gallery performance
Double-Void, Newlyn Art Gallery, 2001

Daytime durational walking the circle with the red hessian bag of lard was repeated over several days at Newlyn Gallery, 2001. This action was juxtaposed with 3 monitors of performances made over the preceding days, and Burden, the 1998 film of the same action. Images credit: Steve Tanner

Double Void, Time, Trauma and Matrescence


My personal story is a significant part of a story that now at 60 (and a ‘good enough’ grandma), I feel more than ever is about time and trauma. In re-visiting past performance and media art works that I made in the early noughties with a matrescent lens I explore the continual process of becoming mother as a process of Self that can never be finalized.

I made maternal performance-media works from 1998 with the aim of making visible lived experiences of motherhood because I didn’t see ‘real,’ if any representations of motherhood around me. Re-visiting my performance and media installations of the 90s within the context of matrescence is a belated activity. Looking at Double Void 2001 in detail and its use of live performance juxtaposed with time-based film, I continue to explore the unfolding trauma and return in which mothers adapt to motherhood, I continue conversations with past selves, past theory and research and multiply time frames (and the gaps between) to explore and amplify the ever-changing landscape of ‘becoming mother’.

Please read on….full text of Double Void, Time, Trauma and Matrescence:

‘Re-vision  –  the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction – is for woman far more than a chapter in cultural history, it is an act of survival.’[1]

Prologue: one act that leads to another

As a mother of 4, I returned to study fine art in in my mid-30s, in the late 90s. I was still recalibrating, defogging and re-conditioning my brain after 30 years of being a ‘Mormon’ and had only experienced 5 years of thinking beyond this defining and controlling patriarchal religion that allows women to be only ‘help-meets’, homemakers and mothers.

I had married at 20 and by the age of 25 had 3 children under 5. At 30, I Ieft the church and my husband in what I now understand to be a bid for personal survival. At the time I was no longer ‘good enough’ mother or trying religiously to be’ ideal’ mother and became ‘bad’ mother. I was however prepared to live with the label because I was ‘alive’ mother.[2]

I embraced a new life and new way of thinking and then accidentally became pregnant. I deferred a year of art college to embrace the pregnancy and named my child ‘Phoenix’. I felt together we would rise from the ashes of this ignominious start and that as a single mother who knew ‘who she was’ I would be a better mother than I ever was before because I felt I had escaped from censure, control and blame.

Matrescence, art and media

My personal story is a significant part of the story I am going to tell here, about art, matresence and media, that now at 60 (and a ‘good enough’ grandma), I feel more than ever is about time and trauma. In re-visiting and re-visioning past performance and media artworks made in the early noughties with a matrescent lens, I explore the ‘physical, psychological, and emotional changes experienced during the significant transformation that is motherhood’ over an extended period of time. Long after the initial mothering stage (physically bearing children and caring for them into adulthood), every stage of a woman’s life (including becoming grandmother) is a process of fluid change and adaptation. The continual process of becoming mother can never be finalized; it is in the gaps between time frames, that we might find ways to represent mothering and share affective knowledge and experience.

I made maternal performance-media works from 1998 with the aim of making visible the lived experience of motherhood because I didn’t see ‘real’, if any representations of motherhood around me. Re-visiting my performance and media installations of the 90s within the context of matrescence is a belated activity. I had never read Dana Raphael’s book Being female: Reproduction, power and change but knew that mothering was not inate. It was a role, a masquerade and a way of being that was learnt and appropriated. This theory of ‘a time of mother-becoming’, expanded on by Daniel Stern, suggested that giving birth to a new identity can be as demanding as physically giving birth to a baby. Stages encompass ambivalence, reality, feeling not good enough, reflecting on one’s own experiences of being mothered, and new stresses in family dynamics. These stages seem to refer to the initial years of mothering with the assumption that women adapt and succeed in being ‘good enough’ mothers.

My archival work Double Void 2001 with its overlapping time frames explored the unfolding trauma and return in which mothers adapt to motherhood. Here I continue conversations with past selves and multiply time frames (and the gaps in-between) to explore and amplify the ever-changing landscape of becoming mother.

Double void 1998-2001

‘The central concept or action is durationally walking a circle and dragging a bag of lard whose weight corresponded with the weight of a child. Changing as the child grows, this action is a metaphor for the physical, psychological and cultural burden of childbearing and rearing that women are expected to bear.’ (Delpha Hudson, 2001)

In 1998 I asked a filmmaker friend to film me dragging a sack of lard that corresponded to the weight of my 18 month old child (40lbs) around a chalk circle (approx. 1.8 metres across) in an abandoned warehouse in Birmingham. I walked the circle 10 times and as I had no childcare, my 18 month old son followed me around the circle and became part of the performance. To the resulting short film Burden, (3 mins), was added a looped soundtrack of his first word which co-incidentally was ‘bag’.

This simple action of walking a circle was a metaphor for the 10 months or moon cycles of the pregnant body. I felt it was significant that it was an active representation of mother, from noun to a verb: walking and bearing the weight of a red hessian sack as metaphor of the joint physical and psychological burdens of guilt and responsibility that mothers have to bear. 

It was always my intention that the performance would be re-enacted in different sites and settings and that the active duration of walking and dragging would grow indexically with the growth of my youngest child. And as the size of the red hessian sack and its contents [3] grew so might the weight of responsibility for a mother. In 2001 I was given the opportunity to re-create and re-enact this simple performance and by juxtaposing the film Burden (1998) create Double Void, a time-based installation and performance at Newlyn Art Gallery.

The title Double Void was inspired by Lucy Lippard’s ‘curious void’ of representations of motherhood and procreativity[4] , and referring not only to the absence of representation of motherhood but to the problematic nature of representing presence of a female body and Subject. I hoped by visually creating relationships in-between live performance and media (films of the same action in different time frames) to find ways and means to visually enunciate multiple voids.

Double Void, video film still Newlyn Art Gallery, 2001: projection of a negativized film version of Burden onto stacked lard.

Performing presence… and disappearance

‘Women’s specifities, their corporeality and subjectivities, are not inherently resistant to representation or depiction. They may be unrepresentable in a culture in which the masculine can represent others only as versions of itself, where the masculine relies on the subordination of the feminine, but this is not logically or biologically fixed. It can be redefined, reconceived, re-inscribed in ways entirely different from those that mark it today’.[5]

I had already been making live performances juxtaposed with ‘time-based’ film that played with ideas surrounding representations of coherent identity. It was important to me to utilise the language of the body as a powerful symbolic form and to re-inscribe it as

‘an open-ended pliable set of significations capable of being rewritten, reconstituted in quite other terms than those which mark it’. [6]

My reading led me to believe that being physically present was significant, and a

‘reflexive process of embodiment that enables the subject to turn history onto itself and explore and interrogate its terrain.’[7]

Yet I was also anxious that perhaps the live body as primary material only achieved a representational status, and as a ‘substitution’ did not deliver ‘truth,’[8] and perhaps that successive, and ‘identical confrontations’ of live acts might cancel each other out, thus posing questions of presence and its disappearance’.[9]

These doubts about how it is possible to experience live and embodied acts led me to explore spaces in-between live and mediated acts (time-based films) and that in the resulting gaps or spaces between media it might be possible to enunciate and represent multiple subject positions over time; evoking a space of continual process, change and adaptation that women experience in becoming.

Double Void as mediated hybrid live/digital juxtaposition

projected performance

Video film still Newlyn Art Gallery, 2001 Early doors at a public opening of the performance and installation of Double Void. The soundtrack from the film Burden (my son’s first word  ‘Bag’ looped) was not played for the duration of this performance because really it was just too irritating.

Double Void juxtaposed live performance with film[10] to emphasise aspects of ‘real’ time and its contrapunctual index. Time is continually becoming, always changing. It is the slippage between the permeable interpretive time frames of live presence and its ‘disappearance’ that may represent an unfinalizable space that is never static and is always moving.

In this space there is a

‘suspension’ between the ‘real’ physical matter of the performance body and the psychic experience of what is to be em-bodied.’[11]

In 2001 the act of walking the circle was live and recorded. It was the same repeated action but was recorded in different frames and light conditions. Not only was film footage of Burden 1998 juxtaposed with live action via a projected image, extra layers of time were added throughout an installation with film footage on 3 monitors that layered and re-structured the performance event again, and again.

This echoed ideas from Hal Foster’s notion of return, and his theory of diachronic and synchronic time in which deferred- action and ‘retro-action’ produce a significance of event and the potential of ‘presence’ through ‘a complex relay of anticipation and reconstruction’.[12]

When it was dark enough to do so, the film ‘Burden’ was projected on to my body as it performed the ‘retro-active’ repetitive act of walking the circle. The continuous ‘deferment’ of actions and embodying multiplicity through the anchor of the live act and reproduced via an aggregate of temporary layers. What I represented (the mother’s body performing a role of carrying a burden) was the same yet different each time. It was in these interstitial spaces between live and mediated work that I aimed to assert an inter-subjective immediacy and anteriority. The dissonance of time-space and resulting paradox becomes a frame in which the mother asserts a differentiated ‘presence’ through an endless dialogue between reality and absence.

In this space there is a fluid interchange between different selves at different times (a kind of ‘negotiation’ of self/es) that I felt had the potential to evoke a re-inscription of meaning for the maternal body/Subject that

‘falls into an unrepresented zone, with woman’s identity somewhere between less-than-one and becoming more-than-one’.[13]

Aiming to create possibilities for representing the mothers body (and mothering) by exploring alternative space in-between, places she might exist and be present in a cultural discourse that is based on philosophical and psychological theories of a single unitary male subject.  Aiming to escape maternal societal tropes and expectations of mother that threaten her very existence, representation and process of becoming – anything.

audience interaction at the gallery

Families and gallery audiences were invited to join in and interact with the circle or talk about their experiences (photo by artist)

A personal interlude…

As a mother of young children, I felt invisible, like I didn’t exist. This is a common experience for mothers for whom every waking moment is spent with their children and so have no time to themselves, especially if they have no childcare, family support or friendship groups. I felt subsumed and desperate.

This sense of nonentity and non-existence I felt was exacerbated by a strange timelessness: night and day became as sleep was often interrupted or impossible; the children grew but you didn’t really notice; time measured in meals, appointment and repetitious acts of care but always interminable and seemingly endless. I now understand this ‘senselessness’ of time in relation to my own mental health.

There was a popular TV ad for a woman’s product in the 80s which featured a woman drying her hair with a hairdryer. It buzzed and the hair moved, then all stopped still. Time stood still. That ad haunts me now as a visual evocation of how at certain times in a woman’s life, time does indeed seem to stop. There’s a horror and fascination with the hollowness that many women experience especially when they mother. They are so often caught in a web of an eternal daily pattern in which they are contained, fixed and pinned. Time is the enemy and there is never enough time for everything – let alone taking care of your Self. Understanding the patterns and transactions we are locked into takes time and in looking back at mothering now I have more understanding and sympathy for my former selves.

I find my historical experiences of motherhood and becoming mother still relevant to me now. I am still coming to terms with my experiences, and I am now proud that as a young mother of 3 children in my 20s that I was a loving capable mother. It wasn’t just a role, a masquerade, I felt good at it and loved it. When my world crashed around me and I could no longer bear the physical and psychological pressures of being a Mormon Mother with all of its hyper-ideality, I survived by becoming someone else and distancing myself from the person and mother I had been.

When I became a mother again in my mid-30s I was able to adapt the role of mother on my own terms and balance my needs with those of my child. I really loved being a mother then because I wrote and created the role myself and no-one told me what the script was. I had friends who supported me and becoming mother became an experience formed from time, knowledge of and an understanding of ambivalence and burden. In naming these things I could live with them.

I was and am still angry about inequalities of care, responsibility, and blame. Now always passes and the extra perspectives gifted by time enable me to understand and process my inability to play the role of ‘good mother’ and forgive myself for my failures.

Matrescence, time and trauma

Traumatic events can be ‘intimated, allusively encountered, never mastered, and not fully seen’. [14]

Trauma as a ‘symbolic discourse that uses at source inarticulate and ir-representable sites of unprocessed anxiety’[15] is often expressed in dramatic and cathartic ways. Yet in dealing with often ordinary, everyday and domestic minutiae, it is hard to articulate trauma in relation to women’s experiences of mothering because their experiences (if acknowledged at all) are dismissed as inconsequential. So often the traumatic aspects of becoming mother are not spoken of, shared or presented. Ways in which mothers might verbalise or represent the source of their anxieties and difficulties are impossible to represent affectively. The presumption that mothering is ‘natural’, ‘happy’ and ‘normal’ is part of a devious historical psychology in which mothers often experience trauma, yet have to pretend otherwise.

For Hal Foster trauma is ‘recoded retroactively’, its ‘deferred’ nature means that it can be only realised and measurable after the fact. Whilst juxtaposing different time frames within Double Void with its gaps of time in-between, I could never have imagined, then, how I would come to understand it as a catharsis of my own trauma of becoming mother now.

Looking back at Double Void continues to create spaces and gaps in which I can confer meaning after the fact. It continues to enable me to process, share my experiences and gives me profound relief.  In the same way that relational performance and media create dialogues through and of time, I use strategies of re-versioning and return to tell stories to better maintain good mental health. Becoming mother is on-going and unfinalizable; I remain a ‘workshop of possibilities’ in which ‘echo and feedback loops’ create patterns of repetition in which the

 ‘self-emerges [in] a relational dynamic between past, present and future.’ [16]

Intimating personal experience through time and repetition creates movement between idealisation and lived reality that is affective and creates an empathetic ‘participatory responsiveness, …and reciprocal co-affectivity,’[17] and in the process of sharing our personal experiences with others we are bearing witness (or wit(h)-ness[18]) to experiences of mothering, that enable us to join with and feel with others – and for ourselves. 

Bracha-Ettinger also suggests that it is through metramorphic[19] processes and formations that reference our personal legacies of sexual difference, and loss of self, that we might transform the burdens that we share. Rupturing existing modes of representation and creating relational processes that share our experiences speak of our potential for continual transformation and change. 

projection and performance at night

Video film still, as soon as it was dark enough the negativized film version of Burden 1998 could be projected onto the artist who repeated the same action of walking the circle, multiplying representations of presence and creating a dialogue with time.

Belatedness and return: Tracing a lineage

‘Time perspective enables us to contextualise, historicise and categorise work that has been ‘completed’ and represented… grows, develops and aggregates in-between time frames, the ideas become more ‘real’ than that which they purport to represent’.

Looking back on this sentence from my BA dissertation written in 2000, I invite you to imagine a time when the internet existed but there was very little on it, and certainly nothing about ‘mother artists’ and ‘maternal performance’. In the late 90s and early noughties I hunted high and low but the only artists I could find that were making work that was specifically about motherhood were Bobby Baker and Catherine Elwes. In the late 90s and early noughties I could find no clear historical lineage, so I picked out theory and ideas from what was available in order to create a new way of enunciating and representing experiences of becoming mother. Some of those ideas, from that time, are outlined here.

It is resonant for me to read about the potential of performance that explores motherhood as “embodied, relational and durational”  (Underwood-Lee and Simic, Maternal Performance, 2021) because Double Void used some of these strategies. Exploring differing temporalities through durational performance that featured physical acts of endurance (as a metaphor for mothers whose work is often repetitive, boring and exhausting) and ‘duration’ used to the invoke time and its after-effects created in relationships between live performance and its documentation.

Reproductions of the ‘original’ event create a process of dialectical movement between site and non-site, (although not a stable opposition) and it was always intended that there would be additional differentiated performance versions of Double Void that would create further layers of in-between time and correspond to the process of growth and change of my child, and of myself as mother. Further ‘walking the circle’ and its live and mediated performances were proposed but never made.[20]

It is interesting now to revisit the idea of ‘burden’ in terms of matrescence and the psychology required to become mother. Looking back, I was especially bad at being able to ask for help to share the burden. Performing metaphors of weight and carrying, the materials and media I used intentionally carried symbolic dualities. I also thought of live performance and its documentation as a kind of visual and aesthetic positionality relating to discursive positioning [21] that creates movement between body, time, site and metaphor in constant re-constructions that relationally re-present the experience of mothering. Moving fluidly between historical and temporal time frames creates spaces and conversations between doing and the thing done, and between present and past; dialogic relationships between presence and absence, that could communicate

 ‘discursive public spheres,’ in which people articulate established positions and have the potential to not only change them, but actually come into being though dialogical interactions with others’. [22]

It is incredible to see contemporary work by artists making work about mothering, and parenting now, and the ‘void’ being filled with much needed representations. I am constantly surprised how resonant issues of equality and representation of motherhood still are, especially as I see my own children parenting and bearing the weight and responsibility of children. Mothering and parenting[23] can still be a destructive and overwhelming force. Societal and cultural conditions still often isolate the mother from others and from herself. She is denied practical support and respect. She is denied subjectivity and selfhood.

Representing the time of mother becoming can change how we think about women, whether they mother or not. As Battersby argues,

‘Sex, gender and patterns of relationality can connect all things, at all times, creating fluid forms of resistance to domination and patterns of potentiality and flow. Motherhood and the maternal can be transformative to changing power relations constituted by discourse’. [24]

My current art practice has never strayed very far from the mother subject and mother-as-subject. The politics of motherhood has remained an over-arching theme in my arts practice, and I still want to defeat social clichés about caring and motherhood through evocative encounters. I am still passionate about creating dialogues in the spaces between discourse and experience. Current practice is informed by past praxis [25] that creates new dialogue and conjunctions with the present in diverse and multiple ways.

It has been a pleasure and a task to belatedly think about my time of mother becoming. It is not just the physical exigencies of childbirth (and its shocking physical strains and residues that sometimes affect health in later years), or coming to terms with the residues of trauma (experienced in the face of guilt, failure, responsibility, and societal expectation) but the sense of pride that I have created and negotiated strategies through my arts practice that aim to share and engage others in the lived-experience of carers and mothers, and that aim to represent and create empathy with those experiences. What a difference it could make to society if we all experienced what is like to become mother and if we all responsible for all of our children.


Battersby, Christine, Phenomenal Woman – Feminist Metaphysics and the patterns of identity, Polity Press, 1998

Battersby, C., Her Body/Her Boundaries, The Body, Journal of Philosophy and Visual Art, Academy Editions, Ernst & Son, 1993 ed, Andrew Benjamin, pp31-39

Betterton, R. (ed), An Intimate Distance: women artists and the body, Routledge, London/NY, 1996

Braidotti, R. Patterns of Dissonance, Polity Press, 1991

Braidotti, R. Nomadic Subjects. Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, Columbia University Press, 1994

Diamond, Erin, Performance pedagogy, MIT press, 2000

Florence, P., Reynolds, D., Feminist Subjects, multi-media Cultural Methodology, NY, Manchester University Press, 1995

Foster, H. Return of the Real, MIT, 1996

Grosz, E. Volatile Bodies:Towards a Corporeal Feminism, Indiana University Press, 1994

Grosz, E., Space, Time, and Perversion, Routledge, (US), 1995

Jones, A. Body Art, Performing the Subject, University of Minnesota, 1998

Kaye, N. Site-Specific Art, Performance, Place and Documentation, Routledge, London, 2000

Peggy Phelan, P., Unmarked the politics of performance, Routledge , 1993

Pollock, G., Psychoanalysis and the Image: Transdisciplinary Perspective, ,Wiley-Blackwell,  2006

Pollock G., After-Affects/After-Images: Trauma and Aesthetic Transformation in the Virtual Feminist Museum, Manchester University Press, 2013

Warr, T.& A Jones, The Artist’s Body, Phaidon Press Ltd, 2000

[1] Adrienne Rich quoted in Pollock, G.,2006,  p.194

[2]  I had embraced motherhood and loved it, even with the exceptional pressures placed upon Mormon ‘home-makers’ (Molly Mormons) until the lack of sleep, the guilt, the pressure, decimated any sense I had of self and I suffered what I know now was probably a break down.

[3] Lard a popular medium with performance artists that is a cheap material often used as a metaphor for the body.

[4] Lucy Lippard quoted in Warr, T.& A Jones, 2000, p.254

[5] Betterton, R., 1996, p.17

[6] Florence P, & Reynolds D., 1995, p.197

[7] Diamond, Erin, 2000, pp5&6

[8] Amelia Jones whose ‘Presence in absentia’ who argues for experiencing performance as documentation. She argued a case that live work should not be privileged over documentation, 1998             

[9] Daniel buren quoted Nick Kaye, 2000, p. 125

[10] video. Nowadays everyone conflates video with ‘film’. This wasn’t always the case but I use both interchangeably now.

[11] Peggy Phelan, 1993 p.198

[12] Foster, H., 1999, introduction (p. xii)

[13] Battersby, C., 1998, p19

[14] Pollock, G., 2013, p. 7

[15] Pollock, G., 2013, p. 12

[16] Battersby, 1998, p.174.

[17]  Pollock, G., 2013, p. 12

[18] Bracha- Ettinger in Pollock, G., 2013, p.15

[19] from metra =mother and morphology= change

[20] I proposed Outside Circumference to Tate St Ives in 2007 in the hope that I could physically drag a much heavier sack on the sand at Porthmeor Beach, but I was commissioned to make Miss-Readings instead. Because I was getting older, and weaker and the weight of my son was getting heavier the metaphor began to be problematic. There was an adapted live performance of Double-Burden made forLeyden Gallery, 2017 which did not re-enact the dragging of a sack, although there was a lard baby and lots of storytelling…

[21] Rosi Braidotti’s term that seems to echo and relate to Elizabeth Grosz’s term discursive positioning 

[22] Pollock G., 2013, p.240

[23] my oldest son ‘mothers’ but he is in the minority as a male carer so I am still talking about the overwhelming majority of women who are the ones that the full force of guilt and responsibility of caring for children

[24] Battersby, C.,  2006/7, p22

[25] Many aspects of becoming mother are explored in Theatre of the Self (2017) and other projects like Skirting the Issues (2023) I always document and take care to archive art works and this has been key to re-visiting work here. 

Do get in touch if you would like to know more or have a look at other mother performances.