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Mother Makers interviewed by Art Jewelry Forum

We are delighted to share our recent interview done alongside The Mother Load by Art Jewelry Forum

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Writing

The Relentlessness of Morning

The Relentlessness of Morning

 

About

Minna Dubin is a writer, performer, and educator in Berkeley, California. She is the founder of #MomLists, a literary public art project, which she is working on turning into a book. Her writing has been featured in Parents Magazine, Huffington Post, MUTHA Magazine, The Forward, and various literary magazines and anthologies. When not chasing her children in circles around the dining room table, she is eating chocolate in the bathroom while texting. You can follow her lists about motherhood here:

Instagram: @momlists

Facebook: facebook.com/momlists

Tumblr: momlists.tumblr.com

 

The Relentlessness of Morning was first posted on a bulletin board at a San Francisco grocery store called Falletti Foods @fallettifoods.
 MomLists’ was then published on social media (Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) on October 4th, 2016.
Writing

What am I to you?

Laura trying to swop the lil one for a Jorge Manilla brooch
Laura trying to swop the lil one for a Jorge Manilla brooch

By Laura Bradshaw-Heap

 

I visited Munich Jewellery Week last year with a friend and colleague. We both brought our babies and were excited to introduce our ‘schmuckbabies’ to our jewellery world. I have had an exhibition of one sort or another at this fringe-style festival all but one year since 2011 and was happy to be able to visit as a tourist and not have to constantly promote an exhibition. While I knew that we would be viewed differently as a result of our procreation (the year before we had both attended sporting swollen bellies) the majority of our experiences were positive. However one conversation still haunts me. Greatly paraphrasing, it went something like this:

 

Exhibitor: so what do you do?

Me: oh, hum… now that is a good question… well… where do I start …

Exhibitor: … well I am sure you are busy being a mom!

Me: ….. ummm…..

 

Now, anyone who knows me will understand why I paused at being asked what I do. I am a jeweller with an anthropology Masters; a maker who rarely makes objects but rather focuses on social experiences; I have curated, written, exhibited and have a strong interest in collaborative, co-created projects. And yes, I now add “mother” to this list of roles – but this addition does not cancel the others out.

This woman’s assumption grated on me, irritated me and offended me. I had made it all the way out to her not so easy to find obscure exhibition, somewhat off the beaten track, which was part of a largely hidden jewellery event in a country over 1200 km from my home.

With a nine month old baby.

On my own.

That’s a lot of effort for someone “just” busy being mom.

For this last year I have kicked myself that I did not contest her assumption and defend my professionalism. Why had I not stood up for myself – my professional self – more strongly? But it also reminded me how in the past, pre-motherhood, when parents, often mothers, had come to visit the exhibitions I ran I too had not even considered to ask them if they were professionals in my field. I saw the children and nothing else. These little creatures are as effective as Harry Potter’s invisibility clock; the parents (and let’s be honest, more often the mothers) behind them seem to melt away and cease to exist beyond this one singular role.

This year as Munich Jewellery Week rapidly approaches I know that this will not be an issue this time.  I, in my usual manner, reacted against this sense of invisibility and, seeking to make myself visible, agreed to run, be in and organise three exhibitions. This is the most I have worked on at any one time to date. And all while looking after my toddler. Am I insane? A little I think – yes. Can I do it, hell yes. I am mother, I am maker and I am here.

 

Writing

So now you want me to write a business plan?

26906385_564872160531531_1635415565_oBy Laurie Schram.

 

Being a single mother is quite radical. It’s a sprint that turns into a marathon and then at the finish line you get beaten with a stick because accepting a bad relationship is “graceful” and leaving is “sin/stigma”. 

My child is now 15 months old and no longer has reflux but she is still a high needs baby who refuses to sleep alone or for more than 2 hours without nursing. She has the most powerful hearing and could easily work for the CIA as a living device for eavesdropping. The things that wake her up most regularly are eating, scratching my head and clicking or double clicking my laptop, forget about turning a page, if I so much as touch paper she will wake instantly. As I still live in a studio apartment (with a view on better accommodation I hope to move to though not for another 6 years’ or so) I have to work around this.   Since setting up Mother Makers a lot has happened. We have launched a range of merchandise, we did a crowd funding campaign and raised money to exhibit in Munich. We have also started publishing “Leading Voices”. For better or for worse, people know who we are and what we are doing. Those are humble but real accomplishments. 

Things change as a baby gets older, some things get better (no more puking) and others worse (intense public tantrums). What does not change is that a child needs constant care. I have managed to complete one piece of work with the help of my colleague who is blessed with childcare and a partner. I have also contributed significantly to Mother Makers but cannot keep up with my colleague who dedicates much larger chunks of time. There is guilt, much guilt and no support.  

        Three hours of childcare  

I now have 3 hours of childcare a week and I want to use them to write a business plan, make work and be in the world participating but what I actually need is to rest, to take a shower, eat a nutritious meal and recover from all the other hours piled on top of each other. Putting my personal needs to the side I sit at the computer and try anyway. 

I don’t succeed and try again at nap time. Getting the focus back is murder and every time I finally get a sentence going I click too hard and I’m stuck nursing her back to sleep for 20 minutes. If, for I have a roughly 50% chance of escaping after that, I manage to Ninja my way back to the computer I get to it sleepy and confused instead of focused and fired up. I’m losing the motivation because within 400 words I have already had to get back into it 3 times with a massive hit of sleep hormones sucking the life out of me. I am a badly blown up balloon doing the job a hacksaw is supposed to do while rapidly deflating. But I am a deflated balloon with a mission to create meaningful employment so that my child will not have her mother’s depression for breakfast every day. It’s not a healthy diet, I know this from experience.  

        I have no hope in hell 

I am not complaining, we are quite happy in our tiny abode because it is cute and full of love, music, dancing and fun. We make the best of it but there are unexpected consequences to raising a child in a studio apartment. Your parenting choices are not all really yours. Crying it out, Aware parenting, Attachment Parenting, Continuum parenting, not your choice to make: your space decides for you that you are an attachment parent and being a single parent decides for you that it is running you into the ground. Attachment Parenting on your own is like running a busy restaurant without staff and doing the cry it out method without a bedroom is like stabbing your own eyes out. These are facts but that doesn’t matter because everyone has opinions about how your kid should be able to sleep through the night (until they get one that doesn’t themselves).  

Being this tired is a really boring non-story but the incredible lack of support and respite single mothers face is not talked about enough. Combining motherhood with an arts practice is really hard in itself. Doing it as a single mother is something of a miracle. I am an advocate for mothers with arts practices though unsure if my own can survive. Am I a hero or a sinking ship? This question depresses me on hard days but I do believe that even the sinking must be documented. I don’t want to disappear. Many women before me have disappeared without being heard, some into the river. It’s really time we lose the stigma and start rewarding this marathon.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 questions

Lina Peterson

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What is it that enables you to work? Childcare, family, a partner, the child/ren’s father or something else? Please explain.
I live in London with my daughter Edith and my partner Bill. We’re far away from any family that can help out with childcare and so we try to split the childcare between us as much as we can. Edith goes to nursery two days a week and I’d love for that to be three days, but it’s just not financially possible and it’s frustratingly expensive as it is.

 
Has your work been influenced by being a mother? How so?
I believe that my creative practice hasn’t really been influenced by motherhood. I can perhaps relate to bodies of work that explore motherhood, like those of Louise Bourgeois, more deeply – but equally I can be frustrated by artists whose practice becomes driven by their experience of being a mother. (I’m struggling to think of men who change their practice to be about fatherhood – perhaps this is one reason why it bugs me.) The things I explore in my work are more about texture, colour, materiality and composition.
It also hasn’t changed the way I work. Before having Edith, I’d heard so many times about makers who, once they’d become mothers, became more focused and really made the most use of their time. I’m frustratingly just as hesitant to commit to ideas, as confused about my practice and, if anything, even worse at organising my time as my brain is now juggling even more things and operating on much less sleep.
I also do not manage to get much work done during nap times, as this is also a great time to check emails, look on ebay, eat something, wash something, shift the debris that’s littering our flat, sleep, check Instagram, drink something. And sometimes I feel that it’s important to try to connect with myself, with my own body and my own brain that’s not my daughter’s body or my daughter’s brain. It really has to be ok not to do something all the time and even though it was (still is) hard to come to terms with, for me that means that my making is somewhat compromised. So, I work less, but in the same way as before.
I also work as a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Jewellery at UCA, and the reality of this being my main income also means the jewellery making taking a hit. I also find it almost impossible to work in the evenings. Once Edith is asleep it’s often gone 8pm and I’m often yet to have dinner and I’m just too tired. I’ve just managed to write this during Edith’s nap – but it’s taken me four months to find the right time.

 
Can you describe a normal workday?
If I’m teaching I get up somewhere between 5 and 7, depending on when Edith wakes up, and whether I get up with her or my partner. We then have breakfast and I leave the house before Edith and Bill leave for nursery, if it’s a nursery day. If I teach I work until 5.15 and then the drive back to London from Kent is around 1hour 30 so it’s close to seven and bedtime when I get home. If it’s a studio day I get to the studio around 9.30 and I try my best to have planned ahead so I don’t lose too much time faffing and can concentrate on making. I also try not to bring my computer with me as it poses too many distractions! I have to leave the studio at 3.40 if I’m picking up from nursery, so it’s not a long day, or I can carry on working for a couple of hours if Bill does the pick-up.

 
What needs to happen to make it easier for mothers to work within the arts? What would you have done differently knowing what you know now?
We had a vague inkling that having a child would be difficult, but we had no idea how hard it is! Other than moving the grandparents from Sweden to London, or us to Sweden, I don’t think we could have done much differently. We have had the conversation ‘what if we were in Sweden’ more than once, due to the support we’d get from family and the state supported childcare system. That is one thing that I believe has to change here in the UK – childcare has to be more affordable and more easily available.

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About

Born in Gothenburg, Sweden, Lina Peterson spent the last eighteen years living in the UK. She graduated from the University of Brighton and holds a Master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery, where she studied between 2004-2006.

Lina Peterson’s work has been exhibited extensively internationally, including Schmuck and COLLECT and I have held a number of residencies.

She work from my studio in East London where she has been based for ten years this year. She also work as Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Jewellery at UCA in Kent.

leading voices

Sofia Björkman

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In recent surveys Sweden has come up first in rankings for gender equality; does this impact you in your everyday professional life?

Even if Sweden is ranked high we are far away from equality. The word equality has followed me my entire life, so for me it’s not a question of if it has impact on me or not, it’s a question of reading situations and behaviours and acting towards equality. Equality is not a chapter or a theme, its entangled in everything.

 

What still needs to be changed?

We have to highlight structures and behaviors. Immerse ourselves in what we take for granted and do because we always have. Rewrite history books and review our sources/references with equality glasses on. Point it out immediately when we notice non-equality, ask why it is there and act for a change. We have to teach our children to think and act differently than our generation or the ones before us.

And of course a lot more…

You could ask men to answer these questions. I rarely see interviews in this profession of men answering questions of parenthood and equality.

 

How closely do you think gender equality and motherhood are linked at the high end of successful makers?

When talking about success, we need to define what we mean by that. The unequal society is not due to motherhood, it depends on deeply established power structures. I would never blame mothers or children but the system/the society where motherhood prevents success, whatever we mean by that.

 

Has becoming a mother changed your focus in any way as a gallerist?

I would probably lie if I say no, but I wish I could do so. Having children has changed my life in many ways. There are so many practical things and logistics to handle but amazing moments with fun surprises. The hardest things are travels and little flexibility and the best is when my children remind me that I don’t have to do things as expected.

 

Is representing artists who are mothers different from representing artists who are not? Should it be?

I see more differences in men who are not fathers and men that have been on parental leave than I see among mothers. Why is that?

I remember one male artist who was very irritated at an opening because there were several mothers with children who came to the show. In his eyes that wasn’t good for his image and told me I should have invited different people. I hope I never will hear that again.

 

What can we do to help artists ensure the same quality in their output after they become mothers?

The quality concept may change after having children, just like that of success, so we need to define what quality means. I would say that children give other perspectives that can be great sources for making. I wish more fathers could see that and take more responsibility of childcare. Split 50/50 of the time. It would leave more freedom and time for women to focus on their profession and make the fathers think about how we value and judge.

 

If you could give your younger child-free self any advice on how to work with mother makers, what would it be?

I would tell the fathers to take care of the children so the mothers could have more time to work. I would also ask if I could spend some time with their children, to give me input and the parents time to do what they want.

 

How aware were you of mother makers in the past? Has your awareness changed in any way since being a mother?

When you say “mother makers”, what do you mean? There differ in differnet cultures, in different professions and different countries. Well, I grew up in a time and place where many mothers/women/females came together to discuss equality and gender and as times changed, the situation for parents also changed.

I have always wondered why the mothers have to leave early to pick up the children but not the fathers? And why they have to stay home every time when the children get ill. I still wonder. Why do mothers often have their studios at home but not fathers in the same way ?

 

 How do you feel about motherhood as a theme within work itself?

It sounds like a cliché but artists have to express what they have to express and I won’t tell the artist what to do or not to do.

I have made some works that directly came out as a result of being a parent. When I was pregnant, I couldn’t avoid working with my own body. I made a necklace with embracing arms. This may be another story, but a well-known artist told me it wasn’t good: it was absolutely too figurative and narrative. Five years later that artist made a similar piece and even more figurative.

Another example of work I made is a necklace with knots – one knot every time one of my children said “mom”. I don’t remember exactly, but it ended up with around 100 knots – in one hour. I have never shown this piece but I had to make it.

I also made a brooch after my child didn’t want to put clothes on in the winter and especially not socks, so instead I used the socks to make the brooch. The only comment I remember on this one was that fabric is never good in jewellery.

Maybe we should do an exhibition? I am sure there are a lot of great stories out there.

 

About

Sofia Björkman lives in Stockholm, Sweden. After her MA degree in 1998 she started PLATINA gallery and studio which opened for public 1999. Since then she has been working as a jewelry artist and curator with all kind of projects that creates scenes for the jewelry field. Sofia Björkman has two daughters that were born 2005 and 2007.

www.platina.se

www.sofiabjorkman.se

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leading voices

Liesbeth Den Besten

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What are your observations of mothers in arts?

I know that there are many women in arts who consciously choose not to have children. If they decide otherwise they on average have one child. I made a list of 50 artists I know or have known; 27 of these have no children, 12 of these have 1 child and 11 have 2 children. So: 50 women – 34 children, the average number of children per female artist is 0.68, the average number of children per woman in the western world is about 1.5. My data is just based on an estimate, I wonder what hard data there is.

 

How has motherhood been presented within the discipline of jewellery historically?

Historically jewellery has been part of the crafts and was a male profession. In my country (The Netherlands), there were a handful of young women who worked independently as jewellers in the 1930s – but they were quite an exception. I knew two of them.

Nel van der Chijs, who had her own jewellery studio in the city of Utrecht, and moved to New Zealand after World War II – she had no children. She passed away some years ago. The other woman jeweller, Riet Neerincx, studied in London just after World War II, had difficulty setting up her own studio in The Netherlands after her return but she managed, she won some awards and was among the few female jewellers in the 1950s and early 1960s (at the end of the 1960s, with the increase in economic prosperity, the number of female jewellers increased likewise). Riet Neerincx also had no children, and passed away some years ago. Her wife is still alive. I wrote about both jewellers. I composed a brochure for the Silver Museum in Schoonhoven based on my correspondence with Nel van der Chijs; and I wrote an introduction in a publication about Riet Neerincx. Nel van der Chijs once said in a newspaper interview that she only became interested in jewellery when she decided she wanted to study at the IvKNO (Institute for Applied Arts in Amsterdam, now the Rietveld Academy). The director was not very happy with her choice and told her: “Well if you really want to exchange needle and thread for the hammer you should try it for some time but I don’t put much faith in  it.” She started there in 1927. She was quite a woman: she had her own studio in Utrecht, and had business cards printed. Financially it was not easy – later it turned out that she had paid too much tax for a long period of time. According to her this had to do with the fact that she was an unmarried independent woman – people, civil servants, regarded her as a suffragette. It was very unusual for a woman to live the life of a man. She organised exhibitions for other craftswomen in her studio, she had advertisements in newspapers, she participated in exhibitions, she was a very active person. As she said – she was not interested in men.                        

 

Have you seen any changes in recent years?

In those years being a professional craftsperson and a mother must have been a mission impossible. We can say a lot has changed because the combination is possible today but still a lot of women who are ambitious decide not to have children.

 

What are the issues as you see it in motherhood’s visibility within the discipline?

I don’t think there is much work about motherhood. I do know I have seen examples over the years but I don’t think it is the real issue. The real issue in arts (and maybe a little bit in jewellery) is gender.

 

While overwhelming percentages of women graduate into the field each year, motherhood is rarely discussed/made public. Why do you think this is? 

I think most people see motherhood as a personal choice. You have to fight for it yourself, to find your own solutions. Some people succeed very well, others struggle with it for the rest of their lives. For me personally, motherhood was never an issue, I loved being a mother of three, but I also loved my work and I never ever thought for one moment about giving it up for  even a short break. For a short period, I had to work at a slower pace but I managed to do a lot in the evenings and during the hours the children went to daycare or were with a babysitter. I was lucky to have very healthy children who slept well after their first year and I don’t need much sleep myself. Also, I was lucky to have a husband who really cared and who was willing to get out of bed at night. Actually, I think motherhood for me has always been something personal – it’s my life, my choice, my fun and my struggle, why should I share that with others? Would it help others?

Your question could also be turned around: why do girls feel attracted to art academies? Where are the boys going – all in finance, economics, business probably? I think in a period of 100 years the arts have been feminised but at the top it is still the men who are in the lead – you can see this if you look at the ranking lists for artists, professorships and other responsible jobs, though we are seeing changes now.

 

There is a difference in what’s important to mothers and what’s important to the field, we are looking for the place where those two sets of needs meet. Do you think there is such a thing?

What is important to mothers? Can anyone give an answer to that question? Is there an answer? I wouldn’t know. Again, I think motherhood is a personal choice. For me motherhood and work were separate entities. I wanted it like that. I had no problem closing the door and leaving the family behind for a couple of hours. My work was my escape from motherhood, my escape from home, the daily routine and all the boring things that are part of motherhood. Of course, there were feelings of guilt but that’s why you have friends and family to discuss these things with. Older women (who can tell you that you are doing well and that you should ignore the negative feelings) are especially important to meet with every now and then.

…and what is important to the field?

Is there an answer to that question? Maybe: dedicated artists who follow their own way, and try to inspire each other. Inspiration is something you need both as a mother and an artist.

 

What do you think needs to happen to make it easier to work for mothers in our field?

I wonder if our field is more difficult than any other free creative profession. In the creative sector it is hard to earn your money and the liberal professions rarely have official maternity leave policy. If you have a second job it can be easier because you can afford to pay for childcare.

The most important thing is that you are able to clear the children out of your head every now and then, to stop being a mother and to be an artist again – which is incredibly difficult of course. But I really think, from my own experience, that motherhood shouldn’t play the most important role in your life: that you should fight for free space beyond motherhood – only there you can start creating again.

 

Do you think it’s important to represent mothers for example in the gallery sphere?

That sounds interesting: to start a collective of mothers that runs a gallery space. But if you do so, should all the work presented in the gallery be about motherhood? I do think it is important that mothers help each other: you are in the same situation and you understand each other well. But I wonder if it is interesting to make motherhood your prime identity: a woman is so much more. ‘Motherhood’ lasts for a relatively short period of time, although you will be a mother until your death. So, I would say: think beyond motherhood. Motherhood is personal, precious, nasty, difficult, and lovely at the same time – but nothing unique.

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Charlotte (28), Jasper (27), and Vincent (30)

 

About

Liesbeth den Besten is an art historian, based in Amsterdam. She works as an independent writer, teacher, lecturer, and curator. She teaches jewellery history at Sint Lucas Antwerpen. She is the chairwoman of the Françoise van den Bosch Foundation for contemporary jewellery, a member of the advisory board of the Chi ha paura…? Foundation, and a founding member of Think Tank, a European Initiative for the Applied Arts. Her book, On Jewellery: A Compendium of International Contemporary Art Jewellery, was published by Arnoldsche in November 2011.