MAMA 48: Maternal as a Strategy

What you’re going to do now?

By Galit Criden

The term ‘maternal’ has been pulsing through the academic and contemporary art worlds.  Contemporary art institutions seek to cultivate it; scholars write about it, and artists who become mothers are confronted by the concept.

A confession: it took me a long time to connect to the term maternal. Even after having my baby girl, the term still felt obsolete. The second time around, as a student at Goldsmiths Uni, I started to read about maternal organizations demanding equality and providing agency to those who mother the other. It became really fascinating when I began reading about how scholars, drag, trans, and performance artists were trying to queer the maternal by liberating it by reframing language and traditional thinking about it. As they question the role of community in regard to care practices, open and share the act of mothering, rethink how the maternal can be at use in our society – I began to rethink my own values, production, and artistic process, how I could collaborate and think about mother work differently. 

In a webinar hosted by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney held in July 2020, they respond to contemporary political and social disarray. As they note: “Differentiating ourselves through practice is not to identify or disidentify but to continue with the practice, asking questions that are supposed to produce movement and not paralysis.” Inspired by their conversation, the term maternal strategies bubbles up in my thinking. Could the maternal construct a discourse of change? Can it be a strategy for others? And how we might use maternal strategies to reconstruct ourselves, our artistic spaces, words, and our movement to politically vision a different kind of future?

In a constant dialog with these ideas and questions, the different projects I choreograph allow people to go through a process of reflection-loss-re-imagination and yes sometimes it invites them to stay in boredom and uncertainty for a long long time. As the choreographer-the mama of these spatial performative attempts, I use maternal strategies to reorganize and to facilitate. I apply a maternal perspective (harmony, balance, sharing of space and resource), taking into consideration where the performance work is performed, the kind of cultural history it holds, the people who are performing, and the kind of knowledge they hold. By facilitating a space that fundamentally recognizes differences in its rhythm, physical actions, social expectation, where there is no leader but a group of people sharing what they know, a space with no hierarchy between objects, bodies, sound, and audience – Is to my opinion a new kind of territory-form-sphere-strategy where alternative knowledge can evolve and new thoughts about people’s body, movement & freedom of choice can be learned.

‘Observation Room Project’ is a practice of slowing down, drawing its strength from the tension between the human subject and its surroundings. it takes into consideration the vital entanglements of one body with other kinds of bodies therefore is relational and maternal in its perspective. Slowness and durational are the two main methodologies through which I created ‘Observation Room’. in reaction to a rapid society, slowness is a way to counter fixed ideas of production, creative processes, individualism, and many more. It enables “a listening”, perhaps even a “healing” space where the form is captured and new learning can happen.

In ‘Stardust’, I reflected on the working reality of artists & mother artists. By presenting this work at Christie’s [Auction House], Stardust showcased active mother artists as the work of art, while investigating the relationship between the viewer – the commodity of art – and the mother artist who produces it. In this performance, each mother artist was for sale. Next to her feet laid a description of who she is, what she does for a living. (Performing: Rosalind Noctor, Vicky Samuel, Alisa Oleva))

In ‘Standing Still’, the relation between space, duration, and movement is intensely magnified, and the viewer is given the chance to enter another realm of consciousness and awareness. This event took place at the Wellcome Collection Museum. For one hour the performers invited the public to take part in standing still together – reflecting on what happens to the mind and body in a moment of stillness (London).

Indeed, when maternal strategies are used and performed by artists they open space to respond to the patriarchal system by offering different voices, movements, and new images where an alternative reality can exist.

Although we cannot simply conserve the idea of maternal and maternal strategies only through observing a performance, a drag show, an image, or an exhibition, we can perhaps begin to accumulate, through the deconstruction of words, participation in liminal spaces, sharing of invisible maternal experiences, acting with intention, recognizing M-others, maternal actions that mean so much to this society.

Mom Residency Highlights Artist Jessica Soininen-Eddis

Contemporary visual artist Jessica Soininen-Eddis .

Today we would love to highlight our first MOM Art Annex Resident for the beginning of summer 2021, the absolutely amazing and wonderful returning resident Jessica Soininen-Eddis. MOM was ecstatic to once again open up our residency program as things began to slowly open here in the U.S.A. We could not have asked to start off on a better note after having Jessica return to continue her artistic practice at our museum and provide us with another wonderful gift. Stay tuned as below she allows us to learn about her creative process and discusses her artistic trajectory in reference to our new artwork by her in our collection.

Depicted above, Jessica’s Prior work for MOM.

Those of you who keep up with us regularly on our social media channels know about this talented artist and the previous piece of work which she gifted us in her earlier spring residency while she was here in 2018 – a beautiful mid-century modern chair painted with her own art vision, which is on view at our museum when we reopen for tours. In Soininen-Eddis’s second residency, she continued to expand on a body of work in which she painted botanical subject matter on top of her daughter’s old garments. Additionally, Founder and Director of M.O.M. Martha Joy Rose suggested she paint on a couch that was available to pair with the chair she previously painted. For the couch, Soininen-Eddis wanted to create a more overt depiction of the female form at its core. Therefore, she decided the specific part of the female form she would focus on depicting would be the vulva.

Though for some of us, this may seem a daunting task, Soininen-Eddis was up for the challenge. She has much experience in creating artworks related to the body, as she has done so since her undergraduate studies at Rhode Island School for Design (RISD). When asked about her artistic trajectory, she specifically referenced her time in Rome, Italy as part of RISD’s European Honors Program. While there, she created a piece of wearable art. In the mixed-media piece, she constructed breasts from hand-sewn bubble wrap, wax, and flour. Each individual breast was able to be snapped on and off of the garment, as her thoughts at the time when developing it were “What’s the big deal? Grandmothers, mothers, sisters have them.”  Such rationalization led her to the conclusion that the same could be said for vulvas.

Though considered a taboo in the not so recent past, vulvas, and other overt physical attributes of what define women and fundamental components of women’s sexuality commingle in many cross-cultural forms of female-centered art. Depictions show direct and indirect representations of the female associated with sensuality of the female form, fertility, the power of women, temptations of the female form-the list goes on. Despite this fact, the female form in and of itself, has standard physical attributes that women have, and Soininen-Eddis wanted to celebrate the form as seen in her work Lost In the Folds (seen below). In recounting her process, Soininen-Eddis admitted that though she has painted numerous womb implied artworks with a central core before, this was the first time she had painted an anatomically correct vulva. The couch itself follows the artistic lineage of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Soininen-Eddis is proud to have created this work for exhibition at the Museum of Motherhood, to share it with her daughter and hopeful that students who care about women’s rights as human rights and gender studies will take something special from its creation.

More info on Jessica Soininen-Eddis

In her current artistic practice, she uses worn items of feminine clothing, both her’s and her daughter’s, and then pastes them into her paintings. Soininen-Eddis applies many layers of paint to these fabric pieces so that the fabric becomes sculptural. The clothes are no longer pieces of fashion. They are now relics, which hint at the past even if it is a recent past. Garments, lingerie, intimate pieces of apparel, children’s pajamas and dresses float around flowers and botany. The flowers, just like the items of clothing, reference sensuality. When she collages paper, it covers the page just as cloth to the body. Bodily shapes and lyrical gestures commingle in her paintings and works on paper. Jessica Soininen-Eddis is a contemporary visual artist living and working outside New York City in Northern Westchester County. Soininen-Eddis received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, RI. While there, she was selected to study abroad as part of RISD’s European Honors Program, and spent the year living, studying and making art in Rome. Soininen-Eddis also received her Master of Fine Arts in painting and drawing from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. To learn more about Jessica and her incredible art, please check out this link to her personal website: https://bit.ly/3fQi5yT 

Also be sure to follow her on Instagram: @jsoininen_eddis

If you are interested in applying for a residency here at MOM, please go to our website HERE: https://bit.ly/3uRgugm  to find out more. BE SURE TO HURRY! Spots have been filling FAST! We hope that future tours of the space will be available soon, but they are by appointment only in Artist Enclave Historic Kenwood: “where art lives.”

MAMA 47: Henny Burnett & Sarah Freligh w/Procreate and MER

Henny Burnett: I am a mixed media artist working mainly in sculpture and installation using a range of techniques that include casting, assemblage, photography, projections & sound. My practice is about the domestic and every day, and the stories of the objects around us – in both our homes and museums. Collecting, collating, documenting and display are key elements in my work as is repetition. I am interested in the dynamics of opposites: domestic and industrial, beautiful and ugly, useful and useless, temporary or permanent. My process has resulted in work that explores the fragility of memory; is rooted in the fabric of the home, yet presented in a historical context.

365 Days of Plastic (2020-2021) – (short version)

365 Days of Plastic is an installation and sculpture that is cast in pink dental plaster. It demonstrates one year’s worth of plastic food packaging from a single household, which is both simultaneously beautiful and horrific. This is a disturbing view of one typical family’s environmental impact. The work plays with the ambiguity of outcome and interpretation – domestic and industrial, beautiful and ugly, useful and useless.

Cast dental plaster. 3 m x 4 m.

Jim Poyner Photography,

https://www.axisweb.org/p/hennyburnett/

https://www.instagram.com/hennyburnett/


Snow Baby

by Sarah Freligh

Her girl is disappearing, erased daily by the wan heat of a January sun. Her cold only child, the daughter she palmed into life out of snow and hope after the others were wrung out of her, little white dishrags. Afterward, the white space where she’d been stranded. Every day a blizzard in her brain, a windowless room until she flexed her fingers and built her girl. Please come inside, her husband begs her nightly. But no, not yet. Here is a pink hat, daughter. Can you see how I’m trying to save you?

Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Sun Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Cincinnati Review and in the anthology New Microfiction: Exceptionally Short Stories (W.W. Norton, 2018). She was the recipient of a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009.From MER 17 (2019). Marjorie Tesser, Editor-in-Chief.

Bitch In The House – Has Anything Changed?

By Violet Phillips

Cathi Hanauer is an author in Northampton, Massachusetts who graduated from Syracuse University. During college, she double majored in magazine journalism and literature, and graduated with magna cum laude and phi beta kappa honors, after winning a journalism award and interning for Seventeen. She’s since written articles for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Elle, O, Real  Simple, and Glamour, was formally the books columnist for Glamour and Mademoiselle, and the relationships advice columnist for Seventeen and nexttribe.com and has taught at The New School and the University of Arizona. [1]

Her essay collection, The Bitch in the house, is about women’s frustration with marriage and motherhood. The women whose writing was included are not unusual. According to CNN::

“46% of moms get irate with their husbands once a week or more. Those with kids younger than 1 are even more likely to be mad that often (54 percent). About half of the moms describe their anger as intense but passing; 1 in 10 say it’s “deep and long-lasting.”

44% of mothers feel like the fathers aren’t aware of chores and childcare tasks that need to be done and are poor at multitasking. [2] other common problems are men paying more attention to their mothers than to their wofes, expecting their wives to take care of all responsibilities, being messy and thinking housework isn’t their job, not communicating their feelings and obsessing over sports. [3]

Often, women accept those types of circumstances and do the work with no complaint. According toTIME:

“In 1994, sociologists Mary Clare Lennon and Sarah Rosenfield looked at the time diaries of working women and their husbands, as well as individual reports on both individuals’ feelings about the distribution of labor in their homes. They found that the men who performed 36% of their household’s labor reported the strongest feelings of fairness. But the women who were most likely to say the arrangements were fair expected men to do even less: their time diaries attested to the fact that they were doing 66% of their household’s labor. Lennon and Rosenfield wrote, “both women and men appear to believe that women should do about two-thirds of the household chores.””[4]

This might be because marketing and media images have, increasingly, began to show mothers as blissful and selfless, and women feel pressured to go along with it, but that increasingly appears to not be the case. As life coach and writer Beth Berry says:

“Motherhood heavily engages some aspects of who we are, while leaving almost no room for the growth of other, equally essential parts. Unless we’re aware of the need to balance this out outside of motherhood (and can manage to find the time and support to pull that off), wholeness and thriving can feel quite elusive.”

She also points out that postpartum care can be disappointing. Women often don’t make enough money to raise kids the way they’d like to and extended family members tend to not be as helpful as you might hope. Moms feel the pressure to fight against aging and the media and marketing are constantly working against mothers. [5]

The statistics are predictably grim. According to TIME:

“A survey of 913 mothers commissioned by TIME and conducted by SurveyMonkey Audience found that half of all new mothers had experienced regret, shame, guilt or anger, mostly due to unexpected complications and lack of support. More than 70% felt pressured to do things a certain way. More than half said a natural birth was extremely or very important, yet 43% wound up needing drugs or an epidural, and 22% had unplanned C-sections. Breastfeeding, too, proved a greater challenge than anticipated. Out of the 20% who planned to breastfeed for at least a year, fewer than half actually did.” [6]

Even though it might seem like the current generation has more freedom than past mothers, many millennial women disagree.  As editor EJ Dickinson says:

“Even in an era when shifts in gender and social norms are the norm, we are still limited by a culture that stubbornly refuses to make space for all of our dreams. No matter how many advanced degrees we earn, no matter how many bad men we replace with supportive and nurturing partners, and no matter how strong and self-sufficient we are, millennial women are still forced to decide between deeply dissatisfying options. Choose motherhood over work, and we lose out on the self-empowerment, personal fulfillment, and financial independence a career affords; choose work over motherhood, and we lose an experience that could give our lives new color and dimension and meaning; try to have both, and we end up embittered and exhausted, operating on half-empty at all times.”[7]

Author Meaghan O’Connell goes so far as to argue that oppression starts with the idea of mothers:

“It was so stark to me, honestly. I was a gender studies major, I was a feminist in high school, I wasn’t one of those people who was thirty-five and hadn’t considered myself a feminist. But I really found myself breastfeeding all the time and thinking, this is why women are oppressed. I figured it out, in this visceral way that was undeniable to me, and an inconvenient reality. You can’t be stuck on a couch feeding your baby around the clock and not thinking about this. I mean, I guess people do. I just remembered this, I was running around the track, my boobs were full of milk, and and I knew I had to be home soon, and I was like, this is it, this is the core of all of it. If women didn’t give birth, we would probably be equal.” [8]

Being a stepmother can bring even more discrimination and discontement. Blogger Jamie Scrimgeour bemoans: “The stigma in our society, the challenge of finding your place in a family that was created before you were even a thought, finding your place with your stepkids, the ex, extended family. The list of challenges is exhausting, especially if you’ve found yourself in a high conflict co-parenting relationship.”[9{

But, there are easy ways motherhood can be improved. According to psychology today:

“Support from friends and family help new mothers deal better with stress, and this has been proven to help mothers see their children in a more positive light. Mother’s who have the help of people they trust feel more self-esteem, confidence as a parent, and struggle less to access information that helps them problem-solve for their bundle of joy.” [10]

It seems as if social support would improve the lives of Cathy Haneur and other writers who’ve spoken out about being angry over motherhood and wifehood not living up to their expectations.

Editor’s note: Each month as part of MOM’s ongoing remote internship initiative, Violet Phillips puts pen to paper to review books from our library. Her most recent submission is detailed here. The editor’s thoughts are as follows: While social support appears to improve women’s feelings about motherhood, COVID has made life especially difficult to navigate. Not just for mothers, but for everyone. Recent articles indicate that the fundamental challenges for women who are mothers remain fundamentally unchanged with or without this setback from the ongoing pandemic. A recent New York Times article, ‘This Is a Primal Scream‘, depicts the frustration of America’s maternal mental health crisis, as does this article by Kimberly Seals Allers in the Washington Post titled ‘Female Rage is All The Rage‘ (2018). Cathi Hanauer and friends have an updated version of this book called The Bitch Is Back: Getting Older, Wiser, and Happier, which is nice to hear– but, this editor, deep in the trenches of motherhood asserts, there is still plenty of work to do! The original Bitch in the House is part of MOM’s library. (Martha Joy Rose, 2021).

Sources

[1] cathihanauer.com online. Accessed April 22, 2021.

[2] cnn. “Why we get mad at our husbands.” Martha brockenbrough and parenting.com 7:47 am est, November 29, 2011. Online. Accessed April 22, 2021.

[3] divorcedmoms.com “9 martial problems only women face.” January 21, 2020. Jolie Warren. Online. Accessed April 22, 2021.

[4] time. “Too often, working mothers do far more of the childcare than their husbands. Here’s how to fix that.” Darcy lockman. May 16, 2019. Online. Accessed April24, 2021.

[5] Beth berry revolution from home. “Why modern-day motherhood feels so fusterati g.” January 16, 2018. Onomatopoeic ne. Acessed April 24, 2021.

[6] time. “Motherhood is hard to get wrong. So why do so many moms feel bad about themselves?” Claire howorth. October 19, 2017. Online. Accessed April 24, 2021.

[7] bustle. “Let’s talk about why so many young women are convinced motherhood is going to suck.” Ej Dickson. March 30, 2018. Online. Accessed April 34, 2021.

[8] electric lit reading into everything. “Meaghan O’Connell thinks motherhood is what keeps women oppressed.” March 29, 2018. Becca s huh. Online. Accessed April 24, 2021.

[9] Jamie scrimgeour. “What makes being a stepmom so damn hard.” November 21, 2091. Jamie scrimgeour. Online. Accessed April 24, 20121.

[10] psychology today. “New moms need social support.” January 13, 2013. Online. Accessed April 24, 2021.