Thursday, July 2, 2015

Motherhood and Creative Practice, London

the inimitable Griselda Pollock addresses the audience at the Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference.

This June, Cultural ReProducers took part in not one but two international gatherings exploring the role of motherhood in creative work. Here's our rundown of Part I:  the Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference in London.
Stay tuned for more about some of the great people and projects we encountered, and for Part II: the Mothernists, a three-day event in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

For anyone still harboring doubts that great artistic and scholarly work can go hand in hand with the labor of raising a child, this year's Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference, presented from June 1-2 at London South Bank University, offered a resounding affirmation of critical maternal thought.

Rachel Epp Buller presents on lactivist art intervention
During the past five years there has been a groundswell in work exploring the intersections of artmaking and parenthood. As soon as the call for abstracts was announced online, news of the  Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference spread rapidly despite its modest online presence. Organizers Dr. Elena Marchevska and Valerie Walkerdine had expected interest from a small group of local scholars, but soon found their inbox filled with more than 100 proposals from around the world. Being the skilled improvisers that mothers often are, they rose to the occasion and organized two jam-packed days of multimedia presentations by more than 60 leading feminist scholars, psychoanalysts, curators and artists, complemented by a rich program of film screenings, performances, and small exhibitions.

With so many presenters on the schedule, three panels ran simultaneously every hour in different parts of a labyrinthine LSBU building. Unlike more broadly-themed conferences in which deciding which panel to attend depends on your area of specialty, here it was often painfully difficult to choose. To get a sense of the options you can check out the full program online. Philosopher, artist, and psychoanalyst Bracha Ettinger opened the event with a heady discussion on carriance and the matrixial gaze accompanied by a projection of her hypnotic video work (I have since decided that all future lectures involving dense theoretical language should be presented this way). Faith Wilding and Irina Aristarkhova launched the second day with their riveting exploration of the real and speculative ramifications of surrogacy, IVF tourism, exogenesis, and the global market for
Christa introducing Cultural ReProducers
human tissue and egg donation. And prominent art historian and cultural scholar Griselda Pollock miraculously wove everything together into two smart and thoughtful session summaries.

Efforts were made to offer on-site childcare during the conference, albeit for a fee, but unfortunately - whether due to cost, ambivalence, or lack of information - not enough participants signed up to make this option viable in the end. A few mothers bounced, rocked, and fed their babies through sessions, while others worked out arrangements with family members. Several had to rush off before the day was done to collect their kids from local creches or schools.

Those of us visiting from out of town fit in time to visit some of London's great cultural institutions, and parental art seemed to be everywhere, from the abundance of 19th century maternal imagery at the Victoria and Albert Museum to Jaan Toomik's "Dancing with Dad" (2003) at Whitechapel Gallery to the Tate Modern's remarkable Sonia Delaunay retrospective, which highlighted Delaunay's first work of abstraction: a blanket created for her newborn son in 1911.

Mary Kelly was there in spirit, and on video
Like any really good party, not everyone could make it. One notable absence was Mary Kelly, matron saint of mother-artists and a scheduled keynote speaker, who had to cancel at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict. A video was screened of her lecture earlier that week (though technical difficulties made it hard to decipher), followed by a response by scholar and MaMSIE co-founder Dr. Lisa Baraitser. There were noticeably few women of color present, a reflection of another imbalance in academia and the art world that will be important to consider as this conversation continues to evolve. On the intergenerational spectrum of things, though, the conference was incredible. Nursing mothers in the midst of their graduate studies exchanged experiences with seasoned feminist grandmothers. The discussion was also enriched by the voices of artists without children, including Miriam Schaer, who spoke eloquently about cultural bias against childless women and the challenges of “reverse mothering,” or caring for an aging parent.

processing some serious maternal thought over drinks
Beyond the formal presentations, this gathering brought together an incredible number of like-minded artists, curators, and scholars to meet in person for the first time. Catching a quick bite to eat between sessions we connected with members of Dublin’s Mothership Project, Rotterdam's m/other voices, London’s Enemies of Good Art and Invisible Spaces of Parenthood. Informal convoys took over nearby hotel lounges and restaurants to talk late into the night. After closing remarks on Tuesday, LSBU’s Edric Theater buzzed with women exchanging contact information, taking group photographs, and planning future projects. It seems clear that these conversations are just getting started, and we look forward to seeing what’s to come.

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