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The Art of Pill-Popping, Dancing and Sliding

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Isomeric Slides

 

My boys like to touch.  And when it comes to art, they’re too often told they can look, but not touch.  I get it – art needs to be intact and preserved so its owner can protect his financial investment or sentimental chattel, or so future generations can have an opportunity to observe the piece as its creator likely intended.  I personally think there is beauty, there is historical reference or, at the very least, there is an intriguing story, to fragmented art pieces.  Consider Kintsugi or the Parthenon sculptures.  Or maybe Rembrandt’s Danae and Night Watch, or Duchamp’s Fountain.  There are tales of sieges, of madness and obsession, of acceptance and change, of vandalism.  But I imagine I’m in the minority with my affection for the broken.  And the account of an energetic, curious, possibly rambunctious child damaging an art piece may not be as fascinating as the narrative of a demented geologist attacking a work with a hammer while yelling “I am Jesus Christ” a laPieta”.

For the most part, my little fellas understand they can’t touch.  They’ve been to countless museums and galleries, and when those moments occur when they can barely resist the temptation to glide their fingers over a texture, climb on a sculpture, or make hand shadow puppets to interrupt a film projection, there are usually cordons, invigilators and their mama to help them practice self-control.

So when an exhibition like Carsten Höller’s “Decision” at Hayward Gallery comes along, I am a happy (read: more relaxed) mama.  Touching is allowed, even encouraged.  There’s interactivity, there’s physicality.  And very appealing to me, there is the observation of my children and others intermingling with the works, sometimes laughing, sometimes embarrassing themselves, sometimes suffering negligible injuries, and most times questioning.  Questioning what they are supposed to do or whether this is art.

Right before entering the exhibition, we were handed guidelines highlighting the physical and experimental nature of the show.  One piece has a minimum height and maximum weight requirement, another requires you leave all bags, coats and loose items in the cloakroom or locker, and for some of the works, visitors are urged to refrain from “using” them if they have an existing condition which might be exacerbated.

 

Decision Corridors (lightened for viewing purposes)

Decision Corridors (lightened for viewing purposes)

There are two alternative entrances.  We – two mothers, two seven-year-old boys, and one two-year-old boy – chose the risqué one, a work called Decision Corridors.  It is a pitch-black (except for miniscule lights which take time for your eyes to actually see once they become used to the darkness), confined corridor that twists and turns.  Höller describes this work as an architectural intervention which “delays the entrance to the exhibition and prolongs the transition from the world outside the gallery to the topsy-turvy world within.”  I was somewhat nervous because, truth be told, I was carrying my strong, heavy, autistic two-year-old son Lumen whose reaction to different scenarios cannot always be predicted.  I was wrong to be nervous.  Lumen loved the piece.  In my arms, he glided his fingers across the walls of the corridors, laughing.  He didn’t wriggle, he didn’t try to jump out of my arms.  The other two boys were justifiably disoriented, nervous but pretending not to be, bumping into each other, and shouting each other’s names when they became separated.  This was my favourite piece in the show, this indoor, covered, inky hedge maze which does not cater to claustrophobics.  It asks one to lose his reliance on sight and instead engage his senses of hearing and touch.

 

Pill Clock

Pill Clock

The second work to stir our imaginations was the timepiece, Pill Clock.  A single red-and-white capsule drops from the ceiling to the gallery floor every three seconds, the interval of time Höller suggests is the “length of time in which it is possible to create the impression of presence”.  Amassing in a rising pile, the pills provide a visual indicator of the passage of time.  All of this was lost on the boys.  They saw a pile of pills they were allowed to touch, pills which they could put in their mouth and swallow should they choose.  A water fountain is conveniently provided on the wall next to the pile for those who choose to ingest.  My older son Enlai asked what was in it, what the flavour was, what its effect would be, whether it would hurt him now or damage him later, whether I would be trying a pill.  I told him that I would not be trying a pill.  He asked if I was scared, and I responded that fear was not a factor, but that I was not a pill-popper, and that I wasn’t keen to swallow something whose exact makeup I wasn’t aware of.  We then discussed hallucinogenics, addiction, pharmaceutical companies, headaches and vitamins.  And he decided he would take a pill.  My mom friend decided she would, too.  Her son didn’t.  For us, this piece was more about decision than time.

 

The Forests

We then happened upon a large room, a small portion of  which was used to offer a long bench, the entire length of which was used to supply about 10 seats with corresponding headsets and earphones.  In these headsets and earphones was The Forests, a 3D, dual-screen video piece which splits our vision in two as one eye is guided to the right around a tree along a path, and the other eye to the left.  Höller intends for the work to be an experiment in seeing double, in looking at two things simultaneously.  My mom friend and Enlai commented that the soundtrack was haunting and the images confusing.  My little fella Lumen had no interest in engaging with the piece, but he and I both appreciated that he was allowed to run around the sizeable space without interrupting anyone’s experience of the art as they all had headsets and earphones on.  The invigilator smiled at me, perhaps sensing that this boy gives his ol’ ma a good workout chasing him around.

Intrigued by the sound of music, we walked a short distance to another room and were now immersed within Fara Fara, Lumen’s favourite piece.  It was a dark room, with visitors sat on the floor between the two screens which, seemingly in unison, depicted the music scene in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Fara Fara means “face to face” in Lingala – a Bantu language with over 10 million speakers – and is a musical competition which was formerly used as a means of resolving disputes.  Congolese music, according to Höller, is “very different in structure” from Western music, zigzagging between different styles.  For me, there is something about percussion and its infiltration into one’s bones.  Lumen danced the entire time.  He held his hands up to me, and I picked him up, and we danced together.  My mom friend danced, and the two older boys were embarrassed by the three of us.  I imagine Höller was only trying to share the Fara Fara world, but in so doing, he opened some of our ears, and awakened our hips and shoulders.

After walking upstairs, we had to make the decision whether we wanted to wait in an hour queue to experience Two Flying Machines, a simulate flight offering the opportunity to soar above the traffic of Waterloo Bridge while those in the queue, those looking out the window, and those below, look on.  The machines, described as a “combination of carousel, paraglider and motorbike” were designed by Höller to allow contemplation.  The “rider” contemplates his surroundings, but the observer of the rider contemplates the rider and his reactions to his surroundings, as well as other observers’ opinions of and comments on the rider.  The boys had neither the patience to queue or to wait for their moms to queue, so we made ourselves content watching the other adventurers in the air.

Instead, we played around with The Pinocchio Effect, a combination of vibrating devices and drawings which guide you to hold your nose with your fingers on one hand while using the other hand to place the vibrating device on one of your upper arms.  Höller based this piece on an experiment by a psychologist who discovered that it was possible to modify the way we perceive the size of our  nose by rousing certain muscles.  The artist says his own device works by influencing proprioception, a fancy word for body awareness.  Proprioception, considered one of the seven senses, is an unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation which allows us to locate our bodies in space, and to be aware of where our limbs are in relation to one another.  When you are the mother of an autistic child, you know a thing or two about proprioception as many people with autism have difficulty processing everyday sensory information and tend to be hyposensitive or hypersensitive, meaning they may stand too close to others or bump into things, or in the case of the latter, have difficulty with manipulating small objects, such as buttons.  Yes, my little Lumen liked this artwork.

 

Dice (White Body, Black Dots)

Body parts still feeling as though they were vibrating, we then opted to experience Half Mirror Room and Dice (White Body, Black Dots).  Reminiscent of a ballet studio sans the barre, the mirror was designed to create a double of the gallery and everything in it.  It has a certain appeal to the narcissist and the voyeur.  While Lumen jumped in front of and made faces in the mirror, checking to see if his reflection would follow, the older boys writhed through the holes in Dice.  As if a jungle gym created by a Yatzhee aficionado, Dice fulfilled the older boys’ need to climb, squirm, and hide.  Only two are allowed in Dice at a time, and the boys took full advantage of this, saying they may just camp out overnight in this square tent with circular windows.  I recall seeing this piece at Frieze 2014, and just as it seemed there, it is a component of a distinctive playground, one in which Höller is “using other people’s kids in order to fill the sculpture with life”.

 

Experiencing the Upside Down Goggles

A few steps away, we grabbed a pair of goggles hanging on a wall and listened to the invigilator’s directions before being lead to the outside terrace.  This piece, Upside Down Goggles, was the older boys’ favourite.  Goggles on and perplexed as to which was the right way up, they attempted to reach out to one another, to high five each other, to walk around the terrace without hesitation.  I told Enlai to look up at Höller’s  Adjusted Hayward Sign, and because the sign depicts the words “Hayward Gallery” upside down – which would mean it was displayed right side up when viewed through the goggles – he said he thought his goggles weren’t working.  I watched one woman walk around the terrace with such uncertainty, she only took about three steps.  I watched one grown man fall over another.  This was some Laurel and Hardy stuff, and I was enjoying laughing at the expense of others trying to make sense of an upturned world.

 

Adjusted Hayward Sign

And then, ladies and gentlemen, came what many consider the pièce de résistance of the exhibition – the Isomeric Slides.  Not dissimilar to his Test site in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall some years back, Höller constructs slides which ask us to look at them as both artworks and functional objects, and then to consider whether we’d like to take advantage of their functionality as a means to exit the exhibition.  Höller says the spiralling transporters introduce “a moment of playfulness” to the gallery’s brutalist architecture.  We all decided that we did indeed want to indulge in a bit of play.  The little munchkin didn’t meet the height requirement so he wasn’t allowed, even on my lap.  My mom friend and the two older boys went ahead, my son running excitedly up the stairs, which are visible to everyone in the room.  I could hear shouting and nervous laughter, from the top of the stairs all the way down the slide.  As soon as I knew they reached the bottom, Lumen and I took the lift down to meet them.  On the way out, I may have done some begging to a couple of different invigilators to please let me back in the gallery to take a ride down the slide myself once I put my son in the care of my friend.  When I saw the three slide-riders, they were laughing and seemed energised.  I enthusiastically ran back in, and the begging paid off as I was let through.  Up the stairs, and the slide minders told me to slip my legs through a potato sack-like cloth appendage, cross my arms over my chest, grab the top of the slide and catapult myself down.  Heading south, my belly tickled and, unexpectedly, screams and laughter came from my mouth.

Whether you can call the pieces in this exhibition art or not I think is irrelevant.  Call them what you will if you desire a label, and while searching for that label, enjoy yourself and enjoy your children.  Keep an open mind.  Engage your senses and your curiosities.  Experiment and laugh.  And be grateful that artists like Carsten Höller exist.

The exhibition is open until 6 September.  For more information on the exhibition, click here.

Kiddos at An Exhibition (With a Wink to Mussorgsky)

 

Enlai and Jean-Michel Basquiat's Six Crimee, MOCA, Los Angeles

Enlai and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Six Crimee, MOCA, Los Angeles

 

When I stare at art, inhale it, listen to what it is trying to tell me — its yearnings; its desire to communicate a moment, a gesture, a history, a personal right or collective wrong, a colour which refuses to release it from captivity; its request to hold its hand for a time and then walk away, but to come back to it in the conscious or subconscious; its screams of everything erroneous and whispers of everything true; its need to punch me in the chest and kick me in my proverbial balls and occasionally apologise or guffaw; its insistence that I look at it with weary eyes that still seek; and its want, always its want — I feel alive. I feel fixed, as well as fixed to something so much greater than me – a beautiful monster that cradles me and makes me ask questions and release preconceived notions, makes me grateful for time and chances and senses, makes me empathetic to struggles and confinement and the human condition, makes me exult in the why and how and even the because, makes me ponder necessity. And contemplate filth and splendour and money and flesh.

My relationship with art is much deeper than appreciation. It is a reliance. While I don’t necessarily wish to pass this dependence on art to my sons Enlai and Lumen, I want them to be aware that art will not fail them. If humans disappoint them, if nature betrays them, if they are in need, there will always be art – there will be galleries, museums, books, graffiti, conversations, light, imagination. I have exposed both of them to art from a very young age. We have had some of our most profound minutes while viewing art together. The conversations I’ve had afterwards with my older son Enlai have lasted hours. Art created time for us.

And so we should create time for it.

 

Lumen and Pascale Marthine Tayou's Cotton Stick, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London

Lumen and Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Cotton Stick, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London

 

Enlai and Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass, LACMA, Los Angeles

Enlai and Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, LACMA, Los Angeles

 

Lumen and Pauline Boudry's and Renate Lorenz's To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation, Carroll Fletcher, London

Lumen and Pauline Boudry’s and Renate Lorenz’s To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation, Carroll Fletcher, London

 

Enlai and Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, The Louvre, Paris

Enlai and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, The Louvre, Paris

 

Lumen and I and Anish Kapoor's work, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and I and Anish Kapoor’s work, Lisson Gallery, London

 

Enlai and Claes Oldenburg works, MOCA, Los Angeles

Enlai and Claes Oldenburg works, MOCA, Los Angeles

 

Lumen and Sou Fujimoto's Summer Pavilion, Serptentine Gallery, London

Lumen and Sou Fujimoto’s Summer Pavilion, Serpentine Gallery, London

 

Enlai inside Anthony McCall's work, Ambika P3, London

Enlai inside Anthony McCall’s work, Ambika P3, London

 

Lumen and Tony Oursler's work, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and Tony Oursler’s work, Lisson Gallery, London

 

Enlai helping me with my installation p(urge)atory for ZAAT Mostra de Artes Visuais e Sonora exhibition, Lisbon

Enlai helping me with my installation p(urge)atory for ZAAT Mostra de Artes Visuais e Sonora exhibition, Lisbon

 

Enlai and Leon Golub's work, Serpentine Gallery, London

Enlai and Leon Golub’s work, Serpentine Gallery, London

 

Enlai and Lumen and Bill Woodrow's Elephant, Tate Britain, London

Enlai and Lumen and Bill Woodrow’s Elephant, Tate Britain, London

 

Enlai and Mark Rothko's Untitled (Black, Red over Black on Red), Centre Pompidou, Paris

Enlai and Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black, Red over Black on Red), Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Enlai and his mates and Damien Hirst's and Felix Gonzalez-Torres' works, Blain Southern, London

Enlai and his mates and Damien Hirst’s and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ works, Blain Southern, London

 

Enlai and Lumen and Pezo von Ellrichshausen's Sensing Spaces installation, Royal Academy, London

Enlai and Lumen and Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s Sensing Spaces installation, Royal Academy, London

 

Enlai and Tim Etchells' Personal Statement, Vitrine Gallery, London

Enlai and Tim Etchells’ Personal Statement, Vitrine Gallery, London

 

Lumen and I and Mark Boulos' Red Green Blue, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and I and Mark Boulos’ Red Green Blue, Lisson Gallery, London

 

Enlai and The Wapping Project works, London

Enlai and The Wapping Project works, London

 

Lumen and Gina Osterloh's The Implied Body, Nothing to See Here, There Never Was, Francois Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles

Lumen and Gina Osterloh’s The Implied Body, Nothing to See Here, There Never Was, Francois Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles

 

Enlai and Jesús Rafael Soto's Penetrable in Neon Lime, LACMA, Los Angeles

Enlai and Jesús Rafael Soto’s Penetrable in Neon Lime, LACMA, Los Angeles

 

Enlai at Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art Degree Show, 2011, London

Enlai at Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art Degree Show, 2011, London

 

Lumen and I and Anish Kapoor's works, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and I and Anish Kapoor’s works, Lisson Gallery, London

 

Enlai and I and Doug Wheeler's RM 669, MOCA, Los Angeles

Enlai and I and Doug Wheeler’s RM 669, MOCA, Los Angeles

 

Lumen and Tatsuo Miyajima's works, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and Tatsuo Miyajima’s works, Lisson Gallery, London

 

Enlai and Mehmet Ali Uysal's work, Pi Artworks, London

Enlai and Mehmet Ali Uysal’s work, Pi Artworks, London

 

Lumen and I and Martin Creed's  Work No. 200 (Half the air in a given space), Hayward Gallery, London

Lumen and I and Martin Creed’s Work No. 200 (Half the air in a given space), Hayward Gallery, London

 

Enlai and Diébédo Francis Kéré's Sensing Spaces installation, Royal Academy, London

Enlai and Diébédo Francis Kéré’s Sensing Spaces installation, Royal Academy, London

 

Enlai and his mate and Martin Creed's Work No.732, Frieze Sculpture Park, London

Enlai and his mate and Martin Creed’s Work No.732, Frieze Sculpture Park, London

 

A Father and Daughter

Art in all its forms.  Visual arts, film, music, food.  Passions we share, my dad and I.  When we speak, the conversation will curve, and we will begin discussing philosophy and sensibility.  It bends again, and we become political commentators.  After a time, we loop back to colour, texture and lyrics.  Another turn and we are talking about our similar sensitive souls and then laughing at our love of sweets.

A few years ago, my dad sat me down to discuss his will.  It’s not a conversation any daughter is keen to have with her father, but I listened.  He mentioned a few assets, he mentioned my siblings, and he mentioned that he does not want to live past the moment when he is not meant to live and that he is relying on his family to recognise this moment.

I remember telling him that I was only interested in the art he has created and in particular one piece, a drawing of a nude woman sitting next to a window smoking a cigarette.

And now I realise that while I am still interested in his art — which is a vast collection because he is one of the most prolific artists I know, an artist who confronts life by creating — I am more interested in the here, the now, the conversations.

These conversations fill me, they carry me, they make me laugh when nothing else can, they make me trust myself, they make me hungry for life, they make me want to scream with written words, to pour my everything into creating, to understand, to love, to remember this and forget that, to hold on no matter how jarring the ride, to ask how the fuck did I get so lucky to have a dad like mine.

In honour of my dad and all the dads of the world this Father’s Day, here are some art pieces created by dads, depicting dads, exploring the relationship between a dad and his child(ren).

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, photograph taken by her father Guillermo Kahlo, 1919

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882, oil on canvas

Lucian Freud with his daughter Bella

Lucian Freud with his daughter Bella, photograph by Bruce Barnard

Ella

Ella, Gerhard Richter, 2001, oil on canvas

Photograph of her father

Photograph of her father after Pinpin Co used a 0.38mm gel ink pen to draw on his face

Portrait of a Man with Three Sons, Barthel Bruyn the Elder, 1530, oil on canvas

Portrait of a Man with Three Sons, Barthel Bruyn the Elder, 1530, oil on canvas

Unexpected Return

Unexpected Return, Ilya Repin, 1884-88, oil on canvas

Grandfather and grandson at Manzanar Relocation Center

Grandfather and grandson at Manzanar Relocation Center, photograh by Dorothea Lange, 1942

Maya with her Doll

Maya with her Doll, Pablo Picasso, 1938, oil on canvas

Portrait of Lorenzo Pagans, Spanish tenor, and Auguste Degas, the artist's father

Portrait of Lorenzo Pagans, Spanish tenor, and Auguste Degas, the artist’s father, Edgar Degas, 1869, oil on linen

 

 

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day to the Originators

I was an artist before I was a mother.  And in this pre-materfamilia time, minutes were more friendly for creating.  They were mine, and mine only.  They were quiet.  They weren’t tangled up with asks and wants and needs and toys.  They never hungered.  As an artist who is now also a mother, nearly every single minute is shared.  Even when my two sons sleep, they are slumbering in my psyche.

Since giving birth, my art practice has changed.  There is a force that goes hand in hand with motherhood, a vigour that has seeped into and often times bombarded my subsistence as an artist.  It has been both harmonious and hostile.

I look at art through two, sometimes three pairs of eyes now.  And while I was teaching art to children, I viewed art through eyes aplenty.  I see things I may not have previously considered, and I appreciate the sincerity, the unfiltered, inexperienced, non-formulaic art pieces my sons and students have created.  I relish in the fact that my sons have been exposed to more art in their young lives than I’ve seen in the last three decades.

I haven’t had the opportunity to create as much as I would like, but it’s all there, brewing.  Those hushed, lone minutes will return.

This US Mother’s Day, I pay tribute to all the mothers who are artists. and I salute the following artists who have chosen motherhood as a theme in their works.

 
 

Shira Richter, Push, photograph

 
 

 Amanda Jane Crouse, ceramic figures

 
 

 Louay Kayali, Mother and Child,  1973, oil on wood

 
 

 Alison Saar, study for Sea of Nectar, 2008, wood, ceiling tin, bronze and tar

 
 

 Masud Alam Liton, All About My Mother, photograph

 
 

 Catherine Haley Epstein, Wore & Piece – Ne Me Quitte Pas

 
 

 Sofia Kapnissi, Statues-II, acrylic

 
 

 Gertrude Kasebier, Lollipops, 1910, photograph

 
 

 Roshanak Ofstad, My Future Is in Your Eyes, photograph

 
 

 Montserrat Gudiol Corominas, Motherhood, 1964, oil on panel

 
 

Miriam Schaer, from the series Baby (Not) On Board, 2010-2013, red thread, baby clothing

Happy UK Mother’s Day – Body of a Motheress

Flaps of fabric at the mercy of a relentless wind or the invariable fluttering of ample bird wings. That’s what I heard when I listened to my son Enlai’s heartbeat for the first time while eight weeks pregnant.

I imagined his tiny heart beating inside the echo chamber that was my womb, thinking about how for a time my body would be host to two heartbeats, each beating at its own rate. Eventually, my frame would accommodate two of every organ, four eyes, eight limbs, and countless veins, arteries and capillaries.

The woman-to-mother metamorphosis, with panoptic physical changes, made me observe and appreciate my own form as I never had before. My wonder and respect for the female body’s capabilities has grown as I have grown, from being barely pregnant to a mother of a six-year-old and a 20-month old – its ability to conceive, to house and nurture, to deliver, to feed, to care for, to soothe.

I realised that I and my fellow pregnant women were all too oft required to surrender our bodies during pregnancy, not only to our unborn child, but also to doctors, midwives and nurses, to passersby on the streets. While visiting my midwives during the last trimester, I remember on several occasions having my legs open to their easternmost and westernmost points with my knees north, allowing latexed hands inform as to whether all was okay. As I walked along streets, into shops or onto public transport, strangers would touch my belly. My bump was no longer mine; it seemed to belong to anyone who found it fascinating. I never minded; I was touched by the touch.

While pregnant with my second son Lumen, I was more attuned to my body’s adjustments. I knew I was pregnant before an early predictor test could tell me I was. When I began bleeding in my first trimester and assumed I miscarried, my body was hinting to me to go slow, to perhaps listen to more of Miles’ Kind of Blue, less of his Bitches Brew. I learned that I developed a subchorionic haematoma, which the outer fetal membrane eventually reabsorbed. It is at this same time that a friend told me she had miscarried and another friend divulged that her son and daughter were conceived via a donor.

This is a woman’s body, when she decides she would like to have a baby, until the time her body says to her she can no longer have a baby – her blood speaks to her like the hands of a clock speak to the rest of the world, her fallopian tubes may reveal to her that her uterus will have to welcome the eggs of another woman, her abdomen may hint at loss of life, her skin may become discoloured, stretched, freckled, moled or swathed in bumps, her hormones may wreak havoc, her breasts may swell to the size of watermelons and then become saggy apricots, her hair may become as full as the girl’s in the shampoo ad and then fall out en masse. Her hairline might change altogether. She may be confronted with haemorrhoids, spider veins, or varicose veins. She may get a tingling in her breasts when it is time to feed her baby or a throbbing and fever when the baby wasn’t hungry. She may suffer pelvic organ prolapse, she may urinate without knowing she has. She may welcome prominent biceps from carrying this, and back pain from carrying that. Her foot size may increase. She may have new curves, loss in muscle tone and changes in fat deposits. And when her body wants to say to her that she can no longer bear her own children, she may cry, she may scream, she may be grateful for what her body has already given her or mourn what it could not.

Contemplating the body of a mother, I embarked on a project which entailed photographing mothers’ body parts. The initial concept was to document a change in identity when a woman becomes a mother, highlighting the forgotten, whether they are body parts consigned to oblivion by a partner or the woman herself when she became a mother. I gave them the option of telling me which part of their body they’d like me to photograph or allowing me to choose.

As projects do, this one evolved. While some moms offered their Caesarean section scars and the stretch marks on their breasts, bum and bellies, others asked if there was a way I could photograph their insides – “My insides are ripped apart when I see my child hurting. How do you photograph this?”

Throughout my sessions with these moms, I was reminded of Robert Frank’s words – the eye should learn to listen before it looks. My eyes listened. Just as my heart listened when I heard my son’s heartbeat. And when the eyes and heart listen, stories unfold. Stories of life lived and given. Given and lived.

 

My Breasts Are Better Than Kate Upton’s

With the amount of breastfeeding news stories in the media, what else could there be to say about the topic? Compare my mom boobs to a model’s jubblies? Maybe. Add that to a few other observations about the sweet suckledom, a subject which seems to invite the most opinionated, some of whom shock the bra straps right off me.

The first person – an elderly gentleman – to provide a mouthful on my own mammary glands proclaimed, “Oh, this is most inappropriate. You should cease this nonsense immediately.” I was in an embassy, and I began to breastfeed my 12-week-old son in what I thought was a discreet manner. Mind you, I never used a nursing cover – an apron-like garment that conceals the feed. I assumed that if I wasn’t keen to eat under a blanket during meal time due to a feeling of suffocation, my son probably wouldn’t be either. This gentleman – or not-so-gentle man – made me cry with his unsolicited comments. Due to still-settling hormones, and what felt like a betrayal by the breast is best campaign, I wept, tears falling on my feeding son’s cheeks. I said nothing to the man, but I wanted to say, “I make milk. The boob juice feeds my child, best stuff on the planet for him right now. It’s a bit of a superpower I have. What do your man-boobs do?”

The second time I was the recipient of comments of the anti-boobs-au-lait-in-public variety, I was having dinner at a local pizza joint with a friend, my five-year-old and my five-month-old. There were two other diners – a man and a woman – across the room from us. My friend asked if I heard the comments the man just made: “Oh that breastfeeding is putting me off my food. It’s outrageous.” I’m happy I hadn’t. What I found odd is that this man’s back was to me. The woman he was dining with felt obligated to inform him that there was a semi-visible breast in the vicinity. The man kept turning around, and it was after the fourth or fifth time doing so that my friend was tempted to say something. I finished feeding my son, we got the bill and we left.

There were other times when observations voiced were kinder, more innocent. When I fed my son Lumen in the playground, a handful of my older son’s friends felt compelled to gather around me as if I was Santa redistributing gifts that the naughty kids never received. Some giggled, others asked why I was doing this, and one young boy asked, “Does it hurt?” I answered honestly, saying that there were times when it was painful. He then asked, “Then why don’t you stop?” I responded, “There’s a little thing called sacrifice that mothers do for their children. And of course the meta-analyses of scientific studies of this milk that’s coming out of my breast and into Lumen’s mouth right now prove that his immunity is being boosted and that feeding anything else to him right now is more likely to make him ill.” The bemused little youngster ran away. One young girl, part curious, part frightened of cannibalism, shouted, “He’s eating her. Aaahhh. Run away before he starts eating us.” Read the rest of this entry »

Snapshot on Suzy Flood

Having been exposed to the work of photographer Suzy Flood and thinking it something very special – beautiful, sublime, haunting, timeless – I found myself asking her to photograph my son Enlai.

Her photographs of young children stayed on my mind days after looking at them.  I could see these children’s faces everywhere I looked.  Their gazes seemed to be fixed, and collectively, it seemed as though the children were amongst a group that perhaps lived in the woods, laughing, playing, singing, running around barefoot and climbing trees.  And they only stopped long enough to take a photo for Suzy.  Because of this, I imagined she had some sort of magical power over them.

Of course the children she has photographed are not Children of the Woods, nor is Suzy a magician.  What she is is a photographer who knows what she’s doing and, upon meeting the child, realises the image she wants.  She gets a feel for the child, allows him/her to reveal themselves and is patient for that revelation.  I asked Suzy if I could interview her to gain insight into her and her practice.  Below is an excerpt from this interview.

Despite W. C. Fields’ advice to never work with animals or children, you have chosen to.  What made you decide to start photographing children?  Crazy, I know but I think that’s the draw for me.  The challenge, the unpredictability and the amazing little people I discover during the process.  Kids are just incredible.

Can you remember what initially made you decide to try your hand in photography?  My mother had an old brownie camera and I was completely fascinated by it.  Most photographers say it was the magic of the image but for me it was all about the machine, the rest came later.

Do you think having a child had an impact on your approach to photography and the subjects that you chose to photograph?  Completely.  If you showed me a crystal ball ten years ago (my daughter is now six) I wouldn’t have believed what I saw — me photographing children?  Life is very funny. Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Frieze: The Art Edit

It’s no big secret that I love art.  I’ve put pen to paper – or fingertips to keyboard – about a variety of art-related topics, about how my father exposed me to art from a very young age, about exhibitions my sons and I have been to, about teaching art to little ones.

So it comes as no surprise that come October every year, as a Londoner, I get this giddy feeling in my belly.  I anticipate all the works that I will be able to see, all the art my sons’ pretty little eyes will be able to take in.

It’s not all about that miniscule art fair in Regent’s Park every tenth month of every year.  Frieze, I think it’s called.  It’s about the air in London for those whole 31 days.  It’s autumn and chilly but the sun still comes out.  There’s rain, but there’s a crisp day not too far away.  There’s half-term and Halloween, but above all, there is art.  It’s everywhere, hiding under burnt-orange and red-yellow leaves, beneath the tyres of black cabs, ebbing and flowing with the Thames, splashing on brollies, lurking in old stairwells and inside gargoyles’ mouths, and hovering in Turner skies.

The Frieze Art Fair is like the patriarch who invites his entire family of galleries – the distant cousin in Bogota, the grandchildren in New York, the aunt in Beijing and the nephews in Paris – to come to town wearing their best garb and showcase themselves as if they were Prince Harry’s “crown jewels”.

And like patriarch Michael Corleone, Frieze can be intimidating.  Especially if you’re a parent with a child whose attention span is…oh, did someone say pizza?  Or if your child is having a tantrum and in so doing, about to knock over an £8,000 sculpture.  This year, while I would like to take my boys to Frieze, I think that for health and safety reasons – my health, their safety – I’ll opt to take them to the Frieze Sculpture Park, as well as expose them to art at different white cubes around town, on alternate days.

It’s good for their being, this art stuff.  While at the “Photography, Motherhood and Identity” exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery (which runs until 5 January 2014), my six-year-old Enlai asked a lot of questions and made a lot of comments, including noting that Ana Casas Broda’s body was different than mine.  We talked about female bodies and how they may change after giving birth, and I reminded him that this is often how humans learn and make sense of the world around them – by comparing and contrasting.  And this led to a conversation about balance, about responsibility, about unconditional love.  All this from looking at one photographer’s project. Read the rest of this entry »

The Mother Load of Art

While I have no burning desire for my four-year-old son or the sweet pea in my belly to be artists, I want them to know art, to feel art, to rely on art if they need to, to trust art when they feel they can’t trust humans, to mistrust art when their instincts tell them to, to crave art – more than salty or spicy thises or thats, more than chocolate – to find art and to allow it find them, to look for the chords, the dissonance, the obsession, the adoration and the repulsion, and the constriction and the breath in art.  I want my children to have the intelligence which will help them decide when an artist is being true.

My son Enlai and I have been to exhibitions aplenty.  There was the time we went to see Sigrid Holmwood at Annely Juda Fine Art, when Enlai in his baby carrier kicked his legs feverishly in front of one particular piece with fluorescent lemon yellow and lead antimonite among other media as I considered Van Gogh’s influence and started thumbing around my bag to find my sunglasses.  It was bright in the gallery during Holmwood’s occupation.

While we’re on Mr. Vincent V.G., there was the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition “The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters”.  Upon walking into the first room, with wall-to-wall paintings, drawings and letters, Enlai surveyed the space and in the same shouting voice he uses at the playground to get my attention when he is competing with the volume that accompanies after-school energy he declared, “Oh, great, I love Picasso!”  The gentleman a few feet away was not amused.  I was.

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Five Favourite iPad Apps for Munchkins at the Mo

I used to travel heavy.  By heavy, I mean when my son and I travelled to the US last year, three of the carry-ons were full of his toys, books, markers, stickers, and puzzles.  It wasn’t that I thought he actually needed all of this for the 11-hour flight, but I was concerned for the welfare of our fellow passengers.  I didn’t want any of them to be privy to a meltdown in the skies.

On the way to the flight gate – a beast of burden carrying my son and these huge bags (so colossal that they didn’t fit in the handy “check if your carry-ons are small enough to be considered carry-ons” guide near the check-in counter, but I winked and smiled at the counter attendant and managed to finagle my way through) – I vowed to find the toy of all toys.  I was on a quest for the ultimate all-in-one little darling’s doodah that didn’t require me carrying half our home, the toy that came complete with bells, whistles and foghorns, with cry-proof gadgetry (for the little guy and me), with harm-proof gadgetry (for passers-by and passengers in the seats near us), and with educational gallimaufry.

A few months after this trip, my son was in hospital and a friend of his let him borrow her iPad.  Complete with games, books and movies, this little rectangular piece of technology became the Apple of his eye (amusing myself with that pun, I am).  This book-sized piece of modern machinery was the toy I had been searching for, the holy grail of playthings.  This extraordinary curio eliminated the need for me to carry 30lbs worth of child amusement accoutrement.

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