever growing distance as a child, no longer in the womb, grows older, more independent, and with a greater autonomy. Nothing is hidden or forged. By repositioning the empathic maternal from the private, unseen space of the domestic to the public, display mode of the gallery, a subversive visibility of maternity is not offered to the public, but made public.The saying “cut from the same cloth” has resonance with the work as pieces are cut out of the materials, vis-à-vis, the mother and the child. The language forming, appearing, being cut out, etc. in the performance, How Do You Get Through Words, originates in the inner dialog I have questioning my availability and decision-making processes with raising a daughter. Part diary, part letter, phrases intimate guilt and uncertainty as readers, both specific and general, absorb and relate to the work. Language acts as a symbol to represent the relationship between a (m)other and a child. The reciprocity of reading positions us as one who responds and one who responds to; analogous to that of mother to child. Like a seesaw, there is a reciprocal relationship to response.
Panel: Revisiting M/E/A/N/I/N/G #12 (Round Table Discussion)
Three decades after the advent of women’s lib, high-achieving women like Anne-Marie Slaughter –former director of policy planning at the State Department and Princeton professor, now president and CEO of the New America Foundation – continue to explore“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”(The AtlanticJuly/August 2012), driving home the difficulties of balancing motherhood with a demanding career. Working mothers in the creative community face unique challenges. How do we answer a creative calling while satisfying the daily demands of raising children? Most people understand why women with prestigious, high-paying jobs feel the need to juggle parenting and a professional life, but artists generally receive little compensation for their work, making dedication to an art practice seem selfish and unnecessary to the outside world. Our choices often conflict with societal norms and traditional values. My daughter is fourteen-years-old, and, to be completely honest, parenting, conditioned by a difficult divorce, has been a heart-wrenching experience. Divorce can lead to ongoing custody disputes, parental alienation, and other traumatic parenting experiences that are sometimes exacerbated by our non-traditional life choices.
In reading over the M/E/A/N/I/N/G issue that inspired this panel I’m struck by this past set of conversations’ similarity to today’s; the gratitude and pleasure at having a child, a family, a life, and then, the unrelenting pressure of lower working wages and our art’s valuation in tandem with the shortened working days due to a constant juggling of limited time and energy for money- andart-making, schmoozing, laundry, love, and personal hygiene. A late baby-boomer, I aligned myself with the feminist movement, Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinem my heroines. Heartened by the glitteriness of Cosmo and Camille Paglia, even if “having it all” was not necessarily something I ever really believed was possible, I did intend to live a life I made. That is, I become financially independent, installed myself within the so called enlightened environs of academia, and identified as an artist whose marginality, I thought, necessitated wants and needs that if not in direct opposition to, at least afforded alternatives to the mainstream. Success; on some levels, but a much higher price than I expected. There are many days I feel dismayed by how little has changed both in my immediate circumstances and on the global level. I try to take sustenance and breath hopefulness in the day to day tasks and pleasures that I can effect in the dearth of ground-shaking change, at least an ever so slight shifting of the field.
Many of the submissions from the 1992 issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G begin with apologies for being late, being hopelessly behind, being too busy with kids, being too tired to think after the kids go to bed, being unable to actually spend enough time on the project of answering the questions. The occasion of turning in my own paragraph three days late, after my child has gone to bed (with apologies… and the admission that I was not yet able to spend as much as I had hoped reviewing the magazine) seems like it perhaps can inspire a space for reflecting more broadly on the notion of the maternal apology. In fact, the apology is a fitting place to start: at least one thing hasn’t changed at all since 1992! As mothers of young children we are always behind, always late, always doing a bad job, always not doing enough, and in a constant state of apology. Maybe this is a useful place to start in framing my own response, in 2014, to reading these writings by mother artists struggling with similar questions in 1992. One thing that strikes me across many of the responses in the magazine is how many of the narratives are narratives of isolation, narratives of being alone with these difficult problems – there are stories of hiding pregnancies, of being afraid to take babies to art openings, of worrying about the toll maternity inevitably takes on careers, even stories of hoping no one in the art world finds out that there are children. Most of these women recognize these circumstances as unfair and sexist, but few of them propose structural, political, or collective solutions. I certainly have experienced some of these unfair and sexist circumstances, and I don’t pretend to have answers, but my provocation to artist-mothers is that we can do better in our conversations about these questions (the day of panels at CAA is exactly the kind of conversation that should be happening all the time). My maybe utopian hope is that, as artist mothers, we can make work that takes on some of these questions directly; and that if no one wants to show that kind of work in the art world we can make our own spaces and networks where serious work engaging with maternal experience can circulate. Thinking of work explicitly in terms of its political gesture, in terms of solidarity with others, in terms of collective conversation might be the first step towards addressing these problems of work-life balance, of childcare, of income as the systemic political and economic questions that they actually are. These aren’t the problems of individual artists, or even of individual women, they are everyone’s problem.
When M/E/A/N/I/N/G #12 was published in 1992, I had a long list of why I was not EVER going to be a mom. A couple of years later, a female art critic, a writer who had written about my work and liked me quite a bit, was shocked to learn that I was pregnant.Her reaction to my news could be described as a mixture of horror, despair and indignation. She said quite boldly, “You might as well throw away your career.” My presentation will briefly reflect on the events and factors that caused me to change my mind about parenting, the stereotypes about women artists that I continue to unearth, deconstruct and confront and how attitudes advocated by liberal, feminist artists require some re-evaluation.I will put forth a more radical way of understanding notions of success and suggest how models of nourishing creative communities have shifted in the past few decades.
I suspect that since the original publications of the M/E/A/N/I/N/G #12 Forum: on Motherhood, Art, and Apple Pie, the landscape has changed significantly as the art discourse has broadened to accommodate, even value, the perspectives of all kinds of artists, including women and mothers.Meanwhile, artist mothers seem to face pressures and discrimination beyond the concerns of our childless and/or male colleagues (from workable childcare to appropriate exhibition opportunities and worthwhile critical response to our work, etc) Is it possible that this discrimination is an expression of the internalization of a struggle since resolved, or are the pressures and dismissals we feel in our dual roles are still, in fact, real and perilous? This question is raised repeatedly in the forum, and I am curious to address whether in the intervening years anything has changed. Is it the prerogative of the contemporary mother artist to acknowledge and transcend the legacy of strife that has brought us to now? Would our lives and our work be different if we could disabuse ourselves of an out-of-date expectation of professional dismissal or the dismissal of gendered or domestic content in our work? Can we name a quorum of mother artists who have done so?