Warhorse

Artist as Mother as Artist: The Exhibition Championing Mams

20 April 16 words: Bridie Squires

"Although there are issues around being a mother and in the art world, we're trying to celebrate mother artists and how they make work. We're breaking down boundaries"

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image: Paula Chambers

Can you each tell LeftLion readers a little about yourselves and what you do?
Tracey: I wanted to be an artist since I was a child, but it was only later in life when I had a few different career paths not work out that I thought, “This is what I really want to do.” I was working as a nurse and had a young son but I started doing a part-time degree at NTU. I eventually gave up nursing and just focused on my art. I've got a studio at Backlit now.

Having a young son who was all-consuming inspired everything and opened up a new world to me. I began to focus on that in my art, so everything became about the maternal. He was a great source of inspiration. I’ve got an ongoing project on at the moment, Tell Me About Your Mother, which I’m doing a lot of research for and collating materials. It’s been running for about three years. Then there’s this new exhibition that myself and Sam are curating together.

Sam: I’ve been an artist for over twenty years. I started as a visual artist and moved into live art and performance. I've been the curator and programmer at the Lace Market Gallery for three years now. I had my child five years ago and stopped making art – I just couldn't find a way to make work. I started again in the last year, responding to the world around me and, like Tracey, my child became a great source of inspiration.

I started documenting little parts of my life to do with my son and when I saw Tracey’s Tell Me About Your Mother project in Bromley House Library, I absolutely loved it. That’s when we first met. I saw Fifty Things My Son Doesn't Need Me For [a video piece in the project] and I sat and wept for about an hour. It resonated so much with how I felt as a mother and I wanted to curate an exhibition around artists working with the notions of maternal and domestic. I approached Tracey and asked her if she'd want to co-curate.

Is the work you make now vastly different from the work you made before you were a mother?
Sam: It is really different. I think I'm going back to a more visual practice because it's more practical. I’m collecting visual and text-based materials. As a performance artist, I was touring at festivals and venues around the country, and I’d find it very difficult to take myself away from my family now. There are certain parts of the art world that don't accommodate that – you can't go perform at a festival and have childcare that runs alongside that.

One of the things that I'm interested in is how the art world accommodates parenthood, how it enables artists to engage in the same way they might’ve done before being parents. It is actually very different. I’m working in a way now that intertwines with my life.

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photo: Sam Rose

Tracey, how is this different to what you've been doing with your long-term project?
Tracey:
This is a very intense, short-period project which has an end to it, although things will rise from it. One of the things we've talked about developing is a bi-monthly forum for mother artists to talk about issues and support each other. We don't see this as the end.
Sam: It's a one-off project that will serve as a springboard for other things to happen. I'm interested in the community we build from it, especially locally. We’re hoping to engage local mother artists to talk about their practice, as well as the difficulties, to inspire each other.

Tracey: This is something I have only done on a smaller scale with projects, but this is quite a big project for me, so it's great to be working with Sam and learning how the gallery runs, the different aspects of running an exhibition, and putting on different events.
Sam: The Lace Market Gallery has never curated such a big show. Even with group shows we don't usually have twelve artists – we’re bringing national and local artists together.

Tell me about the twelve artists. What we can expect?
Sam: There’s photography, dance performance documentation, digitally manipulated works, video, drawing and sculpture.
Tracey: What's nice is we've got a range of artists – some early career artists and long established artists.
Sam: Locally, we've got myself and Tracey, Jessica Paige Greig, and a performance company called Zoo Indigo who are showing a documentation film of their project, No Woman's Land.

What is it about the maternal you are trying to portray?
Sam: It’s about how it can become a creative process. Although there are issues around being a mother and in the art world, we're trying to celebrate mother artists and how they make work. We're breaking down boundaries. There are two parent and child workshops and if mothers need to bring their children to the presentation, we’ll have a space for children to play and do some artworks. We’re also looking at getting some child care.
Tracey: It’s not just going to be full of images of motherhood, but work by somebody who is absolutely inspired by the maternal.

You’re having a dust bread-making workshop. What’s that all about?
Tracey: It’s run by an artist called Helen Sergeant, who's coming down from Yorkshire. She's done this performance piece before where she collects ephemera, dust and bits and pieces from around her house, kneads them into a bread-based mixture, and then bakes it so it comes out looking like a loaf of bread. It’s lovely to watch the kneading – it’s linked to the domestic, and we thought it would be nice for children to be involved in a physical, fun activity. We’re going to ask them to collect ephemera or anything they can find from their house to knead into a bread mixture, then we’re going to bake them and have them on display.

Sam: They become art objects in their own right. Decomposing art objects. The ephemera gets imbedded into an actual object of display which then decomposes. There's a lot of amazing metaphors and ideas in that loaf of bread, but ultimately I think one of the reasons we wanted to do that workshop was to particularly attract artists who are parents and don't know how to engage with their domestic lives. We wanted to inspire them and show them that you can take something which is a very domestic ritual, like baking a loaf of bread, and make it into an art object.

Have you crafted a narrative around the room in the gallery space, or have you mixed it all up?
Sam: Sometimes when you are installing, a narrative emerges that you don't actually see until you get all the works into one space, and you think,  “Actually, there's a real connection between these two works and they talk to each other.” I think that’s what’s starting to happen here.

Artist as Mother as Artist, Lace Market Gallery (inside NCN’s School of Art and Design), Friday 22 April - Thursday 19 May.

NCN Lace Market Gallery on Facebook

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