Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Remembering Australia's Forgotten Mothers


I am. An Australian-based feminist textual artist and theorist. I work in the tradition of feminism that articulates new modalities of writing and art from life experiences of the female subject and self. My focus is in creative writing and critical cultural theory. Pushing the project of post-structuralist reflexive writing as conceptual art across textual modes and boundaries. Into disjointed narratives of exile, fugue and dissociation.
I seek to make conscious the unconscious processes that call out for Catharsis. For Healing from personal and cultural trauma. Through performative acts of fugal writing that bear witness and reclaim dispersed and lost identity. My project and method is to use rituals of writing as action, and occasions of exchange through interviews and conversations with artists, to bring into consciousness, to evacuate and exorcise the internalised content of cultural and personal oppression and trauma. 
To rise beyond fear of the censor and surveillance into words and art that speak OUR name and make us STRONG again. Through acts of writing I remember how to feel again. I will remember who I am again. I learn how to think and take part in the world again.
My project is to break through the wall of SILENCE that removed my Mother’s mother’s entire existence from the family record, so that, not only did I, and my siblings, never know WHO she was, and had been; we never even knew, and were not supposed to know, that she had ever existed at all. 
My project is to honor the Mothers who were erased from the family record as if they did not matter.  At the same time, it was in the twentieth century, the third century of the ‘nation’s’ cultural history; the Fathers, the men folk, the returned soldiers, from the two ‘Great Wars’  were commemorated in endless ceremonies of Remembrance that almost 100 years later still continue. 
I have nothing against men being remembered, and valued and commemorated and am very proud of my grandfathers who fought bravely and suffered in the World War. 
But why was it that at the same time in Australian cultural history, that men were Remembered and commemorated excessively, women, specifically MOTHERS, were massively disregarded, excluded, denied, forgotten, and lost in the decades of the ‘stolen generations’, that lasted over six decades, when one hundred thousand children of Aboriginal mothers, were taken and placed in orphanages, missions, or with adopted parents, under a policy of attempted 'assimilation'. There is a huge gendered cultural imbalance in these practices that has not been widely acknowledged. A cultural amnesia has prevailed. My project is to resurrect the memory of the forgotten mothers. Make a plinth and cover it with their names. Write the story of my family, to start with. The long journey of finding my grandmother.
My mother’s mother died shortly after she was born. She was adopted. By an upper class couple. Grandfather was an officer and a gentleman. Grandmother was a lady and very concerned with appearances. They lived in a big house overlooking a gully on Sydney’s Upper North Shore. To spare their feelings (so the story goes now) a cover up ensued, the result being that the very existence of my grandmother, was denied and hidden. This would have been forever (had those involved successfully had their way).
It was only by chance and accidence, through little slips and whispers, from the other side, that my forbidden grandmother’s presence re-entered consciousness. I was the conduit.
To be continued.
Copyright © Ruth Skilbeck, 2011

From:  Australian women contemporary artists project.

Saturday, 18 June 2011




Part II


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Singing to Infinity

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Under The Volcano: Latest Flight News from Australia

Those who have been following your humble art scribe’s attempts to leave the ground, and stay airbourne, since this web-log began seven weeks ago may have winced at metaphors of flight delays and disruptions... There are now readers from around the world connecting through the blogosphere to these haphazard pages who have read records of struggles to take flight....and then, in a miracle of rebirth, witnessed the Scrolls soaring like a firebird from volcanic ashes... 

Imagine my surprise, though, when yesterday I received a message in my inbox, addressed to yours truly, from the Chief Executive Officer of Australia’s national airline, giving a detailed and reassuring explanation as to why flights to and from Australia have been disrupted over the last few days, due to the eruption of the Mt Puyehue Cordon Caulle volcano in Chile, and the dispersal of volcanic ash clouds into the atmosphere which apparently can make all kinds of problems; if the ash enters an airplane engine it can turn into molten glass and cause the engine to fail, a horrific prospect indeed.
When I began writing this weblog, the eruption from the Mt Puyehue Cordon Caulle volcano was but a rumbling in the bowels of the earth. But due to the current and ongoing extreme turbulence on Planet Earth, my attempts to fly into digital writing in the blogosphere have coincided with bad weather and catastrophic disruptions around the world in what must be one of the most turbulent years in human memory, when seismic, social, economic, environmental and industrial nuclear meltdowns are all coinciding to form one ‘hell’ of a Stygian Goya-esque tableaux down on dear old Mother Earth.....It’s hot down there... Now we’ve flown into another  post modern digital merging of reality and imagination...Many global art critics are frequent flyers... Yet  before realising that this must be a courtesy message sent out to the mailing lists, your scribe did wonder for a moment, if it was a sign this flight record is being read by people in high places - pilots and flight attendants? Either way thanks for the information, and keep up the good work of safety first on the airlines.  On the ground, as in the air, your passengers, do sincerely appreciate it!
This is especially relevant to yours truly, as readers may also know, my daughter and ex-husband are due to return quite soon to Australia from Newfoundland, flying across land and oceans, on the longest flight with no stops in the world.  
Air Safety First!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Feminism and Successful Mothers

The effects of a successful father on his children was a cause of much psychological scrutiny in the twentieth century; what it's like to be a child of a successful mother is a relatively new question in western history, but one that is affecting increasing numbers of the current younger and upcoming generations.
Since the influence of the 1970s women's art movement and second wave feminism has filtered into the phenomena of strong mothers effectively working in multifarious fields, what impact does a successful, feminist-influenced, mother have on the individuation, or identity-formation, of her offspring, is an issue affecting current generations that is ripe for social, cultural and psychological consideration. 
One of the major controversies of 1970s feminism was about whether gendered identity is biologically determined or socially constructed. So it is interesting to follow the development in thinking and art of leading feminist artists and theorists of the 1970s who asserted the belief that identity is socially constructed, and who have had and brought up children, and to consider the impacts on our beliefs on our children.
Of course how you define the term ‘success’ is the first step of such an analysis; on the surface one may think that a ‘feminist’ definition of success for a woman means  one who is educated to tertiary level, professional and well regarded by peers in her field.
This definition would be superficial taken on its own, to be meaningful it needs to be understood in the context of the recent history of women’s struggle for liberation and equal opportunity in the academy, in the work-place and in the social domain of cultural production: arts and culture.  It should not be forgotten that it is due to the political struggle of the international women’s movements, from the start of the 20th century, that all social advances for women are made; they were not given over by men in power. Even in the context of this struggle the real advances and interests of the women’s movements encompass far more than such an instrumental prescription.
One of the interventions and initiatives of feminism is to challenge the traditional western perception of ‘success’ as a concept in itself as a term that serves the interests of capital, or at least that is, when it is measured and judged by achievement of materialist goals in popular media discourses in consumer societies. It is one of third wave feminism’s imperatives to challenge and scrutinise this conception of success which is repeatedly revealed as redundant in each ‘bust’ cycle of capitalism; and to boldly and publicly recognise and lobby for other meanings of value and fulfillment in our lives. 
This does not mean opting out of society and the work force, but as the 1970s women's art movement controversially put onto the agenda, it does mean raising consciousness of 'female' maternal values in the public domain of culture and in the workplace. 
Copyright © Ruth Skilbeck, 2011

Message From Your Flight Captain

This is your flight captain speaking. We are currently flying at a height of approximately 32,000 feet, at a cruising speed of around 918 kilometres per hour, or for our northern passengers, that's around 570 miles per hour.
The Scrolls that you have been offered are for your reading enjoyment on this flight.

Oh Oh Oh 

Scrolling back wildly she came across some notes written long ago in a far off place.
The future is a  -was  a-  she flying or was she scrolling through the sky... scrabbling in her capacious cabinbag handbag for her art critics kit: mobile switched off, executive leather bound organiser with at least six names and addresses inscribed in red pen, make up bag,  loose lipsticks, the scribbled name and number of the renowned  male British artist she was going to interview in his new Camden studio; the scrambled number of the personal assistant of the "most famous living female British artist", whom she had hung out with, serenaded by the artist’s Dad in Sydney, and wanted to meet again, and the   
Dead See
she scrolls
the Dead See
our names
in every way,
from every passing day,
the dead call out our names.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Welcome to The Skilbeck Scrolls!

As the global public takes to social media by the billions, citizen journalism is flourishing, and global media empires are tottering and scrambling to reinvent their ‘business model’ in mass firings and casualisation of journalistic labour forces (witness the current shifts at the UK’s BBC, as one example of many). The past couple of years’ turbulence in the mainstream press is no more keenly felt than in the arts media, where your humble scribe found many a commission over the past couple of decades; yet as the doors of the old publishing model close, new doors to communication open in fresh forms and modes of digital media. Celebrating the spirit of re-invention and re-birth, we are launching this weblog under a new name and purpose, to bring readers informed comment and critique on international contemporary arts and culture and feminism, and to interweave comment and critique with the ancient practices of the oracle, gazing from the windows of the air-bus, and reading the signs in the clouds... Ladies, gentleman, and many shades in between and beyond, we hope that you may join us on our flight!

Notes from a forgotten melody...

Taking flight into digital writing- inflight notes- SOSs -UFOs -light laughter- other noises from the cabin...

Saturday, 11 June 2011

World Exclusive. 'A Secret Agreement': Mary Kelly and Kelly Barrie.

Words and photographs by Ruth Skilbeck.

This essay based on my interview with prominent 1970s feminist artist Mary Kelly and her artist son Kelly Barrie, on their collaborative installation at the 2008 Sydney Biennale, was set to be published in Art World, a sadly short-lived global contemporary art publication, that folded just as the story was going to press in July 2009. Such things happen in the media and the past couple of years turbulence in the mainstream press is no more keenly felt than in the arts media; yet as the doors of the old publishing model close, new doors to communication open in fresh forms of digital media. Celebrating the spirit of re-invention and re-birth, I have decided to publish the essay on my personal Blog, to coincide with the launch of The M Word- Real Mothers in Contemporary Art (Demeter Press, 2011), a collection which includes extracts from a conversation held between Mary, Kelly and myself at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art. Also included here are original photographs I took of the artists in their collaborative installation at the 2008 Biennale of Sydney at the MCA. The title term 'A Secret Agreement' is a reference to a quote from Walter Benjamin, "There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one' in his  'On the Concept of History' (1940); a term that Kelly and Barrie used in their next collaborative exhibition at Queens Nails Projects in San Francisco as part of the 2008 California Biennale.  Ruth Skilbeck

'A secret agreement':
Mary Kelly and Kelly Barrie

In the 1970s the American artist Mary Kelly – a leading figure in the women’s art movement – gained international prominence with her groundbreaking conceptual work Post-Partum Document (1973–79). With its references to psychoanalysis (particularly the work of Jacques Lacan) and the mother–child relationship, Post-Partum Document explores, as the artist describes it, the “intricacies of maternal desire.”

Figure 2: Mary Kelly and Kelly Barry photographed by Ruth Skilbeck with Kelly’s Antepartum, 1973. Video loop transferred from Super 8 film, black-and-white, silent, 1:30mins projected dimensions 170 x 220cm.                                                 Photograph © Copyright Ruth Skilbeck.

 For six years Kelly ritualistically documented, in a series of text-based works and collage, the relationship between herself and her young son. The resulting large-scale installation – comprising graphs, drawings, recordings, scribbles, handprints and even dirty diaper-liners – records the boy’s development from infancy through to the age of five. The series is also a record of the mother’s thoughts and feelings, with each new record functioning like an act of text-based semiotic liberation. An extraordinary monumental work, Post-Partum Document inscribes a process of “becoming” – of Kelly becoming a mother, and of her baby becoming a child.

Feminist Conceptual Self-based Art

Although Post-Partum Document has long since entered the canon of contemporary art, when its first sections were exhibited at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1976 the work sparked outrage. This was due to its subject matter (the tabloid media, in particular, sensationalised the elevation of babies’ nappies as “art”) and to Kelly having brought together two forms of artmaking that were conventionally seen as separate, even antithetical: conceptual art and self-based narrative art. This is precisely the legacy of Kelly’s work, and why it continues to inspire debate more than 30 years after its creation: it uses the cognitive approach of conceptual art and the subjectivity of feminism to produce a work which fuses “aesthetics, politics, psychoanalysis and radical formalism”.  At what point did Kelly decide her mammoth sequential installation was complete? “When [my son] wrote his name, I saw it as the end of the work because it was like ‘he’s the author of his own text now and I’d better not go further than that’.”


In 2008 Mary Kelly was in Sydney as a participating artist in the 2008 Biennale of Sydney. She was there at the behest of the Biennale’s Artistic Director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, who invited Kelly to make a collaborative work with her son, Kelly Barrie – an artist in his own right as well as the subject/object of Post-Partum Document. “I never had any intention of doing anything with [Kelly] again,” laughed Mary Kelly when I spoke with her in Sydney, “I was going to keep my distance! But [the collaborative work for the Biennale] was an interesting way to reconsider certain things; a personal as well as political history.

Kelly Barrie, now aged 35, is based in Los Angeles. His photomedia art work, which in recent years has been exhibited in Los Angeles and New York, blurs the boundaries between photography and drawing. His very large (12’ by 12’) composite digital C prints – such as Tree of Tenere (2008) and Mustang Willow (2008) are made from 100s of stitched-together digital photographs taken by Kelly of drawings he makes with his feet  of  ‘lost’ images - such as car crash fatalities -  that he finds on the internet. For Kelly, drawing  is an immersive performative ritual: dancing in his bare feet, through photo-luminescent  ‘glo’ powder spread across the floor of his studio, “using a series of improvisational slides, sweeps, toe-rakes as well as c-walks and snake walks taken from local hip-hop forms”. He then takes digital photographs of the swirled traces of light powder, that he stitches together; using his studio as a dark room, the blinds functioning as an ‘aperture’ to control the light.

In Tree of Tenéré (2008), a light-jet print mounted on aluminum, the title alludes to a mythologised tree of the same name in the Sahara Desert. The tree – the only remnant of a long-dead ancient forest and once considered the most isolated tree on earth – no longer exists, after being knocked down and destroyed by a truck in 1973, the year of Kelly Barrie’s birth. He explained: “I  was knocked out by the strangeness of this lone figure standing in a desert landscape with no other trees within 250 miles. When I learned about it's accidental demise…I started to imagine past travelers scanning the horizon for it as they were entering or leaving this extreme desert region.  For me, it seemed to articulate the end of a political climate of isolationism, the end of the cold war and the beginning of the social movements that have defined the present generation.”

For their collaborative work for the Biennale of Sydney, Mary Kelly and Kelly Barrie made a luminous and profound video installation combining two works. On one wall Mary Kelly’s Antepartum (1973) was projected in a continuous loop. The grainy black-and-white Super 8 footage transferred to video showed the belly of a pregnant woman (the artist herself, pregnant with her son Kelly), full as a moon and caressed by maternal hands. Opposite this was Kelly Barrie’s video projection – Astralfields and Other Manifestations (2008) – showing a field of pink- and dark-coloured lights resembling scattering galactic implosions of energy in an expanding spatial universe. Rather than existing as entirely separate works, the small movements of the unborn child and mother’s hands in Antepartum were coordinated with the light-rays pulsing from Astral Fields, with the intersecting light beams from both works performing an ancient convergence between the creative energies of life and art, and the rhythmic pre-linguistic exchange of mother and child.

Figure 2: Mary Kelly and Kelly Barrie photographed by Ruth Skilbeck with Barrie’s, Astralfields and Other Manifestations 2008. Video, endless loop, black-and-white, silent, 1:30 mins
                                                         Photograph © Copyright Ruth Skilbeck.

For both Mary Kelly and Kelly Barrie, the idea of being “collaborators” is still novel. When I ask how long they have been collaborating as artists Mary laughs and says, “Well, consciously we haven’t been collaborating at all! But what [the Biennale’s Artistic Director] Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev made us recognise is that of course we had collaborated on one of my first and perhaps most well-known works, Post-Partum Document… Carolyn thought it would be interesting to return to the work now, with Kelly being an artist, and for him to respond to it. At first we thought ‘well, that’s a little weird, can we do it?’ [laughs] but then it generated a lot of really interesting conversations. It was actually Kelly who came up with the installation plan; I thought it was really interesting and decided to go ahead with the project."

Kelly Barrie says of his collaboration with his mother: “When I looked at both images together [Antepartum and Astral Fields], the aspect of Mary’s work that I wanted to respond to directly was the sort of ‘live action’ of the movements within the womb which appear like intermittent bumps on the surface of a sphere. At the same time, I wanted to retain a strong presence of my own practice within that, so taking a still and animating it was one way of reactivating that space with Mary’s."  

Since Post Partum Document, Mary Kelly has made major series including Interim (1984-89) exploring constructions of feminine identity beyond motherhood and middle age, and Gloria Patri (1992 )– a series of inscribed aluminum shields made in response to the first Gulf War.

Her recent works include a collaborative installation with her partner, Kelly’s father, Ray Barrie:Love Songs: Multi-Story House” (2007), shown at Documenta 2007. Intergenerational texts by women around the world are laser-cut into acrylic panes set into a garden house; a four- piece light-work, enacting a dialogue between Mary Kelly’s generation  – with a younger generation. 

Artist Son of a Feminist Artist 

As the child of one of the world’s most prominent female conceptual artists and the subject/object of her most famous work, I asked Kelly Barry about the influence of feminism on his own practice. “Well, certainly in terms of trying to occupy the symbolic space of both the object and the subject, it does become a sort of examination of the power relations within the visual hierarchy. Taking a picture and being conscious of my position when I am using that apparatus certainly informs my work. I’m constantly interrogating the graphic practice in terms of how it works itself out and, specifically, since I’m using myself as a subject, how one creates a sort of visual system of language within that... I do feel that it’s important to consciously deconstruct these relationships within my own practice.”

Thirty years, the length of a generation, has now elapsed since the end of the 1970s, the defining decade of the international women’s art movement. Reviews have recently begun into the long term impacts and significance of 1970s feminism on art and culture. (Witness the two feminism-related exhibitions in the United States in 2007 – Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Global Feminisms at Brooklyn Museum, New York.). Perhaps there is no more concrete way to see the legacy of the mantra of second wave feminism, ‘the personal is political’  than in the realm of art making. Stirring in the pre-linguistic dreamtime, pushing into conscious realms of self-awareness, in the secret agreement between mother and child and the desire to hold on and the need to let go – a process of becoming oneself.

Words and Photographs © Copyright Ruth Skilbeck  

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Newcastle, New South Wales; New York; Newfoundland...

Although I won’t be able to travel to L.A. for the launch of The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art this coming Saturday, by coincidence my daughter (on university mid-semester break) and her father my ex-husband will be in Los Angeles flying from Sydney in the next couple of days on a brief re-fuelling stopover before spending a week in New York visiting galleries then three weeks in my ex’s ancestral home of Newfoundland, which locals know as the Rock, the hunk of granite in the North Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of Canada; they’re going to visit his large family and my daughter has her E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News, with her as a local guide. From Newcastle, New South Wales, to New York and Newfoundland, seems it's a mark of colonisation to want to make every taken place anew in the symbolic image of 'home' in the memory of the colonial mind; bon voyage Ella and Chris, enjoy the long flight across the New World...

Monday, 6 June 2011

LA Book Launch-The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art

An interview I conducted with leading American feminist conceptual artist Mary Kelly and artist son Kelly Barrie, on the ongoing legacies of second wave feminism in motherhood and art is a chapter in this new book, The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art. The polyphonic interview was held at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art at the 2008 Sydney Biennale, where Mary Kelly and Kelly Barrie had a profoundly moving collaborative video installation, Antepartum (1973) and Astralfields and Other Manifestations (2008) that re-visited Mary Kelly's influential early Super-8 film of her own pregnant belly caressed by maternal hands. After taking photographs in their installation, Mary and Kelly and I held a fascinating conversation that ranged over their experiences of artistic collaboration as mother and son, the legacies of the 1970s women's art movement on international contemporary art, what it's like to grow up as artist and son of a prominent feminist artist, and what drives and inspires each of the artists most.

I plan to post extracts from this conversation, and some of my photographs, in future entries.

If anyone in Los Angeles is interested in this please go along!     Ruth Skilbeck


Saturday June 11, 1-3pm, Free In honor of the final day of BROODWORK: It's About Time,
Ben Maltz Gallery and BROODWORK:Creative Practice and Family Life are pleased to host the launch of 
the book The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art.

Published by Demeter Press and edited by Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein The M Word: Real Mothers in
Contemporary Art (May 2011) includes full color photographs and contributions from: Mary Kelly, Susan Suleiman,
Mignon Nixon, Jane Gallop, Margaret Morgan, Andrea Liss, Aura Rosenberg, Barbara T. Smith, Ruth Skilbeck, 
Sherry Millner, Ellen McMahon, Renée Cox, Gail Rebhan, Marion Wilson, Judy Glantzman, Denise Ferris, Youngbok Hong, Patricia Cué, Monica Mayer, Cheri Gaulke, and more.
Details and ordering info:

Books will be available for sale and signing during reception.

BROODWORK supports all discussion on the interweaving of creative practice and family life. Please join us 
all on this day as we celebrate the multiple aspects of mothering in contemporary art through 
History, Criticism, Theory, Artists’ Writings, Text/Image work, Interviews, and Visual Art.

Gallery Location: Otis College of Art and Design, 9045 Lincoln Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90045 
Gallery Hours: Tue-Sat 10am-5pm / Thu 10am-7pm. Closed Sundays, Mondays
More Info:, 310.665.6905,

                               The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art

edited by Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein

"The M Word puts the most hallowed and fraught life relationship of all into the center of visual culture. Working through feminist ambivalence about motherhood (in all of its myriad and motley forms), this collection offers a crucial corrective to the dearth of discussions about life choices and living tensions for creative women in art and art discourse. With a range of key feminist artists, art historians, and theorists addressing topics from Mexican feminist art collectives to the Holocaust and mothering to queer mothering, this book presents a range of rigorous thinking in textual and visual form. In The M Word, maternity, as a state, an ideology, an "image," becomes the perfect pivot through which to examine women imagining ourselves into the sometimes incompatible roles of caring, care-taking, thinking, and making."
- Amelia Jones, Grierson Chair in Visual Culture, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University.

"The M Word is a welcome addition to the fields of both maternal and art historical studies. In their strong introduction, Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein provide a smart historical grounding for the intersections of mothering and visual art. The union of scholarly and narrative voices and the range of visual material included offer a compelling framework for this volume devoted to a significant and (always) timely topic."
- Rachel Epp Buller, editor of Reconciling Art and Mothering

"The central importance of this title lies in the richness of the work collected together, and in particular in its creation of a political archive of feminist artwork that engages with the maternal. It will be a key book in the area of feminist art theory. The wonderful interview with Mary Kelly is an important piece of art historical documentation in itself."
- Imogen Tyler, Senior Lecturer and Leverhulme Research Fellow, Sociology Department, Lancaster University

This important new collection has seven sections examining multiple aspects of mothering in contemporary art: History, Criticism, Theory, Artists’ Writings, Text/Image work, Interviews, and Visual Art.
This stunning book includes full colour photographs and contributions from: Mary Kelly, Susan Suleiman, Mignon Nixon, Jane Gallop, Margaret Morgan, Andrea Liss, Aura Rosenberg, Barbara T. Smith, Ruth Skilbeck, Sherry Millner, Ellen McMahon, Renée Cox, Gail Rebhan, Marion Wilson, Judy Glantzman, Denise Ferris, Youngbok Hong, Camille Billops, Patricia Cué, Monica Mayer, Cheri Gaulke, and more.

The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art

Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein

On Love, Politics and Fallen Shoes: Margaret Morgan in Conversation with Mary Kelly
Mary Kelly and Margaret Morgan
Excerpts from Post-Partum Document
Mary Kelly
Ruth Skilbeck in Conversation with Mary Kelly and Kelly Barrie
Mary Kelly and Kelly Barrie
“Good Enough Mothers”: Myrel Chernick in Conversation with Susan Rubin Suleiman
Susan Rubin Suleiman and Myrel Chernick
My Mother’s Silver Pin
Susan Rubin Suleiman
The Body in Question: Rethinking Motherhood, Alterity and Desire
Andrea L

Maternal Metaphors I 
Curated by Myrel Chernick
Ellen McMahon
Monica Bock
Renée Cox
Judy Gelles
Gail Rebhan
Marion Wilson
Aura Rosenberg
Judy Glantzman

“We Don’t Talk About Mothers Here”: Seeking the Maternal in Holocaust Memoir and Art
Nancy Gerber
Epilogue: Spider
Mignon Nixon
Make Room for Mommy: Feminist Artists and My Maternal Musings
Michelle Moravec
Mónica Mayer
S.O.S.: Searching for the Mother in the Family Album
Maria Assumpta Bassas Vila
The Coffins: Xerox Books
Barbara T. Smith
Visualizing Maternity in Contemporary Art: Race, Culture, Class
Jennie Klein
Home Truths
Margaret Morgan
Observations of a Mother
Jane Gallop and Dick Blau

Maternal Metaphors ii
Curated by Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klen
Denise Ferris
Patricia Cué
Heather Gray
Cheri Gaulke and Sue Maberry
Youngbok Hong
Doublebind. kunst. kinder. karriere
Curated by Signe Theill

On Mommas and Mothers
Danielle Abrams
The Studio Visit
Myrel Chernick
Time Passes
Myrel Chernick
Art Between Us
Ellen McMahon
Afterimage: A Journal of Making Art and Mothering Teens
Leslie Reid
Margaret Morgan
Naming Nadja
Nadja Millner-Larsen and Sherry Millner
After Long Winter
with images from Fat and Blood (and how to make them) by Sarah E. Webb
Rachel Hall
Milk and Tears: Performing Maternity
Sarah E. Webb
(L)IF(E), AS IN MY ...
Silvia Ziranek
BabyLove: How My Infant Son Became the Other Man
Christen Clifford
Hidden Mother
Laura Larson

Johanna Tuukkanen
Caroline Koebel
Jennifer Wroblewski
curated by Jennifer Wroblewski
Rachel Howfield
Lindsay Page
Shelley Rae
Parisa Taghizadeh
Erika deVries
Kate Wilhelm

Artist Mom
Tanya Llewellyn


Sunday, 5 June 2011

Strange Dreams of Flight

Somewhere above the middle east my eyes close and I fall into strange dreams of flight. We are all flying, my sister, best friend and my mother stretched out flat as boards in long white gowns and flowing hair like Victorian young ladies in a levitation trance. Flying through the sky on strange circular journeys the meaning of which is obscure. My mother who in my waking life I know passed away two and a half years ago is with us as so often in my dreams. Then I open my eyes into another plane. The pilot is playing a strange game, on the inflight movie screen is a vision of a crash landing into the ocean! It’s a simulated computer game. Do they have to show this, I ask as the aircraft tilts wildly to one side, or is it just the affect of a special effect? It’s impossible to tell which is real and which the game as the plane hurtles towards a red cliff that opens into a velvety tunnel and we reverse neatly back out again into the radiant air and sunlight.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Ai Weiwei and the Screeching Trees

I met Ai Weiwei in 2008 at the opening of his exhibition at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney’s Paddington; he had filled the gallery space with a powerful sculptural installation made from massive beams and pillars from Qing Dynasty temples manifestly juxtaposed with humble wooden tables. Now China’s most famous contemporary artist has ‘disappeared’ arrested at Beijing airport, and his words go round my mind with poignant force: “Without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one.” 
Returning home at the end of the week, after working in Sydney, the last leg of the three hour trip, is taken by foot, at midnight. Alighting the train at the deserted station, I walk up the main road’s desolate incline, backpack over my shoulder, pulling the wheeled overnight bag like a reluctant pet dog behind me. Ignore a taxi that swerves to the kerb before me... Reaching the small parade of shops at the crest of the hill a deafening noise shatters the quiet night. Passing the pizza place and corner pub, the din is astonishing. Crossing the empty road I look up in wonder. On either side of the intersection of my street, the trees are screeching; leaves rustling and shaking with birds enjoying a raucous night. Of course, it's Friday night, in my suburb, even the birds party... Inside the cottage, I can still hear the wild bird cries. 'Release Ai Weiwei'... I want to write but the urge saddens me because I keep thinking about Ai Weiwei,  whom the world press report has ‘disappeared’; where has he gone? 
When I met Ai Weiwei, it was at the opening of his 2008 exhibition at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney’s Paddington. For his installation “Ai Weiwei: Under Construction” he had filled the gallery space with two works. Through, 2007-8, a powerful sculptural installation made of iron wood timbers from ancient temples of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that the artist had conjoined with domestic wooden tables, in a style that made me think of Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass. The work juxtaposed the scale and symbolism of monumental temple structures and everyday furniture; deconstructed and reconstructed in awkward intersections and dis-junctures, that paradoxically evoked social relations in architectural and human space; past and present, in material form. Ai Weiwei's second work, Fairytale- Film 2008, was a video installation made for Documeta XII. For this he flew 1001 Chinese citizens who had never before left China to Kassel, to wander the streets in an open cultural exchange. Dr Gene Sherman, Chairman, Executive Director of SCAF, has written on her foundation's website of this work: ‘Ai Weiwei’s artistic output, based on the formulation of ideas, is interwoven with his political thinking and illuminates for the audience the internal struggles China currently faces, as well as deep human concerns.’ A prominent transnational artist, architect, designer, and blogger, Ai Weiwei is also affectionately known as a Warholian prankster who sported zany haircuts. But it seems it was not his haircuts but his belief in freedom of speech that brought him into trouble.
The disturbing news I have read on the internet circles my mind in fragments. For three years Ai Weiwei kept a blog every day sharing what was on his mind...He wrote of his experiences as a leading figure in the international art scene, living in the eighties in New York where he was influenced by Dada and Warhol, returning to reside in his homeland in the early 90s... Widely exhibited around the world, he has a huge international following and is spoken of as an inspiration to a generation of young Chinese artists... After the Sichuan earthquakes in 2009, he posted lists on his blog of all the children killed, and wrote of ‘tofu dregs’ school buildings...He said that when he went to the trial of an earthquake disaster activist police visited his hotel room at 3 am, he suffered a blow... one month later, in Munich for an exhibition, his cerebral haemmoraging required life-saving surgery ... On June 1 2009, his entire blog with millions of comments was taken down by... In November 2010 his ‘million dollar art-studio’ in Shanghai was demolished... In early April 2011 he was arrested at Beijing International Airport and detained; for weeks apparently even his family did not know of his whereabouts... The latest media reports say he is awaiting trial on ‘fraud charges’... 
Leading world art museums such as London’s Tate, and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Guggenheim Foundation in New York, have joined prominent figures in the international art world and supporters around the globe who are publicly calling for his release... Huge black letters on the side of London’s Tate Modern (where the artist’s Sunflowers installation has been on display since last October) spell the words ‘Release Ai Weiwei’...
 As the nocturnal birds screech raucously, my thoughts go out to him and the free artist spirit, in the night.
It is a tragic paradox that in global human society there may be forces that wish to stifle free spirits, and silence the most exuberant voices. Ai Weiwei wrote of such things in his blog which has just been published by MIT in edited form as a book. Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews and Digital Rants 2006-2009, by Ai Weiwei, edited and translated by Lee Ambrozy. You can find it on the MIT Press website, and available through Amazon.
Copyright © Ruth Skilbeck 2011