Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Mothernists, Rotterdam

Mothernists and children at Upominki - image courtesy of Weronika Zielinska

Last summer Cultural ReProducers took part in not one but two international gatherings exploring the role of motherhood in creative work. A little while ago we shared our report on Part I, the Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference in London, England. Now at last we're sharing Part II, on The Mothernists in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

From June 5th - 7th, 2015,  a group of artists, curators and scholars came together in Rotterdam to take part in The Mothernists, a remarkable three-day conference on cultural reproduction and creativity in caring labor.  The event was organized by the Dutch based m/other voices foundation, and sparked by the work of the Danish artist and writer Lise Haller Baggesen, whose recent book, “Mothernism” and its interconnected installation work reframe the language of the mother-artist.

a shared meal before the event at PrintRoom
In contrast to the large-scale Motherhood and Creative Practice Conference in London earlier the same week, the Mothernists was an intimate gathering, emphasizing the exchange of ideas. It featured thirteen presenters from eight countries, a gallery exhibition, a reading / book launch event, and a roundtable discussion, all free and open to the public. Since several presenters were invited to extend their stays in the region to present at both conferences, we had the chance to catch highlights we’d missed in London along with plenty of new material. The Mothernists also offered an important opportunity to process it all: over homemade meals and a shared bottle of ouzo, women from across Europe, Israel, and the Americas had some of the most complex and provocative conversations I’ve heard on artist-parenthood to date.

m/other voices began as a research project initiated by artist, writer, and curator Deirdre M. Donoghue in 2013, and has since developed into a full-fledged organization supporting critical writing, creative projects, and a range of events reflecting on the crucial role of the maternal figure as a thinker and maker. From the m/other voices website:

m/other voices considers maternity as a verb, as a type of labor, rather than as a noun pointing to
presenters at Printroom (from l to r: Lise Haller Baggesen, Karin de Jong,
Christa Donner, Deirdre Donoghue, and Andrea Francke.
a fixed, physiological state of being, the notion of maternity will be examined here as an attitude and as a discipline in the production of art and knowledge. 

This approach was present in every aspect of the conference, resulting in a unique hybrid of critical thought, generosity, and creative exchange. Active participants included not just mothers but also fathers, m/other voices followers, some of whom are not parents themselves, and caregivers of many kinds. Between presentations, participants were offered free massages by local doulas, those women skilled in caring for women first entering motherhood. And instead of congregating in a hotel, (m)other voices coordinated a network of local artists to host out-of-town visitors in their homes (and for a lucky few, a fully-outfitted camper van).

The Mothernists opened on Friday night with a potluck meal and a book launch/reading at PrintRoom, a vibrant bookstore and risograph workshop piled high with small-press, artist-made publications from around the world. Lise Haller Baggesen kicked off the evening with selections from “Mothernism”, followed by dynamic presentations by Andrea Francke on her project “The Invisible Spaces of Parenthood,” Christa Donner on “Propositions, Manifestos and Experiments,” and actress and writer Terri Hawkes on “Performing Motherhood.”

Andrea Francke (top) and mothernist doula care (bottom)
Saturday offered a full day of lectures by curators, writers, and artists including Natalie Loveless, Courtney Kessel, Irene Perez, Shira Richter, Rachel Epp Buller, Mirjam Westen, and many more. For those who couldn’t make it to Rotterdam, video of these presentations are now available online! The sessions took place at Lees Zaal West, a remarkable volunteer-run reading room, book exchange, and community event space created in response to the closure of many of the city’s local libraries.  The presentations were unified in supporting the vital role of motherhood in cultural work, though it is interesting to note that what this means may depend on where you live. The US is exceptionally poor in its support of working parents, with no paid maternity leave and a standard cost for childcare that often exceeds that of rent. In comparison, the Netherlands (as well as Denmark, Japan, Germany…) provides sliding-scale childcare and paid parental leave that encourage mothers to return to work. So while Dutch presenters focused on the re-valuing of maternal caregiving, American and British participants sought support in the form of supplemental childcare to find time for their work. Beyond this point, however, the stigmas and other challenges surrounding motherhood and career seem to be universal, profoundly impacting the type of cultural work that is produced, experienced, and supported both critically and financially.

In the evening, a group meal at the Ethiopian restaurant M'n Schoonmoeder or “My Mother-in-Law” offered space for further conversation before overflowing out and across the street to the nonprofit gallery Upominki for a richly interconnected exhibition curated by Gallery Director Weronika Zielinska, who we learned had just given birth to her second child just a few days before the opening!

The event closed on Sunday with an informal roundtable discussion to process the weekend’s events. There was a sense of urgency to the conversation, and a commitment to continue it in various forms. I packed my bags to return home feeling inspired, supported, and that with collaborators like these, a whole lot is possible. The revolution may happen slowly, organized via Skype after our children are in bed or off to school, but it’s underway. Stay tuned.