Durational performance, Crossing Time Festival, Dartington Hall, 2002
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 that evoke endurance and strength, as well as containment. With my legs bound together so that I was unable to walk I also had seawater in tiny bags tied to my legs. The tasks:
-fill up 9 buckets with seawater, then in turn fill a wheelbarrow with the 9 buckets of water
-collect all the other objects and put them into the wheelbarrow: 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, and for the muttering or incessant chatter or cursing that accompanied the tasks as it was physically challenging, even painful to move around on the floor as the leaked sea water dried to salt. The title is also close to utter, or utterance. Performed with the premise that the female body and its experience can be enunciated or uttered through performance and metaphor.
The performance took place over 5 hours. It was intentionally not filmed but documented with photographs.
M/utter notes, written 2002
‘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 then 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 from the dried salt water. 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.’
More writing about performing motherhood
Studies in mothering have announced such seemingly obvious statements as ‘mother-love….is as important for mental health as are vitamins and proteins for physical health’ (Rutter, 1972). It has been convenient to believe that the needs of mother and child are complimentary, that the mother gets what she needs mutually from the child. This is the myth of a satisfying symbiosis of the mother-child dyad.
I have explored these contradictions and the ‘lived reality’ of motherhood in art works in order to escape from stereotypical representation, confinement, stigmatisation, and categorisation.
Society categorises and represents mothers as good or bad. Caught between binaries, they are denied individuality and Subjecthood. Mothers are bearers loaded with the responsibilities of the institution of motherhood and denied individualised representation.
My performance practice explores possible strategies for representation through visual metaphor, time-based video practices, street action, parody, language and ritual.
The body is performed and used in an iconic way. It is maternal, fecund, tender yet ultimately angry. It is possible through evocative encounters to create rupture and the cultural transformation of the burden of parenting.
Have a look at other performances that tell stories about the maternal body.