I talked about my first encounter with Tracey in Wednesday’s blogpost. When I later visited her, she was still in one of the smaller of backlit‘s studios. It was the perfect mirror of Tracey’s warm personality: despite having a cast concrete floor, high industrial ceiling and simple white walls it was welcoming and cosy. The biggest furniture items were a large, simple table and shelves. But the plush comfy chair tugged in the front corner on an old carpet took centre stage once you entered. With a coffee table on the side and a standard lamp beside it, it strongly reminded me of my grandparent’s living room. I later learned that these are part of her “tell me about your mother” interactive installation. I was intruiged by her work from the first moment, and am very happy that she agreed to be interviewed.
Currently she is between studios, and we decided to hold this conversation electronically. Nevertheless you might want to imagine us sitting there: Me on the comfy chair, her on an office chair in front of her table, both of us cradling a mug of freshly brewed tea with a dash of soy milk.
Hello, Tracey. Thank you for finding the time to speak with me today. When I first met you almost a year ago, you introduced yourself as a “mother artist”. I must admit that this description makes me a bit wary. I myself am a mother, but I come from a place where I am tired of always being seen in a relationship (to my kids) rather than as a person of my own. And I wonder what you have in mind when you call yourself a “mother artist”?
The point when I decided to seriously pursue an artistic career and study Fine Art at university, 15 years ago, coincided with when I had my son. His birth was an absolutely life-changing event, and has since acted as a catalyst for my all my artistic work.
Having a very young child was all-consuming, and rather than separating these two distinct areas of my life, combining them seemed a very logical way of working. My son, and my relationship with him became a great source of inspiration, and I began exploring my own maternal position, my understanding of motherhood, and what it means ‘to mother’.
Throughout history the classic notion of motherhood, depicting a warm, devoted and nurturing maternal figure, has been preserved both from and for the male viewpoint. Challenging this ideological and narrow framework, my interest is with the differing and multi-faceted roles, identities and experiences of women and mothers.
The out-dated and pervading view of motherhood as being a barrier and incompatible with being an artist is now being challenged by thousands of mother/artists from all around the globe who are not only addressing these dual roles but are producing important work that acknowledges and values the experiences of mothers alongside any other life experiences.
Probably one of the reasons why I feel a bit irritated by the term “mother artist” is that I feel immediately judged. Indeed the feeling of being crushed by society’s expectations toward me as a mother often feels overwhelming.
Yes. Women are judged constantly on whether they’re good mothers within a societal and cultural ‘ideal’ but the reality of motherhood is very different. The expectations around mothering fill women with guilt if they don’t live up to those.
I have been thinking about this concept of the “good mother”. It’s such a simple phrase, but the more I think about it, the less clear I am on what it really means.
Instead of the concept of the good mother, psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott introduced the idea of the ‘good enough mother’, which aims to value a nurturing relationship, and remove the pressures of perfectionism in parenting. To me, this is a much better benchmark, and one I can identify with.
From what I have seen of your work, it seems to me that your “tell me about your mother” installation is the core of all your art activities. Is that right?
To me, this has been a central part of my work, yes. In 2012, during an artist’s residency at Nottingham University, I began to develop the project, ‘tell me about your mother…’ in which I gather anonymous responses from participants that describe their mothers. Since then it has provided inspiration, encouragement and direction for many other projects.
What do you want people take away from interacting with your art? And since it is so conversational, I assume it flows in both directions: What do you hope to take away from your viewers?
I hope that my art provokes some kind of emotional reaction, and makes my audience think about their own relationships with their mother and possibly their children… what that reaction actually is doesn’t matter so much to me.
And I hope for this to be reciprocal: I want to be challenged by other people’s opinions and to get new insights into my own maternal relationships. It may sound like a cliché but through my work I’ve been reassured that other people have a huge range of both positive and negative feelings about their mothers, and that however I feel there will always be someone else with a similar experience.
You have since worked on several projects with video, installation and participatory events. You have worked with different materials, too, with paper, fabric, concrete… Hardly any of these projects simply produce an art object. Even the mother bowls still have this element of continuous change: You make one after the other, arrange them differently, and continue working with the finished bowls. — What role does time play in your work?
’Time’ and in particular the passing of time has played a central role in my work. Prior to developing my ‘tell me about your mother…’ project, my work explored issues of impermanence, fertility, aging and the fragility of both time and relationships. I focussed on the changing and ever-evolving relationship I have with my son, documenting ephemeral changes (‘non-events’ from our daily life – brushing his hair, collecting fallen peas from his plate or cutting his nails). I created a series of works under the title, ’50 things my son doesn’t need me for’, which although speaking of a particular time, represented the more fundamental changes that will inevitably occur as he grows older and gains more independence.
Can you give us some context in which to see your work? Maybe you have someone that you regard as an important influence for your art…
I’ve been inspired by the work of many female artists on the topic of motherhood. In particular Mary Kelly’s ‘Postpartum Document’ stood out to me as a groundbreaking piece that reappropriated domestic items and reclaimed hitherto invisible aspects of motherhood as valid topics for art.
I love the films of Chantal Akerman, which not only speak of the minutiae of the everyday, but also address mother/daughter relationships, and there are artists that I regularly return to when I am feeling in need of inspiration like Louise Bourgeois, Mona Hatoum and Helen Chadwick.
But there are so many other artists whose work has moved and encouraged me, and their passion, commitment and articulation has had a massive influence on me. Helen Sargeant, whose work explores amongst other things, maternal ambivalence, the body, and the affect of the transition of motherhood on a woman’s identity, was one of the first mother/artists with whom I made contact, and she has since been a constant source of encouragement and support. Similarly, artists such as Rachel Fallon, Paula Chambers, Amy Dignam, Lauren Mclaughlin, Megan Wynne and Eti Wade, all make work that resonates with me primarily because of the subject matter.
Thank you, Tracey, for taking the time to answer my questions! Maybe one last one: Where do you think you are going? Any new projects planned?
I’m at a point now when I want to take a few months out to reflect and reassess where I am. I have no specific new projects planned, but I am certain that motherhood will remain my central focus.
Thank you very much for your time and answers!
The photos accompaning this blogpost were provided by Tracey and used with her kind permission.