I’ve always been interested in exploring the tension between the role of the (female) artist and the demands of the everyday. My identity as an artist mother has informed my work for many years.
Even before I had a child of my own I considered how it might be possible to combine these roles within my 1984 installation, Taking Care.
Four years later, in 1988, I gave birth to my first child, Lucy. When she was eight months old I installed Baby Food in Mothers of Invention, a group exhibition about mothers and daughters curated by Jo-Anna Isaak. This piece describes my anxiety about my ability to nourish my daughter, as I struggled with both breast-feeding and art making.
The installation With Child, produced in 1991 for The Embodied Viewer, a group show curated by Vera Lemecha for the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, portrays some of the conflicts of over-identification and self‑immolation that were raised for me within the dyads of pregnancy and maternity. I was fearful that my child had become, even before birth, an autonomous creature I would never be able to encompass and keep safe. This combination of images on a long wall produced an impossible representation that had become increasingly normalized: we were able to see a pregnant body as well as what is inside the body. Although I was thrilled to become a mother, I was horrified by the loss of boundaries I experienced. Both my body and my psychic space were invaded.
In 1991 I also began graduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan. I wanted to review my 10-year practice as an artist as well as continue to investigate representations of pregnancy. The thesis I developed, Spacemen and Invisible Women, examined popular representations of pregnancy that obliterated the pregnant woman, and represented the fetus (or embryo) as a tiny self‑sufficient space traveler, floating in a black void. My 1993 graduating exhibition, Invisible/Stranger/Mine, examined maternal erasure and the cult of fetal personhood within a number of related works.
The installation Radiant Monster, completed in 1996, was shown in a number of different contexts. Once again, this work represented the ambivalent feelings I experienced in response to real and imagined pregnancies and children. I wanted to express a continuum between the desire and the anxiety that the contemplation and experience of maternity evokes. Not surprisingly, reproductive technologies that offer new choices to infertile women, and increase the opportunity for interventions during pregnancy and birth, extend and exaggerate our relationship to our reproductive capacities.
In 1994 I gave birth to my son Jack, who had suffered severe brain damage in utero and lived for four short months. Over the years I’ve produced a number of projects that refer both directly and indirectly to his short life. This project, for Blackflash magazine was produced in 1994.
In 1996 I gave birth to my third child, a healthy girl we named Alice. From 1997 to 1999 I co-wrote a series of bimonthly columns with Martha Townsend for the Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) newsletter (here’s a sample column from March 1998).
In 1997 I developed Child of Slow Time, a project for The Lab at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in response to an anonymous 19th century drawing of a baby in their collection.
In 2000 Martha Townsend and I co-produced a conference for artist-mothers, First Person Plural for MAWA at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Winnipeg. I co-curated an program of videos for the conference, Looking for Trouble: Artist Mothers on Tape with Laurel Swenson, that was also shown at Video Out (Vancouver) in 2000. I also produced a video document, Delivery: Artist Mothers on Tape, in which 30 conference participants speak candidly about their mothering and art-making practices.
Here’s a post about a presentation I developed for Embody (In My Body): Dancing the Early Years a 2015 conference organized by dancer Julie Lebel, as well as a video of my presentation, “Exquisite Tension.“
A collection of resources for artist-mothers/parents (compiled until 2015) can be found here.
Although I rarely make work specifically about maternity any more, my current projects continue to be deeply affected by these investigations and what I discovered about inter-subjectivity within my role as an artist mother.