First UK exhibition for 'The Mother Load' project
A thought-provoking new exhibition exploring the links between motherhood, identity, hope and new beginnings will open at Abertay University on Friday 26 February.
At times humorous, at times heart-breaking, ‘The Mother Load: Dundee’ tells the stories and shares the experiences of women from around the world who are finding new ways to achieve that age-old challenge of balancing work and home life.
Central to this is the idea of community and the importance of building personal networks of support that can empathise, as well as be creatively inspiring.
This is perfectly portrayed in a unique project that has been created in collaboration with Dundee’s Young Mothers Unit by the US-based artists Lesli Robertson and Natalie Macellaio, and the artist and curator Clare Brennan from Abertay University.
The installation is a collection of hand-stitched prints made from found objects, each with a personal story behind it and each interwoven with the hopes and dreams these young mothers have for their children and their futures.
Loosely based on the quilting bees of past generations - where women would share stories, techniques, ideas and their lives - the young women took part in workshops over a three week period that were designed to help them connect with each other, share their experiences and create something beautiful that tells their stories – a creation that explores their identity, not only as mums, but as young women at the start of their adult life.
The heart-wrenchingly poignant photographic installation ‘Sleep While The Baby Sleeps’ also explores the idea of sharing experiences, this time through two mothers who are bringing up children in very different circumstances.
Simone O’Callaghan began the project when her first child was born six years ago and invited Jenny McMillan, whose three-year-old son Blake has a rare genetic condition that leaves him vulnerable to disease and causes him profound disability, to participate.
Each mother has taken a photo of her own child every night since they were born, and the accompanying narratives which detail what each mum was doing while their baby was sleeping demonstrate the stark differences – as well as surprising similarities – between the two women’s experiences of motherhood.
Clare Brennan – Curator of Abertay University’s art gallery, the Hannah Maclure Centre – explains more about the exhibition:
“The exhibition takes its name from The Mother Load project, which is an international network of over 100 artists that was established by Lesli Robertson and Natalie Macellaio in 2012.
“All the members of the network are also mothers and the idea behind it comes from the shared challenges that many women face as they try to juggle home life with their need and desire to still be creative.
“This is true of everyone, not only artists, and I think it’s really important for women to find guilt-free time to engage in activities that are just for them, for them to express themselves, finding moments of self-contentment. But we all know that’s not easy! So this project is really a way to try and connect people so that they can learn from each other and inspire each other too.
“The Mother Load was set up in recognition of this as a support network for artists to share ideas and experiences of how they cope with the burden of society’s expectations, and how they find ways to juggle all the different aspects of their lives.”
The artists who join The Mother Load are sent a blank copper plate and asked to mark it with their fingerprints and the fingerprints of each of their children.
The copper plate oxidizes over time, gradually revealing the prints and serving as a physical metaphor for the mother’s new identity – one that changes the moment she becomes a mother.
The other side of the copper plate holds a QR code that links to the artist’s website, tying the project back to the individual artist and the connection their hands have to their practice and their relationships.
An installation of these beautiful printed copper plates makes up the centrepiece of the exhibition. It is constantly evolving as new members join, and this is the first time it has been exhibited in the UK.
As well as highlighting the challenges that motherhood brings, however, the exhibition also turns stereotypical notions of what it means to be a mother on their head, questioning cultural norms.
The playful ‘House Arrest: Domestic Actions’ is a case in point: sound artist Zoe Irvine and performance artist Pernille Spence – who are both mothers – use eggs, cream, potatoes, fish, kitchen utensils and cleaning products to perform small-scale, resonant domestic actions to camera in a six screen installation piece with multichannel sound.
Their actions allow for subtle transgressions, and these slight contraventions of the norms of domestic behaviour bring heightened consideration to common household acts.
Speaking about the other works in the exhibition, Clare continues:
“We’ve chosen works where the artists have all managed to bring their role as mothers to the forefront of their artistic practice, whether that’s through consciously making their children the focus of their output or through using art as a means of escapism.
“Mali De-Kalo’s films ‘Finkelkraut’ and ‘Baudrillard’ are good examples of this. It’s such an honest piece: it doesn’t sugarcoat motherhood at all. In the first film she is reading to her daughter in a voice that makes you think she’s reading a children's story – except it’s about the 2005 Paris riots. Her daughter doesn’t really understand, but is attentive, nodding along.
“In the second film her daughter is older and not interested at all. Even though her mum is still reading to her in an animated way, she’s resisting any kind of interaction and eventually gets up and walks away. Mali talks about this reading aloud being an act of survival for herself, because reading things that she would have liked to have read for herself allows her to maintain her sanity.
“So there’s great humour in this exhibition but a lot of challenges are represented as well – all of which I’m sure many people will identify with.
“However, the overarching idea that we hope people will take away with them is that, for everyone, not just artists, art can be a way to communicate, support and build a community or personal network that can enrich your life and help you cope with whatever it throws your way.”
Running parallel to the exhibition is a series of events including film screenings, talks, a mini symposium and performative workshops. For the full programme please visit the Hannah Maclure Centre website.
The US-based Ukrainian artist Marina Shterenberg’s photographic work ‘Hairbonds’ will be added to as part of this programme. Originally a performance piece, it brought women together not only through the bonding of their hair, but also through the conversations that unfolded as the process got underway.
A live version of hairbonding will take place on Sunday 28 February, and local women with long hair are invited to take part. The connected poses will be photographed and will become part of the growing series of ‘Hairbonds’ artworks, which explores the idea that hair has its own sensory awareness, extending the sense of touch beyond the surface of the skin. According to Slavic beliefs, hair acts as a receptor of cosmic energy and the storehouse of memories.
The exhibition previews on Friday 25 February and runs until Friday 15 April in the Hannah Maclure Centre at Abertay University.
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