Aimee Gilmore

AIMEE GILMORE

Artist-in-Residence

 
 

About the Artist

Aimee is a visual artist based in Philadelphia.

 
 

2017–2018 Winter Residency

 
 
 

 

Interview

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 daughter, Maya. Both of those experiences were life-changing, and having them overlap with each other was even more monumental. Bringing my journey into motherhood into my practice was very natural. It was materially and conceptually relevant to everything I'd been doing — in terms of 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.

Logistically, 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 you have something in mind that of course is 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'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 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. Mary Kelly's "Post-Partum Document" has been hugely important to me, and so has Janine Antoni — but it's still really lacking.

At the same time as I was feeling this lack I was getting a lot of disheartening feedback from faculty. Saying that the work I was doing was not important, that it wasn't enough for the contemporary art world, that it was too sentimental, too personal, too vain, etc. Lots 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. That was 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 then I dove into making the most motherly work imaginable, focusing on objects of motherhood. Objects that are both intentional and sentimental. You're familiar with pacifiers, for example, but your experience of them is from a distance until you're with them every day. And then you notice how strange they are.


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, but it really didn't. When you go into a program like that you're very vulnerable. 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 I just couldn't do it. The work wasn't coming, it was forced, and I was really unhappy.

The transition was really encouraged by female faculty who supported my interests by presenting me with these lesser-known artists, exhibitions, and histories to show me that there is and has been space for motherhood in contemporary art. When you open that door a little bit, it's suddenly a waterfall. There are so many women making this type of work. Now, I’m interested in the conversation around whether or not motherhood is gender-specific. I don't think that it is, but I’m 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. We have this idea 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 on the work that I wanted to make. 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, 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 high positions in museum institutions wanting to bring in programming that’s not white, straight, male, etc. People are tired of the status quo and of categories of division around class, race, and gender in the arts. But unfortunately there is still a disproportionate amount of power coming from a very limited perspective. Apprehension still exists around the types of changes that we want to happen and that should happen.

 
 

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.
— Aimee Gilmore
 
 
 
 

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 it’s 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’s 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 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 I really wanted 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. 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 worlds 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, and as an intellectual all at the same time 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. 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. But 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. That’s 33 years of developing my own life, my own interests, my own patterns of behavior, my own routines, my own this, and my own that — and then all of a 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 isn’t 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. I was here with Maya alone, and I thought it was gonna be great. I had this dreamy vision that she'd come into the studio with me and we'd work on stuff together. That totally didn't work. I mean, she's two and a half — she was 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 here to do work as I had initially anticipated. I'm learning constantly. Not just about her, but with her and through her. 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’s 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. I'm in the process of working towards an American shrine to fertility. In particular, I’m thinking a lot about belly buttons as portals that connect us all back to a mother. They are the only physical reminders/remainders of a literal connection to another person. Which is amazing. So I've started making belly button healing stones — where you pick one up and rub the belly button for fertility or luck.

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 different outfits she no longer fits in.

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, 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.

It's an ongoing project, everything’s always in transition.

 
 
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.
— Aimee Gilmore
 
 
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