2017–2018 Winter Residency
with D. K. Broderick, March 2018
Let's start with becoming a mother. How has motherhood informed your work (waged and unwaged)?
Three months before I started the MFA Program at Penn I'd given birth to my first child. My first daughter, Maya. Going through both of those experiences are life-changing and having them overlap with each other was even more monumental. For me the incorporation of having my shifting role into motherhood come into my studio was very natural. In terms of the past work I was making and my interest in the female body and using my body as material and being very influenced by my own personal stories and experiences it all made sense together. For me to include my journey into motherhood into my practice was materially and conceptually relevant to everything I'd been doing. In terms of logistics, I had to bring Maya to the studio with me at times. There really was no separation between work/school life and work/home life. They were overlapping in all kinds of ways that I really wasn't prepared for at all. Before becoming a mother, as with any new journey, you have an intention and you having something in mind, and of course it's always dramatically different once you're in it. It was certainly an eye opening experience. The two worlds really had to come together to be successful at both of them.
So, the work started transforming into being about exploring this progression and transformation that my body had just gone through. It was a really overwhelming and beautiful experience for me. I mean I'm still blown away. I mean, I grew a person inside of me. I grew a soul. I grew a life. From within me. And then all the sudden she's outside of me. That transition of trying to figure out our relationship from inner to outer was pivotal in understanding the significance of now being in charge of another's life. That weight was never lost on me. It's such a significant responsibility in so many many ways. I started diving into exploring the work of other artists that had come before me that had also made work about it. And it was upsettingly lacking, not so much in the work that existed, but in the representation and collection of that type of work. I have a few catalogues here, and more recently there has been more shows. But it's still really lacking. Mary Kelly's "Post-Partum Document" has been hugely important to me. Janine Antoni, who touches on these issues although maybe not so explicitly, has also been really important in my own journey as an artist. There are artists that are doing this type of work but I was really overwhelmed by how lacking it was.
At the same time as I was feeling this lack I was getting a lot of feedback, not necessarily from visiting artists or my peers, but from faculty in a really disheartening way. Basically saying that the work I was doing and the work I was interested in was not important and that it wasn't enough for the contemporary art world. Criticisms like it's too sentimental and it's too personal and it's too vain, etc. I was getting a lot of harsh comments not generated around the work but around my decision to use the experience of motherhood as a source of artistic inspiration and the ways in which it was not intellectually important enough. So that was obviously extremely hard to deal with. Being a mother, having this very personal experience, wanting to make work from that place, and then having to recognize the reality that nobody cares.
So that then pushed my interests into really focusing on the work and diving in and making the most motherly work imaginable. I got really attached to the objects surrounding motherhood. They are intentional objects and sentimental objects and thinking about what to make of them as you're now familiar with a pacifier but your experience of it is from a distance until you're really in it with it every day. And then you're noticing how strange they are and how weird they are, this or that or the other. So I started focusing on what to make of them and what to make from them — of these objects of motherhood. Woah I'm like really going off right now, I have no idea how I got there.
We've arrived at pacifiers. I feel your frustration in the ways that I can as someone who is not a mother. Your response to faculty questioning what you were producing and the position from which you were producing it — motherhood — is very moving. Instead of changing what you were doing you opted to embrace it fully. I’d love to hear about what was behind that decision and whether or not it's been a generative experience for you and your work.
It's absolutely been generative. I said it in a way that implied that the process happened quickly and it really didn't. I was getting that feedback from the department, and as I'm sure you know when you go into a program like that you're very vulnerable, and you're there for the critique but it never really gets easy, especially if you work from such a personal place. So for a while I was like they're right, this doesn't matter, who cares, I want to be a contemporary artist, so I should adjust. But you know what, I just couldn't do it. The work wasn't coming, it was being forced, and I was really unhappy.
The transition was really encouraged by dialogues I was having with female faculty that were supportive of my interests and nurtured them by presenting me with these less known artists, exhibitions, and histories to show me that there has been and there is space for this work, for motherhood in contemporary art. When you open that door a little bit and you go in it's suddenly a waterfall. There are so many women making this type of work. I am interested in the conversation around whether or not mother is gender specific and I am very much open and interested in that because I don't think that it is but for me and my practice I am also interested in the significance of the female body and its transition into something else.
You brought up gender just now, did the types of responses you received in graduate school with regards to your engagement with motherhood fall along gender lines?
Absolutely. The extremely harsh and unsupportive criticism all came from males. So that was interesting and ultimately expected. You know we have these ideas of academia as being progressive but a lot of my professors were really entrenched.
It sounds like their response was more revealing of them and their position than it was of you or yours.
I think so. And I think that's what helped me focus more on the reality that this was the kind of work that I wanted to make. And their inability to support it or to face it was their problem and their hang up. But still, it's hard when it's coming from a program that pretends to present people as equals even though they're still your professors and there's still a hierarchy, there are still egos.
Earlier in our conversation you pointed out that there is a long lineage of artists engaging with the same issues that you are working through but that there isn't adequate representation of these histories. What do you feel is restricting this obviously very meaningful and robust legacy of artists working through motherhood (regardless of gender) from attaining a certain kind of visibility and recognition?
It's interesting in the context of what's happening right now in society specifically with respect to women in in high positions in museum institutions wanting to bring in programing that was not conventional — white, straight, male, etc. People are tired of the status quo and of categories of division around class, race, and gender in the arts. As it's been exposed it's been recognized as something that isn't right and isn't fair and isn't what we want. So I think that unfortunately there is still a disproportionate amount of power coming from a very limited perspective. It's apparent that apprehension still exists around the types of changes that are wanting to happen and that should happen.
You’re calling attention to a top-down structural bias in the arts that is not necessarily representative of what artists or communities believe and practice.
Yeah. I am. And that's not to say that there aren't museums and galleries doing amazing shows and important work. There are. And its changing. But I think there's always more work to be done, it's never enough.
Would you care to talk a bit more about your relationship with Janine Antoni and how that's influenced your work? I'd also like to bring up Moyra Davey's "Mother Reader," as I see a copy on your desk and it is a life changing source for many.
Mother Reader is life changing! It goes with me wherever I go. I'm here, at Wassaic as part of the family residency program. So my daughter is here with me and my husband. She comes and goes from the studio and the house and I work between the two places, sometimes with her and sometimes on my own.
I was in Janine Antoni's studio at a really amazing time in my career. I had gone back to undergraduate school as an adult and after my time there I was able to work with her. I was older, I was married, I was very much considering graduate school, I was very much focused on my career as an artist, and really wanting to become a mother. I had looked up to her and admired her work for so long. Meeting with her and getting to know her was probably, besides meeting my partner and having my daughter, one of the most life changing relationships I've had with someone. She's incredibly supportive and kind and caring. She just welcomed me into her world.
Her studio is connected to her husband's studio, Paul Ramirez Jonas. And they share a common eating space as the overlap between the two spaces. So we would all have lunch together and after school her daughter would run in and be playing all over the place. That experience influenced my time at Penn a lot.
A lot of people in institutions are really weird about kids. But to just share your world with a child is the biggest gift anyone can give them, no matter who they are or what they do. Janine really showed me that. These world aren't separate, they're totally entwined, and acknowledging that is how you make it work. Seeing her as a mother, as an artist, as a friend, as a savvy business person, as an intellectual, all at the same time was, it was totally inspiring and life-changing. As a woman and someone that knew I wanted to be a mother, it was really powerful.
I've stayed close with her and continue to feel supported by her all the time. Having looked up to her as an artist I was really uncertain about whether or not she was gonna be all that I had made her out to be. Like are they gonna be everything I've dreamed of them? She's all that and more.
It's okay for artists to fall short of expectations too.
Yeah. I think that comes across in her work too. Her work is so personal and she's working with herself so much. When you meet her you really understand that she's giving herself constantly in so many different ways. It's amazing.
I was 33 when Maya was born, so that's like 33 years of developing my own life, my own interests, my own patterns of behavior, my own routines, and my own this and my own that and all these little things and then all of the sudden that's totally changed and "I" am no longer at the center of "my" world. Those are the moments where the cream rises to the top. The things that are really important to you stand out after you have a child because those are things you can't let go of. I use the world transition a lot, it's an ongoing transition. As soon as you think you have it figured out your baby is not a baby any more. They're walking. They're transitioning constantly and you have to constantly readjust as well.
My first week here, my husband had to go home to do some work and I was here with Maya alone and I thought it was gonna be great and she'd come into the studio with me and we'd be working on stuff together. I had this dreamy vision that totally didn't work. I mean she's 2 and a half. You know she's kicking things and throwing things. So I had to shift gears. I took her upstairs to the Art Nest and we made some work together. In that moment she gave me so many ideas for work I could make. Watching her be so free and have fun with her sense of imagination was so refreshing. I struggled throughout graduate school with holding on to that sense of play and remembering to have fun.
It's hard to find love and practice joy in Westernized higher education, with or without a child.
We're constantly compromising. My vision for what I wanted to do my first week here at the residency didn't happen, but what I gained from that week was probably more important than if I was in my studio alone making work. I found that place of play and wonder and joy again. I've tried to keep it with me and I probably wouldn't have been able to draw on it if I had just come in her to do work as I had initially anticipated. I'm learning constantly, not just about her, but with her and through her about myself. It's been an amazing gift to learn about yourself in that way.
What are you working on now and how is Maya a part of it?
Actually, just before coming here, we found out that we're expecting our second child.
Oh, woah, congratulations?!
Yes! Thank you! What's pretty cool is that very early in my pregnancy with Maya I was at the Vermont Studio Center. And now I'm here at Wassaic and I'm pregnant again! Apparently I only do residencies when I'm pregnant.
Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about what a present day American views on fertility are and how focused they tend to be on devices and on technologies. I've been wanting to humorously play with what work about that might look like. So I'm the process of working towards an American shrine to fertility. From there I started thinking a lot about belly buttons and how belly buttons are portals that connect us all back to a mother. They are the only physical reminders/remainders of a literal physical connection to another person. Which is amazing. So I've started making belly button healing stones. Like you'd pick one up and you'd rub the belly button for fertility luck or something.
I've also been making paper out of old baby clothes, specifically things that Maya has outgrown. I'm working on a scrapbook of Maya's first year that will be comprised of pages made from her different outfits she no longer fits.
I've also been collecting images of found pacifiers. It's like when you get a new car and you notice how many other people have the same car. When I started buying pacifiers it was amazing how much I started seeing them, they're everywhere. Thinking about a rubber nipple as being a stand in for a mother, like this plastic replication of the female body that is meant to soothe and comfort in the absence of the mother. An abandoned pacifier on the side of the road is a sad sight for me. So I've started documenting lost pacifiers, it's an ongoing project, everything’s always in transition.