Pleasure in slowness, performance with Helen Battelley, Mailbox Intervention Festival, Birmingham, 2004

Devised as a commission for the Mailbox Intervention Festival –  the site of the shopping arcade, Helen Battelley and I dressed as glamorous mothers moving around in a pantomime of speed and slowness.

It was a parody relating to the pressures of time and the role-playing involved in mothering. Referencing Walter Benjamin’s Arcades project and his critique of men’s speed and movement in modern day life, how much more problematic is time, speed and slowness for mothers? They are alternately rushed off their feet with responsibilities and care, or bored by repetitive tasks. It satirised the possibility that mothers even have time to take pleasure in slowness.

Carefully scored, alarm clocks rang every ten minutes, signalling a change of role from slowness to speed, with each performer alternating from one to the other. Activities included loitering around shop windows, dragging a 2-D husband around the shops, sitting in a shop, running whilst burdened with children’s balloons and bags, walking a tortoise (sadly not a real one – in fact it was a wind up walking pig but as slow as a tortoise), window shopping, and changing outfits in different shops.

The juxtaposed roles also parodied the flaneur, Walter Benjamin’s male wanderer who has time to romantically wander the streets and fix his male gaze on Modernity. The sudden alternation between frantic and quiet emphasized the clock watching life of women who mother and often unlike the male flaneur have no time to be or know themselves. The repetition of drudgery and unpaid work weigh heavily on women, who lack opportunities to reflect or enjoy stillness and contemplation and as a result often suffer from mental health issues.

Other collaborative works with Helen Battelley (under the name Rubber Glove) also featured dance and movement. Smear was part of a series of video performances that beautifully parodied the messiness of motherhood (and by inference its unpopularity) and dealt with culturally dictated feminine and mothering roles through mess, movement, objects, and colour.

Filmed by Sarah Rose. Thanks to all the babysitters that made us available to run around a shopping centre for a day without our children.

Watch the film documentation of the performance.