THE REVOLUTION WILL BE MOTHERNIZED
Lise Haller Baggesen
Beginning the fall of 2014, I curated three exhibitions for Vox Populi’s Fourth Wall screening space, under the title 3AM Maternal. The invitation came about after a visit to Vox in the summer of 2014, during which I had a lengthy conversation with Catherine Pancake about maternal passions and desires, followed by a correspondence with Maria Dumlao about the politics and labor of labor and their uneasy position within the current feminist (and art) discourse.
What united the three shows was a combination of musical, maternal and magical thinking. Apart from my own disco-womb-room installation MOTHERNISM, the series consisted of Assaf Evron and Nelly Agassi’s electronic trance incubator NUMIMA and Chiara No’s primal metal birthing scream CROWNING.
Within the intimate confines of Fourth Wall’s four walls, the immersive interiors of the exhibitions linked directly to the visitor’s own interior space, voice, and experience.
Different though they were, each installation related to the maternal. The three shows were linked not so much through being “about” motherhood or parenting as through a relation with what Bracha Ettinger names “The Matrixial Borderspace” – the internalized prenatal experience of being back in the womb, which we all carry with us, and in which we relate to the (m)other and the outside world through her voice and movement. I would argue that we seek to return to this experience through dance, trance, music and rhythm, but also through the internal voice of literature and poetry, or through the fluidly extended “self” we encounter in the art experience.
In June 2015 I had the pleasure of hearing Ettinger talk about her theories at the conference “Motherhood and Creative Practice: Maternal Structures in Creative Work,” at the London Southbank University. It was soothing, as well as enlightening, to listen to Ettinger’s lilting voice explaining the dangers of (the psychoanalytic tradition of) demonizing the mother, which severs the intergenerational and interpersonal bonds we all share. While she spoke, her hypnotizing video work was projected in the background. Ettinger’s complex, intellectually difficult theories are not easy to get your head around, but presented in this way they become all the easier to embrace with your heart (and womb).
The conference in London was a multi-track celebration of all things maternal, followed by the Rotterdam symposium “The Mothernists,” organized by Dutch artist/reading group m/other voices’ Deirdre Donoghue. All in all I got to spend a week in the merry company of a motley crew of Bad-Enough-Mothers; I also presented my own work.
The feedback I consistently got confirmed my hypothesis–which initially had inspired both my work and research for Mothernism as well as later 3AM MATERNAL—namely that if we regard the mother not as the proverbial, smothering, “enemy to good art,” she can be a reparative source of creativity. This reparative relation is outlined, although often overlooked, in Melanie Klein’s seminal psychoanalytical essay “Envy and Gratitude.” It is also explored by Lou Andreas-Salomé in her theories of non-pathological narcissism, which she developed in parallel with her contemporary, colleague, and friend, Sigmund Freud. Unfortunately Freud’s rather more phallic–or let’s say penis-centric—theories of artistic production as sexual sublimation have since dominated our ideas of the nature of creative production.
“Okay,” I can hear some of you think, “stop swinging your big womb around!”
Traditionally, artists are a matrophobic bunch, and the mother, still, by and large, a persona non grata in the art world. While her body remains the site of libidinous fantasies of envy, gratitude, sublimation and ridicule, rarely is she invited to speak on her own behalf and from her own experience. Therefore, from the outset, the idea of the project was to create work not “about” mothering but a work that worked “something like a mama” and spoke directly to her visitor in a maternal voice. That this work in turn would spawn so many new projects and conversations, I had not anticipated. This unexpected turn makes this project all the more joyful and exciting; I think it speaks to the necessity to continuously rally around the “mother-shaped hole in the art world.”
After three weeks of “mothernizing” not just London and Rotterdam, but also the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam and the artist-run STOREY in Copenhagen, the irony was not lost on me that in order to travel the world and spread the message of mothernism, I had to leave my own children behind. But, apart from my belief that my partner is as capable a parent as I am, this project was never only, or even primarily, about gender-political issues along the lines of divisions of labor, time management, and work/life balancing acts. These issues are important, of course, and need to be (continuously) addressed, but ultimately provide only context, not content. I think it is important to ask ourselves, as cultural (re)producers (to borrow Christa Donner’s term) if we want to adhere to the existing structures of the art world as we know it? In other words: when we return from our (voluntary or involuntary) parental leaves, are we satisfied with finding said art world just the way we found it, and to fit in with business-as-usual; or have we learned something in the meantime, which we deem of value –not only to ourselves, but to the world at large?
If we want an (art) world in which we all (and not only the multi-billionaires among us) will “Keep on Rocking in the Free World,” we may need to think (m)otherwise about the rigid structures (golden skyscrapers etc.) we have been building hitherto. In my view it must be infused with a maternal vitality, a regenerative power, that will allow us to think of our collective creative practice as a limitless expansion “flinging ourselves beyond the ego” (to quote Cixous). We need to think ourselves out of the white cube and all the way back into the womb, from where future generations of artists will grow: The revolution will be mothernized!
At the intersection of feminism, science fiction and disco “Mothernism” aims to locate the mother-shaped hole in contemporary art and discourse.
Nelly Agassi and Assaf Evron titled the show NUMIMA after the word their infant son invented for nursing. It is a melodic elision of the Hebrew words for sleeping (numi) and mother (ima).