CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH WEEK 6
31st October 2019
In June 2019 I started my MA with Falmouth university as part of an accredited education programme.
This week I drove from Cornwall to London to go to an artist and curator talk of the new birth exhibition that is on at TJ Boulting in London.
The talk was led by curator Charlotte Jansen and she was accompanied in discussion by artists Hermione Wiltshire , Maisie Collins, Poulomi Basu, and Andi Galdi who had various pieces in the show.
I have been thinking a lot recently about what the central themes are that have been running through my work since the very early days of my career. In recently reading Shirley Read, Finding and Knowing – Thinking about ideas, it says in reference to an old interview of Georgia O’Keefe’s that she once said “that looking back she could recognise that she had the same concerns in her nineties as she did when she was eighteen and just starting out.” and that the artist “may or may not, recognise their own motivation.” (Read, Simmons 2017) , strangely both of these for me are true.
What I am finding more and more as I ruminate on these things, is that, not only is motherhood the central theme in my work, not only have I been evolving my photography, as I evolved as a mother, but also that I have been photographing things that I didn’t realise. I think, I have been hiding as an artist, both from myself and from others. I wrote a post on instagram this week about how these photographs I am producing for this project are seemingly becoming more and more about the mothers involved in their children’s education. I am photographing families and their own personal stories, but at the same time, when I am editing and culling these images they are becoming a mirror back onto myself. I am photographing myself in these families, I see my own struggles in these mothers, and families, as much as I see the love, the commitment, the dedication, I see the stress, the want to do right, and do well, the organisation, and disorganisation, the washing up on the side, and the way we can’t leave our phones as much as we like to because we are constantly finding new activities for the kids to do, or groups to go to, or tutors to come and do English or guitar lessons.
I touched on this slightly in my RPP and WIP last module, but my understanding of this has come on so much since then. What I am doing and why, and how I have always been doing it. I have come to the realisation that I have been using photography all these years as a way to try and communicate my own feelings, my own love, my own pain, my own joy, my own sorrows. I have shied away from this realisation, as it seems, even now, somewhat strange to express these personal feelings through others, or that is how I have always felt. That it was somehow wrong or weird, also I think deep down I had this feeling, that it was all just a bit self involved, I was essentially making art as a testament to my own life, the epitome of egotism, it’s not like I was the only person to ever be pregnant, or give birth, or home educate their child, why should sThen I went to ” We need to talk about birth ” and the discussion came up a few times, this issue of you can’t just be an artist you are a “female artist” , you can’t be a woman who happens to be a mother and is producing art, you are a mother-artist , and heaven forbid you should make art that the central theme of which is actually motherhood, you’ve essentially committed artistic-suicide , and well, where that leaves depictions of birth , who knows, but I am assuming it’s not good, or at least it wasn’t until this show. The general feeling was that if you made art based around motherhood you just couldn’t be taken seriously, Mary Kelly’s post partum document was highly divisive, Sally Manns work received intense negative scrutiny, Tierney Gearon was threatened with her images being seized by police. You start to wonder , how much of this is censorship for the supposed protection of children, and how much of it is actually the patriarchy silently stifling female voices, female experiences, and female points of view.
The silencing of the mother.
Whilst listening to these women speak, I have this realisation, I am a female artist, making work that is centred on motherhood, because motherhood both changed the person I was, and shaped the person I am, in every conceivable way, and that’s ok, not just ok, it can make fantastic, deeply personal, and deeply political art. My work isn’t less important, less professional, less meaningful because of it’s context, the context informs it and develops it in ways that are beautiful, and moving, and authentic, in ways that will hopefully true resonate with people.
( Read, Shirley. Simmons, Mike. 2017. Photographers and research . Routledge, New York. )
slide 1 – TJ boulting exterior. Slide 2 – artist names. slide 3 – Rachel Howard (untitled 2019), Boo Savile Next (love lost love gained 2019), Loie Hollowell ( X attempts contact, June 24 2018 ) & Elinor Carucci ( My belly after giving birth a c section, 2004 ) . Slide 4 – Hermione Wiltshire (Terese crowning in estatic childbirth photograph from Ina May Gaskin’s book Ina Mays guide to childbirth, 2008 ), Andy Galdi Vinko (Accepting, growing, nipple flowering , 2019) , Berber Theunissen (New life, in full bloom, post part madness, 2018) , Charlotte Colbert (small vegetable motherhood 2018, Amniotic, Millenial & IT ), Ying Ang (From the series bower Bird Blues, 2018) . Slide 5 – panel , Hermione, Andi, Maisie, & Poulomi . Slide 6 – Juno Calypso ( from the series ‘A girls guide to egg freezing’ 2017 ) Slide 7 – Maisie Cousings (Things that came out 2019). Slide 8 – Cynthia Cervantes & Travis Gumbs ( Nine women, nine months, 2017) . Slide 9 – Poulomi Basu (Blood speaks 2018).