M/Utter

Durational performance (2002), Crossing Time Festival, Dartington Hall

Engaging with discourses surrounding the maternal body and endeavouring to present aesthetic metaphors for the ‘lived reality’ of motherhood, this durational performance involved a set of Sisyphean tasks with my legs tied together: carrying seawater (collected from St Ives where I lived) in tiny bags of seawater tied to my legs, filling up 9 buckets, then in turn filling a wheelbarrow with the 9 buckets of water and the other objects; 9 granite ‘egg’ stones,  a newspaper article about ‘super-women’ who work and mother, 9 mirrors, and a copy of the Mona Lisa. The title m/utter is German for mother, for muttering or incessant chatter that accompanied the tasks and for ‘utter’.

Made to fill the ‘void’ of representations of motherhood beyond the stereotypes of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the body and its experience can be enunciated and ‘uttered’ through metaphor and visual performance.

Personal description:

‘I had given myself a ridiculous set of tasks involving filling a wheelbarrow with a number of items: symbolic and mostly heavy, with my legs tied with plastic bags of seawater. The intention was that the actions should be accompanied appropriately to the title of the piece with a low, incessant mutter. This was harder than I thought especially with members of the audience talking to me. I responded. I don’t know what I said, probably something about ‘expectation,’ as the first part of the performance was reading the newspaper article, which made me cross every time I read it.

Mostly I remember the raw burning sensation on my thighs as the bags of seawater leaked and evaporated leaving a harsh, salty residue on the floor. Where I had moved fast, sliding along on the salt water, movement now became really painful with the friction. Moving slowly, the muttering becoming moans and maybe the odd curse.

Finally after a  number of hours, I had completed the task of filling the wheelbarrow and felt a surge of new energy as I was filled with a red raw thread of anger. This increased as I tried to manoeuvre the wheelbarrow out the doors of the building. Furiously I remembered all those years of trying to manoeuvre pushchairs and children.  Pushing, forcing, breaking my way out,  I crashed into it. Fuelled by sudden fury, with supernatural strength I lifted up the wheelbarrow and crashed the contents on the steps of the building. The mirrors shattered, the buckets clattered, and the small boulders bounced heavily all the way down the steps. I do not remember clearing it up.’

Photo credit: Andy Whall