Durational performance, Crossing Time Festival, Dartington Hall, 2002
Creating a set of Sisyphean tasks this performance was performed with with my legs tied together. I filled up 9 buckets with seawater from St Ives carried in tiny bags of seawater tied to my legs and then in turn filled a wheelbarrow with the 9 buckets of water and then added the other objects; 9 granite ‘egg’ stones, a newspaper article about ‘super-women’ who work and mother, 9 mirrors, and a framed copy of the Mona Lisa.
The title m/utter is German for mother and during the tasks I created a different utterance or language for mothers by muttering and cursing. An incessant chatter accompanying the tasks.
‘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.’
I don’t normally think of myself as angry, yet casting my mind back over my practice, there is a thread running through. It is red thread, a red thread of anger. Anger, that I as a mother I had to give lip service to only the joy rather than the contradictions, ambivalence and lowly economic status of 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.