Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the College Art Association and Women’s Caucus for Art conferences in NYC. It will come as no surprise to those of you following my recent work that the two sessions that spoke to me most directly were “Family Practice: Artist and Family Collaborations” and “Maternal Art Activism.”
In the first session, panelists spoke candidly about their lives as artists and parents and how their children influenced, and were involved in, their artwork. Courtney Kessel shared the performance art that she does with her daughter and spoke about the challenges of expressing herself artistically and respecting her daughter’s privacy and desires. One example she gave was an installation piece which featured the audio from one of her daughter’s tantrums. Once her daughter was older, she asked that the piece no longer be shown and Kessel had to honor that request. It made me take a step back and think about my own work. Just a couple weeks ago, I recorded both children in a dual meltdown with the intention of using the audio in an upcoming piece. While that audio captures a moment in time – and one I experience too often lately, is it fair to them to share it with the world? What will they think of the art I’m making about them?
Rachel Lachowicz and Walter Meyer, a married couple with three daughters, talked about their reversal of the traditional roles where Meyer is the primary caregiver and keeper of the home and Lachowicz is the primary wage earner who keeps regular studio hours. They also spoke about how their daughters often help in the studio, cleaning up or preparing materials. I always have a vision of my kids in the studio either making art while I do or helping with a piece. In reality, however, visits to the studio have yet to last more than a few minutes when they start getting a little too close to dangerous objects or refuse to stay off the stool or spinny chair. At what age are kids in the studio actually helpful?!
And the panel moderator, Niku Kashef is a an artist, curator, educator, and mother of a three and a half year old daughter. She struck me as someone who had it all figured out. Then, during the discussion, she told the story that her daughter, who was with her at the conference, threw up in the hallway earlier in the day. “Yet, here you are doing what you need to do” someone said. And for a split second, her demeanor changed and she responded “but with so much guilt” before returning to the task at hand. In that fraction of a second, I identified with her in those feelings of guilt and the need to be everywhere at once, all things to all people. It was reassuring to me that someone so successful and together shared some of the feelings that keep me trapped in the web of guilt that inspired my latest piece.
At the close of the session, Kessel shared a poignant exchange in which her daughter said “Your work is all about me.” She responded with a wise “No. My work is because of you.” That captures exactly how I feel about my latest work on Parenthood. It is because I am a mother that this is the work I’m making.
This post is getting long and there are no pictures, so if anyone is still reading, I’ll briefly write about the second session about parenthood. In the session on Maternal Art Activism, curators Amber Berson and Juliana Driever spoke about their recent exhibition The Let Down Reflex which highlighted the complexities of parenting in the art world. I have been struggling with my current work and whether or not I should continue with it or return to my social justice work. They opened my eyes to the possibility of art about motherhood being a type of social action. It’s something I will think more about in the coming days, weeks, and months.
For now, I will reflect on the work of these wonderful artists and curators and return to my work in the hopes of having art on the library walls in May!