Artist / Mum
Contents Forward by Martina Mullaney
Introduction 7 Artist / Mum Interview Extracts: Catherine Bertola 10 Debora Bower 16 Rachael Clewlow 22 Lindsay Duncanson 28 Taryn Edmonds 34 Laura Harrington 40 Alexandra Hughes 46 Kate Liston 52 Kate Sweeney 58 ‘Making a basket, making a cradle’ 67 Text by Fiona Larkin
Forward Martina Mullaney November 2020 Fucking paid work. Unpaid work. All fucking work. Who gives a shit. Christ on a bike. Child on the back. Cheapest form of transport. Efficient. Dangerous. Avoid battles with rammed buses. Get to work on time. Get to childcare – on time. Risk being told off, again. Infantilised. Again. Who’s the fucking child here. Usually she is disappointed. Didn’t want to talk of being cut. Fucking Galway Butcher. Thought it would fester. It has. Thinking I would break. Again. Didn’t want to. Didn’t want any of it. To be about my fucking body. No longer hot. Not dead. Yet. Can’t do it. Hurts to be alive and obsolete. Must wait. What the fuck is that about. Must not show desire. Still. Love Dick. Fear. Single. Sexless. Not frustrated. Maybe. Not happy. Not anything. Not dead yet. Forty-eight. She was forty-three. She had more kids. Afraid to use her name. Moss deleted. Mullaney. Raging. Gives no fucks. Why. No longer fuckable. Death. In the present. Fucking bio clocks. Invisibilised. Again. Shoot the fuckers who keep us out. Dismember the bastards who did this. Fuckers making us feel like shit. Institutions that expel us. Supposed to love us. Nurture us. Institutions that needed us. Until they wrote us off. Disappear if not strategic. Schmooooooze. Get out. Be fucking seen. Lick arse till it hurts. With a fucking smile on your face. Rock up. Committed. At bedtime. Sucking up is your debasement now. For Cunt’s Sake. (Cixous). For what. This paradigm shift required is too paradigm. Radical didn’t get much traction. Shulie saw it coming. Visual seduction worked for a while. So fucking beautiful. Can’t fucking see. Turn. In. So fucking clever they can’t fucking think. Don’t mention the word. Till you make it sexy. How to do that is another fucking story. Mother the fuck out of this. Art. And watch it bomb.
Introduction Rosie Morris I became a Mum in June 2019, the most incredible and life changing experience I could have ever imagined, and the hardest. It’s been a rollercoaster of conflicting emotions: the intensity of unreserved love and joy, crises of identity as a woman, feminist and artist, complete exhaustion and depression. In June 2020 the Star and Shadow Cinema did a call out to volunteers for micro projects during the lockdown, following a successful Arts Council England Grant. At the time, I’d been spinning into a low patch, exacerbated by lack of sleep and experiences of discrimination and judgment. More broadly, I’d been sensing for some time a real lack of understanding and empathy on this journey. I decided I needed to get back some “me time”, and went running for the first time in a long time. Listening to the ‘Sculpting Lives’1 podcasts, I realised some of the issues I was facing had been taken on in many forms by many Mums, specifically Artist Mums. These podcasts made me think it would be good to have a space to share these stories, to challenge what I perceive to be a lack of understanding into a positive outcome: by listening to the individual experiences of mothers who are artists and sharing their challenges and joys. I decided to apply to interview 8-10 artists throughout July-September 2020, and to share their stories as soundbites on Instagram and as a published book, online and in print. The idea was to include the artist’s work and talk about their practice in an effort to illuminate the voices of those who may feel a sense of invisibility and disconnection from artist networks and exhibitive platforms. 1 https://www.paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk/about/sculpting-lives
The 9 artists included are based in Newcastle, and represent women whose perspective and practice I wanted to include. Some have one child, some have more, some have young babies, some have older children (the ages given are correct at the time of our conversations). Noteably all currently have partners. A much larger project would be needed to gain a broader and more representative survey of artists who are mothers practicing in the UK. These interviews reflect curated extracts of longer conversations. I learnt from the process that transcribed personal conversations could cause unexpected discomfort: like looking back at ourselves in the mirror and seeing our vulnerabilities laid out. Each of us has a different relationship with vulnerability, and is in a different place with how we are processing our feelings and sense of self, as an artist and mother. Daring to be vulnerable can help us create real connection, but it requires trust, which I hope you can appreciate is difficult to have with an unknown reader. One thing I know from this journey into motherhood is that comparisons are not helpful and breed anxiety. I would like to impress upon the reader not to make comparisons. I hope instead that these insights offer new perspectives, solidarity, inspiration, or, if nothing else, appreciation of the background noise we all deal with, so that we go more gently. Bringing Fiona Larkin in to the project has been a fantastic way to feel for synergies and commonalities. As a parallel piece of writing, her text affords the artists a screen of sorts, onto which these experiences are projected more holistically. I’m grateful to Fiona for her insight and deft way of getting amongst these stories and interpreting a sense of things, as someone slightly distanced, but, as another artist and Mum of three children, very much involved. I am also excited to include Martina Mullaney’s Forward as a long-time advocate of these issues. As artist and instigator of ‘Enemies of Good Art’2, her research looks at the Missing Moth 2 http://www.enemiesofgoodart.org/
er from the canon of art history and feminist art. Her text goes some way to injecting back the rawness of those initial interviews. I was hugely naive as to how full-on this process was to be in terms of practical and mental load. I owe a huge thank you to Alyson Kirkham for stepping in to help in the latter stages of the project, her skills in transcribing and speed typing were invaluable, also to my partner Sam, close friends and to the artists, for their time, feedback and suggestions to how Artist/Mum should take shape. We all acknowledge the roles of our partners, many of which are also artists, and recognise how lucky we are to call ourselves Mums. From small beginnings this project has grown and evolved. I still feel very new at this and feel like I’m in a constant state of learning. My practice and identity is shifting and I’m re-appreciating what is coming into view. I’m hugely grateful to each and every Artist/Mum for entrusting me and sharing an insight into their lives. Their perspectives have inspired me, and I think the wisdom and tenacity they show is incredible. Leo, my beautiful astounding boy, I love you more than you’ll ever know.
DeborahBertola Bower Catherine
In Conversation with Catherine Bertola (extracts) A Monumental life change I specifically remember when Seth was a baby. There was this recognition: thinking that my life will never be the same again. Sort of grieving that I won’t be able to do what I did before. Maybe everyone has that sense that their life has changed radically and will never be the same again. Redefining who you are. Who am I now? What can I do? School You think that school is this amazing magic wand, but it’s just a different set of parameters that you have to work within. It’s about behaviour really, I’ve developed a way of operating, snatching time, organising and juggling parental responsibilities, that has become part of my way of being, it’s hard to undo. On lockdown… This period of time has felt like I was regressing to when they were really little. When all you are doing is looking after children, snatching time to do things. It can be all consuming, looking after a child or children. If felt like going backwards. Women have been affected far more during lockdown. The statistics about academic research: women’s outputs have dropped significantly and men’s’ have gone up. It’s like the return of the 1950s housewife. Invisible labour & invisible voices To go anywhere I had the underlying logistics of childcare… it was like a job, on top of a job. But it was completely unseen and unpaid. My work is about invisible voices, and I feel I am becoming invisible now… women do become invisible as they get older, I’m starting to feel that. My work is so temporary, what am I leaving
Image: Catherine Bertola In the between space (film still) 2020 Single channel 2K film & audio Duration: 6min 20secs
behind? My work is feminist, but quietly so. I think it needs to be much louder. I feel as If I have been discriminated against, which makes me really sad. Openings are at the worst possible times. My time has become so precious it has to be focussed on making work and a living. Discrimination… I didn’t really mention that I had a child… I feared they would have questioned my ability. It was seen as a problem because I might not be reliable. A curator said when I was pregnant “see you in 5 years”! …. This idea that you become dismissed overnight. It’s so pervasive that attitude, but in a way it is kind of true. I couldn’t possibly have continued to work as much as I worked before having children. I feel that you are fighting that, not just the struggle actually to make work and make a living. But you are fighting that attitude as well. Challenges of working I used to work really labour intensively. When you are snatching time, you can’t get that focus and it would be really depressing, and a real mark of how unproductive and slow you have become. When what you could do in six weeks now takes six months. What’s needed? There needs to be a cultural shift and understanding that issues with childcare exist and that does not mean you are not committed or ambitious. There needs to be more empathy with the realities of making work and bringing up children. It would be great to give some focus to women who have been overlooked, to give them confidence. It’s about ageing again as well, the invisibility of women over 50.
Catherine Bertola makes site specific installations, drawings and films that address the invisible histories of women, whose roles and contributions to society are overlooked and undervalued. Her work gives voice to untold narratives, excavating the past to confront contemporary inequalities that women continue to face. She has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally. Catherine & Matt Stokes are parents to Arlo, 6 & Seth, 8
In Conversation with Deborah Bower (extracts) Impact of having three kids I thought naively that it would be no more work than having two, but it is much more extreme, more challenging and it is all consuming… It prolongs the time you spend in this weird space, really having to care for a small child. I don’t know if it takes up more of your time or whether you divide your time and they have less time each. It becomes even more insular as you don’t go out as much… The PMF [People Move Forwards – friends/life/art/crit group], is really essential… Having an external person from your every day to have a word with you can be good. Prior expectations I was so naive... I genuinely say it was a hormonal thing… I was under hormone attack. I didn’t visualise it beyond having a little baby, that’s how chemical it was. When we just had Oscar, we had a moses basket in the projection booth, and we used to do some residencies with him. We did one at Christiania when he was about 9 months old. It involved our friend Haz being a massively understanding part of the team. Then we went to Rotterdam… I called some childcare organisations and they said, “You know you have to settle someone in?” I thought I could just take him for a day! At first I thought: I have 3 boys they have to be really good feminists. My ambitions are slipping, now I’m happy if they will be quite good feminists, not violent, alive! I have this sense that it is never going to get easier. When Louis starts school, Oscar will be starting secondary school… That’s another mindfield! … it’s thinking about things even if they are not there.
Image: Catherine Bertola In the between space (film still) 2020 Single channel 2K film & audio Duration: 6min 20secs
Experience of being an Artist/Mum If I make a film and the kids like it then that’s really fun... I have been doing this project Mimazina with Foundation Press and Oscar has been doing a cartoon in it. Sort of child labour but I do pay him £2! I don’t focus on motherhood in the same way I think some other people do. I feel subsumed by work. I obviously love my kids. I don’t get the guilt thing … I didn’t have this idealised view of me as a mother. I do sometimes think why did I have kids… I don’t feel smug for being a parent, I feel it is a mad storm I am weathering now. I hated going to baby groups and making friends just because they are parents. I hate that, having to meet other people who only want to talk about babies… The comparisons… I think, how will I feel looking back at this time. Not, “I am a shit mum?”, because I don’t engage with that. I don’t want to massively over parent. But when I look back, will I feel I really enjoyed any part of it? Working to a brief I rarely make anything that is not a paid job at the moment. I think it is lucky to be at this point but it is a hard slog… the downside is if you don’t like it, it is still going to be used…! An emotional investment The thing you want to focus on isn’t necessarily the thing that makes money. I have this ideal that art is useful and does something good...I have this constantly feeling if it’s the right thing to do... I do take pleasure in the making process, but I have a lot of anxiety about how it’s going to turn out, it zapps the joy out.
I worry about the time spent worrying about art. Am I going to care about this film in 10 years time? If I could find a way to mentally be less lost in itâ€Ś When I was a kid, in year 4 or 5, I had a teacher who brought in eyeballs from the butcher for us to draw. And it was the drawing! There was a knock-off of a Monet that someone had done and I really loved it. Maybe it is more difficult to know what will have an impact on other people as we get older.
Deborah Bower is an artist and designer working within print and film-making. Her work connects to self-organised groups and collaborative ways of working, through her background co-founding the Star and Shadow Cinema, and also as a member of the photochemical film collective, Film Bee. She also works as part of Foundation Press, a publishing and risograph print project. Deborah is Mum to Oscar 9, Arlo 6 & Louis 2 with Mat Fleming
Deborah Bower Rachael Clewlow
In conversation with Rachael Clewlow (extracts) On your expectations of making work before having a baby and the reality? I don’t want to sound as though I was naive, but I had a positive view from the outset of how it could go. Even in the first few months I was thinking about and making work, I think the more sleep deprived you are the harder and harder it gets. The gradual build up of - this is really hard. I think that tight tie, the bond of breastfeeding - it’s a love hate relationship! It’s amazing to be able to be able to provide for your child but it’s an awful lot of pressure. The landscape changes and evolves because gradually the baby sleeps and naps less, and, particularly if you’ve got a very energetic baby, you have more demands on your time. The goal posts just move, quite slowly but also very quickly at the same time. I think that’s the thing that you just don’t have: the headspace to think about work. Because as much as you might think, ‘I’ve got 2 hours child-free, I’ve got to do some work’, it’s not that simple. On making work in the early days… I discovered that Google was tracking my journeys - which I didn’t know! I thought about deleting it, but I thought I should use it to my advantage. So I started using the maps to make drawings from. It was a nice way of reassessing my maternity leave and what I’d done and where I’d been. I still haven’t got into a position where I feel comfortable spending a couple of months making 2 paintings or going on walks for a week and then coming home every night really tired. I think the guilt of being self-indulged would be too much. It’s the first thing to go because the other things all seem functional. They all have an end product that has a gain of some
Image credit: Colin Davidson Rachael Clewlow Notebook January 2013
sort - either household chores which have that immediate “done that”, or: feed the baby, change the baby, clothe the baby. There’s a series of things that have to be done, and your work is probably last on that list which is - heartbreaking. On how making work has changed… [Working with Northern Print to make a new digital print] - It was quite a leap. Although I had made work since Arthur, this was quite a challenge because I wanted to make work the way I had done previously… but I couldn’t really do the long walks. So I decided to do them via car and take photographs and document the landscape as I went. Every minute I took a photograph and I used the colours from those photographs to put into digital prints… It’s been really nice learning a whole new skill and making something quite different. Although it’s still definitely my work, the process is 100% different. It’s really nice to know I can produce something in weeks as opposed to labouring over it for months. Because of time pressures my practice has definitely shifted. I’ve been making work that’s simpler. It’s got the same level of thought. I’m putting less pressure on myself to produce one piece of work that’s going to stand on it’s own and represent everything. It’s more like, I want to make some work, it might not be good, but I want to do it. There are times when I feel like I’ve done absolutely nothing. There are times when I think I’m never going to make a painting again, how am I ever going to afford that time, that luxury to do that? I think knowing that you will do work again is really important.
Rachael Clewlow meticulously documents the ways in which she inhabits landscape: the routes she takes through it, the times and dates, and the methods by which, to paraphrase Warhol, she moves from A to B and back and again. Often walking for miles to discover a new place, an ever-growing mass of information builds to document a constantly shifting world. She creates her own systems of ‘translation’ by which the patterns of her own mobility become abstract patterns of form and colour. Rachael and Nick Kennedy are parents to 2 year old Arthur
Deborah Bower Lindsay Duncanson
In conversation with Lindsay Duncanson (extracts) Making artwork as a family We found a place to exist and be creative [at Nomadic Village in Bulgaria, 2019]... We found good kindred spirits, who brought their kids, and like-minds in different cities. Lukas was 6 and started to make his own work there… enjoying playing with materials and having a nice time. We made a project… knowing we could do it and also enjoy the space and all three of us being creative. When people were talking about their work, he would also stand up to say “I am Lukas and I am an artist”. That was kind of amazing, speaking in front of all these people! It became part of the life we had; it became what we do, facilitating a young person’s creative process and not trying to force your creative process on him… It’s helping him find his own voice and confidence in the world. We have just made a video together, with all three of us in it and we sat and edited it together for Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA)… It was supposed to be about making work in lockdown, but I didn’t make any work, so we made a work about not making work… It was tough to collaborate! Shifting focus Things change and focus shifts. I was lucky to be able to carry on making work [after having a baby], but I made a point of examining the work I was doing. Should I become a teacher and get a steady stable income, or do I believe in the practice that I am doing? I was doing a lot of weddings, and documenting for [the Newcastle-based Art organisation) D6… It was a weird point… If I’m going to be away from this boy, what is it I am doing? I got a bursary for doing the MA at Sunderland. It was brilliant because
Image: Lindsay Duncanson Winfirth (detail) from The Nuclear Family Project 2015
I got back an analytical head, thinking about things and reading. My [funded] MA was about domestic spaces and thinking about being at home and starting a new life. I had little cycles of time, like put the laundry on, and then I could read, and hang it up, and then sit under the laundry and read. Weird domestic tasks helping to regulate time. It gave me permission to read and think about being a parent. Going with the flow! Adapting and evolving life and work There is an element of luck and easy-going-ness… I think we are all quite practical. There were difficulties too, Maz was away on tour a lot… There was exhaustion but I had friends and family who helped out. I just took him everywhere relentlessly. I breastfed him till he was two. And I did it anywhere. I had more flexibility in my work environment, so I took him with me. I took him to openings until he was about 10, albeit protesting heavily! You don’t see so many people and do so many things though. I did a lot more drawing, it allowed more processes to open up because I couldn’t go out. There is a lot of being at home, and laundry – or not laundry! I have carried on with laundry in my practice now! I didn’t try to get my past life back. I just tried to find environments and people who work with you and work in the way you need to work. If I couldn’t get a babysitter, I took him to Star and Shadow meetings… I used to put kids’ films on and learnt to do that with a group of people. You have to be adaptable though, work dropped away with the financial crashes, we had to be adaptable to travel, and have the confidence to apply to make work that we could do together. Sometimes I was off on tour in Aberdeen and Maz picked up at home. The next stage Your practice evolves with how life evolves and you as a person. Lucas is now at college and will forge his own path. We will just
have to see what happens, how our practice will change and develop. It’s already sad thinking he will leave home! Accepting slowness and difference Everything is just a bit slower, I think that’s the trick, it’s slower and we have to accept that. Sometimes you have to rush though and it’s horrible! Having people that will hang out and baby sit was really good. They may have different ideas and parent in different ways, but it is not always a bad thing…You find out your child likes things you hadn’t thought of.
Lindsay Duncanson works in the fields of audio-visual arts, craft and body. Her work navigates human interaction with landscape through intervention and installations with large-scale photographic prints or intimate video works. She runs ‘Noizechoir’ and a live looping voice and electronics solo project ‘pinnel’. As a family, Lindsay, Maz and Lukas have developed a nomadic practice that responds to location, community and local culture, with a wry humour and dark-edged reflection on modern life. Lindsay and Maz are parents to Lukas, 16.
Deborah Bower Taryn Edmonds
In conversation with Taryn Edmonds (extracts) On pressure A lot of that pressure has come from myself! Because it feels like you go through this massive identity shift and a big part of you is struggling to come to terms with that. So you are looking to reconnect with a previous identity, you are trying to tell yourself that you havenâ€™t lost something from having a child. We attach so much value to our professional lives. It plays such a strong role is our identity. It is part of our culture to put a lot of emphasis on our careers and jobs to validate us and give us an identity, and to give us something to talk about as well. And, when you step out, step back from that, you really notice it. It is a very competitive industry. It does really spark off insecurities in people. The comparison game. All those frustrations existed before I had a child. You have even less time and the worry gets compressed into even less time, so they feel a bit more amplified. An evolving approach to practicing My practice before Isla was quite involved & time consuming, both in terms of making and researchâ€Ś I have started a bunch of things, done a lot of writing, I have done a lot of thinking, I have done a lot of researching, I have started some projects but not had time to do everything I need to do to realise them. I have been thinking if there is a way I can adjust my research interests so that there is a kind of timeless quality, so that I can take the time to make the work without feeling it is invalidated by the time I make it. Do you feel that the value placed on employment allows you to justify creative time, in a different way that you feel you can in your practice?
Image: Taryn Edmonds Hold the Line (film still) 2016 Two channel 2k film & audio Duration: 7min 15secs
Yes, I teach young people and can see their progression. Work is a place I’m needed and feel useful and so it’s really satisfying on that front, because there is a clear demand for the technical skills I have. In relation of my practice, there is not that sort of demand, it’s self-instigated, so you are creating and fulfilling that demand. That creates a space to question and unravel things, which becomes quite frustrating, and that was there before Isla. The present V the future If I really wanted to, I could find ways to prioritise my work… But I guess the reason I don’t do that is because I feel this is OK too, and it is a really short period in time in the grand scheme of things. I don’t want to miss her babyhood, her childhood. I don’t want to miss things with Isla, watching her grow and change. I move between two states - on the one hand I am really happy to invest this time in Isla and my life as a new mum, and then there are moments when I am thinking about things and wanting to realise something but just can’t quite reach it. Traditional roles V Aiming for equality I think the state or the system of work that we are all plugged into sets a bit of a pattern and that can be really hard to challenge and break. You internalise that stuff and you are constantly trying to work against it. The stuff around biology… that doesn’t mean there is no role for the partner… if Alex had to go back to work [after 2 weeks], I would have had a panic attack. It’s just not enough. Ways mothers could be given more support? A wider cultural shift needs to take place. It is kind of happening, I think people are starting to recognise more that level of unpaid labour that goes into being a parent whether you are a mum or a dad…but it could go further.
Taryn Edmondâ€™s work spans moving image, photography and sound, weaving a documentary approach with installation & live elements to explore the socio-political relationship connecting people and architecture. Often drawing upon archived material and personal testimonies, she is interested in overlapping narratives as framed by site. Taryn and Alex Charrington are parents to 22 month old Isla.
Deborah Bower Laura Harrington
In conversation with Laura Harrington (extracts) How have you changed? My perception of time has shifted. Yeah, its dynamic, intuitive and exists in the present, but it can feel pretty insane at times. I now say the words busy and late far too many times. My work looks for a more dynamic and intuitive approach but its hard to get a sense of it in relation to the dynamic nature of being a parent. Feels like an amazing but tiring treadmill most of the time. I had to learn to prioritise or I would burn out… you can wake up in the morning and one of them can be ill… So, you have to adapt in interesting and perhaps quite different ways to before to make it work. With children you can’t make up time. I need plenty of time contingency to feel like I have achieved and managed in both jobs. Comparing lockdown to maternity leave Maternity leave, was a wonderful and special time, but a weird space one can’t prepare you for… a process that I had to get amongst and see where it took me. It is an amazing time, but also such a weird thing they don’t prepare you for. You made plans and quickly they would change. I learnt not to plan too far ahead. You can’t make the assumption everyone’s dealing with things in the same way. Empathy and sensitivity are so important, more than ever right now. I think lockdown has felt somewhat accessible… On maternity leave and then with small children, going out attending previews when you’re meant to be cooking dinner and putting them to bed never quite gels. At times you felt pretty cut off. Being and artist and Mum My Leverhulme Artist Residency with Durham University was such a wonderful thing to do after having a child. It was amazing to go from maternity leave to something so focused, challenging
Image: Laura Harrington Geomorphism (palsa mire) 2016
and financially supportive. During the residency I was interested in a large section of eroded peat in the uploads of the North Pennines and spent a fair bit of time there, together with a physical scientist. One day I took Idris there, just before he could speak, to make the film (A child of its Time, 2014) about a child’s response to such a place. I was interested in the notion of scale and connectivity, but with Idris he prompted me to read the site in new ways. How I perceived the site shifted. Some kind of unlearning process took place, which has definitely influenced my artistic approach going forward. I was reading Jane Bennett’s ‘Vibrant Matter’ at the time, really enjoying thinking about a lively sense of nature and a way of looking at things in a more animated way. My work is interested in physical relationships with what is around us. Children reveal these connections wonderfully.
These are incredibly difficult and scary times. I do think that art can play an incredibly important part by shifting the atmosphere to give new, altered meaning to things. I know that I appreciate that more since becoming a parent. Being out there: Residencies, previews & PhD Once we were out of the first intense year with Idris, we were really keen to find ways of being able to travel, as a small family, and work at the same time. It was a really productive and memorable time of our lives. We’ve spent time in some really wonderful places, learning how to be a family but also pushing our work in new contexts. The residency culture overall is not the easiest for families. I looked to countries where families and children are inherent in their culture - Finland, Italy and Sweden for example are generally much more inclusive. You couldn’t move for buggies and children at previews in Finland. Through doing a funded part time PhD, I have felt very supported artistically and financially with both maternity and two children. I’d love to think I can still sustain being a mother and an artist when this finishes but I find it hard to believe that it can be a financially viable option. That saddens me. The PhD has enabled me to do something I was keen to think through much further and to continue with my practice alongside learning how to parent. It’s been a great mix. It will feel like a new project when I finish. Team work makes the dream work – or does it? I couldn’t do it without Peter. His part in enabling me to work is huge. Everyone is different, their personalities and how you function together with children revels itself in the doing - you are connected in so many new ways, your independence has really shifted. You fall in love with somebody and then one day you
are suddenly running a nursery together. It demands a different skills set and one you don’t necessarily feel that prepared for. It’s a strange transition that feels like something you understand more in hindsight. We are both artists, it’s not just one of our careers… together we decided to both take equal sacrifices in productivity and income. However, I do think we have been pretty creative in our ability to travel, work and have children. Time wise, it feels like survival most of the time… the kids naturally come first. However, your relationship definitely takes a hit that needs support and space to reflect at times. They say you can’t help your children if you’re not able to help yourself. I think to be honest keeping our relationship strong and intimate is the biggest battle for us, when both of you are sharing the parenting in equal ways.
Laura Harrington’s work explores landscape and artist relations to articulate an idea of upstream consciousness. She typically works with moving image, sound, drawing and installation, with a specific interest in the study of geomorphology and the field of physical geography. Laura and Peter Evans are parents to Ada, 3 & Idris, 7
DeborahHughes Bower Alexandra
Image: Alexandra Hughes, Sticky Together, 2019
In Conversation with Alexandra Hughes (extracts) Back to the studio It felt like I was entering a different kind of time zone… I’m a very different person stepping back into that studio than I was three months ago. Giving birth during a pandemic I am still processing it and it might be too soon to fully describe. Antenatal and postnatal care provisions have been in flux. I found myself in a changing system where new and restricted protocols were put in place to try to safeguard against covid, but which neglected to consider the potentially damaging impact these measures would have on the well-being and mental health of expectant and new mothers… Alva and I were in hospital for a few days after she was born, I was tested for Covid and Bert was unable to visit – it was hard. At least, the midwives I met were amazing and women-centered in their care. I feel there has been a loss of opportunities to truly open up about certain things, which happens when you’re in the same space as someone. Talking to others validates your feelings. It’s important to go through these thoughts… its great when you meet someone whose also doing that. We’re all going through this important transition. Apparently, post-natal depression has tripled… women just can’t be isolated in this time. They need to have support networks, physical contact, talk in person and share experiences. Though midwives have discovered newborns to be thriving, being more settled and gaining weight quicker. It’s to do with the level
of parental attention and less handling from other people. The lockdown has also been a time for my partner and I to bond with the baby and find our feet as new parents without too many external voices. On the personal importance of being creative I feel so bound to Alva… and I’m just trying to see how I could start to make space to keep being creative. I feel that very strongly. (Straight after the birth) I felt really very creative but with a new babe in arms, I was not really sure how I could! And then I found myself doing these really simple videos on my phone… So, now I’ve got to have some discipline. I’ve got to make myself turn up. Just play with some material… On ways your practice has changed? Perhaps speed? I would describe my process as very material-led and impulsive… But then that’s an accumulation of many visits to the studio and much reflection on things once they are done. So, speed is a hard one to judge. I’m just trying to draw that energy back to start to make ... But things have really slowed down. We’ve got an old Victorian clothes hanger above a window at home, and just yesterday I was hanging and shifting some new prints on fabric I had made, layering them across the racks with ink on paper, looking at them illuminated by the sunlight, but it was slow progress because Alva was crying and there were other things that needed to get done. So, things are emerging in such a slower way. But that’s an interesting new place for me to be. For the first time in a long time I’ve not felt that kind of pressure to keep the output up… I’m taking stock… I’m quite interested to see where this new stage takes me.
Alexandra Hughes constructs installations that bring together photography, sculptural materials and performative gesture. She describes her processes as â€˜wildingâ€™; material-led, tactile, visceral and disruptive. Alexandra is Mum to 4month old Alva with Bert Verso
Deborah Kate Bower Liston
In conversation with Kate Liston (extracts) Initial memories You know that expression of: it’s like your skin’s on backwards? Having a newborn you’re so hypersensitive to everything, it’s like you’ve been flailed & feel everything so keenly. There’s something about being so rawly exposed to the world. Like many people I had 4 days off between working and the baby arriving. So there was a shift from being really busy and talking all the time…, to this very solitary experience; lots of sitting and staring into space and breastfeeding. I had lots of really stonery type thoughts. Thinking really deeply about something, thinking that I really urgently needed to make a note about it, and then a week later being like; ‘what was that about? With breastfeeding I’m aware it’s not always a choice… But the thing I found hardest I was feeling like I was constantly doing it wrong.... You know; you’re sleep deprived, you’ve just been through this really extreme experience called birth, your whole life has just turned upside down, oh and now you’ve got to learn this really technical, hand-eye coordination skill! On being visible & socialising I am aware of the invisibility you can feel… I’ve barely been out past 7pm.. After an exhibition opening… I remember thinking: he’s normally in bed by now, why would we ever sacrifice our evening and make his bedtime worse?! A friend had invited me on a night out and another had said they’d thought they’d see me at an art event. It made me remember back to times when I, pre-baby, had said something like, “you can do it all, don’t let society tell you can’t come out!” I remember asking a friend, “can’t you just pump & dump?”
Image: Kate Liston Feel After the New See 2018 Hatton Gallery, Newcastle
Watching ‘This is America’… this anti-ERA movement, my brain just wanted to cancel that out. But obviously they are including the flaws of second-wave feminism…the lack of intersectionality…how complex it is ... A lot of the issues are still around now. On continuing a practice With my practice I can’t necessarily pick something up instantly, it can be context dependent… [In the studio] At the time I was thinking, is this even worth coming here? You know the effort of having my Dad coming all the way over and getting all Lowen’s food ready, it felt like a lot to have maybe 3 hours work in the studio. In the end I rearranged my desk and looked at the wall and had a little sit down and thought, actually this is really good. When else in my life have I got this? It felt like a real privilege. I would love to stop time, to go somewhere on my own to do a residency or something and to be on my own for a time, but for that to not be a loss for Lowen. I get the fear if it’s been a while... I really like having things in the pipeline, almost more than the real thing. It can be a real procrastination thing dining out on things that are in the future. Working in collaboration The Baltic 39 exhibition I’m currently working on with Tess Denman-Cleaver, it’s really amazing to have someone who gives you this accountability; someone to help give you momentum and to talk things through and externalize thoughts with. Positives from Covid Everyone has to think about making the online provision of a standard you are happy with as the output. Not these accessory things that happen online… It’s been nice to be thinking about it from an organiser’s point of view.
Kate Liston makes work in response to existing sites and situations, using the limitations of these locations and contexts to explore forms of world-making. She employs echo and repetition in writing and moving image to reveal how materials are handled and meanings processed. Her sculptures use a schematic visual language and spatial illusion to present as speculative forms. Projects often encompass sculpture, moving image, sound and writing into installations that act as hosting spaces for audiences to dwell in, that are sometimes activated by live events. She is currently collaborating with Tess Denman-Cleaver on Town Hall Meeting of the Air for Baltic 39, an exhibition and public programme exploring the poetics and architectures of civic gathering opening January 2021. Kate and Dan Wilde are parents to 16month old Lowen
Deborah Bower Kate Sweeney
Image: Kate Sweeney, Hairbrish, 2020
In Conversation with Kate Sweeney (extracts) An intervention I just knew that being a Mum was going to change everything. And I really wanted that. I wanted to be exhausted, because I never felt exhausted with my practice. It really is profound to me. I don’t feel like it’s just a thing that was going to happen because there were a lot of times when I thought it wouldn’t happen. And I really didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. But I knew I wasn’t just going to close that book and carry on. So, it’s an intervention that I’ve brought on and I really wanted. Articulating Difficulties… It’s very hard to it to accept that we have so many feelings about what we’re doing. It’s so primal and so kind of normal and every day… it’s the biggest creative joy, and fun life thing, and challenge, that I’ve ever done. I think that kind of imbalance just makes you very sensitive in the world. It’s not like an imbalance that has just happened and I’ve gone from one state to another. It’s not being able to always find your bearings. I don’t want it to feel like blame. It’s just it changes your brain function as you’re always thinking about someone else. Like I said, I really wanted that, but it is a challenge, and then there are the realities of that challenge. It puts an extra strain on time, but also on the relational aspects of work and life… it puts a strain on that sustained level of thinking and introspection.
Not about making space… It’s not for me about partitioning things off and finding space - the way I used to do it, because it started to feel like I was missing out and ignoring the truth of the world a little bit. I’m not one of those artists who wants to wake up and paint or make a video for 8 hours. I’ve done that but felt like I’ve been in a cage... As I’ve got older I’ve thought I can’t do this amount of introspection, I’ll actually go mad because I do it all the time. Something’s got to give. I believe that having a more general, holistic, life-practice is possible for me, and having other responsibilities will only deepen that. I wanted to find out whether that was true, and at the moment it’s harder than I thought it was. It’s just hard. It’s tied up in feminism as well: that pull between a feminist theory that it’s certain social circumstances that stops us fulfilling our personal or creative aims, or, accepting that these are the things we do and somehow society doesn’t value them in the same way as somebody who is very single minded and creates a life that doesn’t let other things in. Making work about these things… Women go through this major change where we become parents… all these new extreme emotions that include negative ones, there’s nowhere to put them. There’s nowhere in creative practice or critical theory… But there is the sense that to become too preoccupied with it is to sort of become not useful. …Not to take away from the normative… it’s an opportunity to live out some of these things [same-sex parents and adoption] that I think I’m missing in parlance, practice and in creative representations of motherhood of womanhood, and of family life. I’ve been making an animation that explores the idea of keeping
a boundary line and this part of my life private. I’ve been making tools like a brush made of L’s loose hair for the animation. In using these intimate and personal objects you step up close to that boundary line of privacy. When you are a practitioner, whatever the thing that you desire becomes also the thing that you spend most time thinking about. So there’s always a dichotomy. And it’s always a sort of low-level stress, but it’s also the thing that powers what you do, because you become very obsessed with it. There’s a sort of parasitical thing about being a practitioner really… you can’t drop things if they’re on your mind all the time. You just have to find a way to put them through the sieve. On every level it’s counterintuitive to have babies... It doesn’t add in a sense you can monetize… We owe it to ourselves to articulate why we would want to be parents, it would help, when you’re not sleeping or in despair. I think it gives a lot of parents a hell of a shock when they have a baby and it’s so hard, and there’s no support because the child doesn’t doesn’t fit with the general societies drive, so it becomes internalised. Maybe it’s to do with unlearning… Time, as a practitioner is something you have to un learn. Don’t ruin what is a gorgeous thing. I’m enjoying thinking about this little poem, don’t ruin it by making it a time-based nightmare.
Kate Sweeney is a visual artist. She often works collaboratively and her videos are collages of drawing, photography, moving image, writing and sound. Kate and her partner, Phyllis, have a little son who is nearly 2.
Making a basket, holding a cradle
A text for Rosie Morris and Artist/Mum Fiona Larkin
I am considering the possibility of weaving a basket, one that offers the potential to hold, to carry, and possibly care for a particular series of texts born out of conversations between Rosie Morris and nine other Artist/Mums. The basket might be plentiful, and will hopefully maintain a sense of the intimate quality of these discussions. As the conversations are often very personal each will be woven through with a focus on translating central ideas, looking for common threads or indeed highlighting divergent responses. The conversations reflect the range of experiences of being an Artist/Mum, trying to hold onto and support something in one hand, while a fundamental shift in your life circumstances requires you to change, to be nimble, to move and to adapt, with the other. The challenge of maintaining this ambidextrous role is carefully born out in these exchanges. The conversations raise critical and thorny questions, more pressing today against the pandemic backdrop, of how a creative maternal life is to be lived.
For some of the artists in this exchange the experience of becoming a mother has meant a very profound change to their practice, and for all it seems to bring about a new awareness of the inflexible nature of the art world. There are a few key considerations that these intimate conversations highlight; they speak of a need not only for larger societal shifts but also, crucially, for particular structural changes in the art world. This argument is compelling when some of the conversations considered the working lives of artist-partners in contrast to their own. However, it is encouraging to see reflected in these conversations, clear societal changes with these Artist/Mums and partners developing, in tandem, a delicate balance of work and care. A problem of being visible/invisible I am thinking of Moyra Daveyâ€™s son, bouncing on the bed as she reads dolefully to the camera, undeterred by his boisterous energy1. In this image the possibility of making and mothering are perfectly woven, her motherhood is not the subject of this artwork, but it is a fact that she casually makes visible to her audience. Kate Sweeney explores how, much of our difficulty with being an Artist/Mum, is tied to an internalized idea of what it means to be productive and visible when so much of our mothering is private and invisible. We are familiar with the feminist discourse that seeks to reclaim women artists who have been erased from our histories, however, there is a sense that this kind of erasure is still at work, editing out the Artist/Mums. Many of the discussions point to the absurdity of a working culture that requires us to be visible and available to socialize at openings at 6pm, to be seen to be active, when young children need to be fed and sleeping. The panoptics of the art world donâ€™t look kindly on us for taking time away from these gatherings. Some of the conversations are critical of a culture where becoming a mother is seen as a form of withdrawal. Clearly there is something very wrong with a culture that problematizes motherhood to this extent. 1
Fifty minutes, 2006, video with sound by Moyra Davey
Evidently there are hurdles to overcome, however, artists are innovators and many of these Artist/Mums discuss how they have adapted and transformed their working practices to embrace change. Making time Each of the discussions tries to tackle the thorny problem of time; the lack of, the speed of, the wanting-to-slow-it-down of. Often for artists, this is bound up with the problem of production. The conversations consider the absence of support for the ‘unproductive’ aspects of creative endeavor, the time it takes to build and cultivate projects when childcare costs make this loose time in the studio prohibitive. Some of the artists note how as a parent you lose that reflective time. Artists with young children or babies talk about studio time as being elusive or, where it is possible, tiredness or lack of focus tend to make that time feel pressured. Time is considered as something fugitive and ‘snatched’ by Catherine Bertola, who along with Taryn Edmonds and others address the contrast between time spent on commissioned and or paid work compared to other aspects of practice. These Artist/Mums imagine and explore situations that allow for the kind of balance of time and attention necessary to make artwork, and sometimes find ways to achieve this. Laura Harrington considers her time managing two children and a busy art practice as being ‘dynamic’ and ‘shifting’ but also a ‘treadmill’. There is a sense from many of the artists that, having children produced a new dexterity in their practice, developing the ability to adapt to the shifting time constraints. Rachel Clewlow discusses how she adapted her slow process based practice by engaging with technology to fit in with the needs of her young baby. There is also a need to protect some time, for freelancers, maternity leave is about finding a subtle balance. For many of the mums with young babies there is a feeling that the pull of the studio rubs up against the ‘not wanting to miss out’ on the fine details of babyhood. Time is a luxury.
Ideas of space making I was struck recently by seeing an image of Barbara Hepworth smiling as she holds her toddler, while her triplets sit upright in large generous prams and their father, Ben Nicholson, looks on2. Triplets… yet somehow she remained prolific. I had to explore what magic method allowed her the space to make so much and mother so many. Amongst other things, she is said at one time, to have configured her studio so that she could attend to both her children and to her work, embracing the interruptions. In Artist/Mum the conversations all discuss the need to make space, sometimes the struggle to make space for work. They describe the time spent at home with children or young babies as feeling variously precious and pressured. The spaces we inhabit with young children can feel like a retreat, or a ‘shrinking world’, or ‘a mad storm’. Kate Sweeney discusses a need for some ‘unlearning’ to take place, in order to allow the experience of becoming a mum to generate a deeper engagement with practice. This approach opens up opportunities to weave private life and public practice together. Many of the artists have achieved this careful combination and travelled with children in tow to exhibit work or attend residencies. Debbie Bower and Lindsay Duncanson offer interesting models of how to travel, live and make work as a family, stretching the domestic into the working world. It seems that involved partners and support from friends are key to making this approach possible. These experiences of residencies afforded opportunities, not just for practice, but also for ‘learning how to be a family’. It seems that family friendly residencies, spaces or studios, are critical to sustaining practice and need to be woven into the fabric of a better, more inclusive art world system. Changing shapes For many of the Artist/Mums there is a problem with the inherited feminist message, ‘we can do it all’ when clearly we can’t, however admitting that feels like a reproach. At the very least, 2 www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/apr/19/letters-reveal-postnatal-crisis-of-barbara-hepworth
we can’t without fundamentally changing the shape of things, both the shape of our practice and the system that supports it. Shape shifting is a difficult act particularly where the idea of losing aspects of our public artistic identity, feel folded into becoming a mum. For many artists adapting the shape of their working practice has offered solace. Kate Liston discusses her current collaborative work, exploring how working with another artist delivers a particular energy or momentum and also offers ‘accountability’ in her practice. Alexandra Hughes maintained a sense of connection with her practice by innovating, and using what she had to hand, even while cradling a baby in her arms. The discussions in Artist/Mum draw attention to a need for a more empathic art world culture, one that has a flexible approach to how and when we engage with it, and one that supports longevity in art practice. The difficulties faced trying to balance a precarious career path and becoming a mum are often hidden. We don’t want to be seen to be struggling to make it work, the juggle should be seamless… and if we have these conversations, we want to have them in private, where in fact perhaps they need to be amplified to create the changes we need to see.
Fiona Larkin is an Irish artist living and working in Newcastle. She works mainly in photography and moving image, which stems from a practice of performance to camera work. She is concerned with ideas of perspective shift, of long looking, and the possibility for alongsideness as a productive and creative structure. She recently completed a PhD at Northumbria University.
Edited by Rosie Morris in collaboration with the artists. All images courtesy of the artist, unless stated. Designed by Rosie Morris ÂŠ 2020 Rosie Morris, Catherine Bertola, Deborah Bower, Rachael Clewlow, Lindsay Duncanson, Taryn Edmonds, Laura Harrington, Alexandra Hughes, Kate Liston, Kate Sweeney, Fiona Larkin and Martina Mullaney Artist/Mum is a Micro-Project Commissioned by Star and Shadow Cinema and funded by Arts Council England.