Welcome to Motherland

by Mindy on May 27, 2010

Photo: M. Powers

I’ve spent the week recovering from Welcome To Motherland, the first public installation and event of the Greetings From Motherland project.  At the Goodman Community Center in Madison, WI on May 23rd we hosted over 200 people, including dozens of children, and despite the heat (and the broken air conditioner), people stayed, played, looked, and contributed their stories. The Greetings From Motherland web site is still in development, so there will be lots more photos to come, but for now I want to share a little bit of what we presented and created that day.

The show consisted of six installations, directed by me and created collaboratively by the main group of seven women that had been meeting since February.  Other work was contributed through weekend workshops, interviews, and through our personal networks. The majority of the women in the group were non-artists, and the amount of creativity and energy that everyone put in to making this all happen was awe inspiring.

Photo: N. Laubach

Postcard Bricks: In the center of the room, we had a platform with thirty-two lightweight and sturdy bricks, made from the cardboard blocks that kids can play with. On one side were abstract photos taken by all of the women in the group. On the other was text written by the women in response to questions about new motherhood we had brainstormed on the first day of the workshop. It also included excerpts from interviews we all did. The sides of the blocks were collaged with parenting manuals, and they each had a faux postage stamp from Motherland.

I had designed the bricks to be played with by the children, and picked up and looked at and read by the adults.  I thought it would create an evolving and interactive sculpture, as the children played and the adults picked them up, creating new structures and juxtapositions. I had no idea if the idea would work, or if people would be too timid to pick up the bricks.   I soon realized that I had no reason to worry, as the kids didn’t hesitate to climb right up and play; touching, building, throwing, and literally stomping on them. The bricks actually held up.

Photo: N. Laubach

Clothesline: The clothesline installation had a number of elements.  There were two paper quilts that were created from erasure poetry we all did (in a workshop led by poet David Goldstein). Starting with pages from parenting manuals, we would erase or block out words to create our own poems. The lines also held paper clothing sewn by some of the women, all out of parenting manuals.  There were onesies, dresses, t-shirts, a bib, a sleepsack, and even a nursing bra, complete with snaps.

Unexpected Lullabies: I asked the women to record unexpected lullabies that they sing to their babies. We also collected lullabies from friends. Audience members sat in the rocking chair one a time to listen through headphones.  Some of my favorites were “Don’t Fence Me In”, “Rock with You”, “Crazy”, and “Getting To Know You”. The lullabies were not labeled by name and played randomly so people didn’t know exactly what they would get when they sat down.

Scans and Interviews: We created another sound piece of edited interviews of mothers, and paired with scans of everyday objects and substances from our lives as mothers.  We scanned everything from breast milk, to applesauce to safety plugs.

Photo: B. Waller

Stamp Station: At the stamp station, kids made Motherland postage stamps using food as rubber stamps. They could keep the stamps, or contribute them to the postcard station.

Postcard station: There was a bowl of questions (the same ones we had used during the workshops for our own writing and interviews) that mothers could choose from a bowl, and then write their response on a postcard. We invited others who were not mothers to share their thoughts as well. The postcards were canceled with a postmark and the date the mother entered Motherland. The cards were then displayed on the rack for people to peruse.  50 people wrote cards about a wide range of topics: the hardest and most joyous parts of their first year of motherhood, how their relationships with their partners changed, stories about where and how they fed their babies, and many more.  There were almost fifty question prompts. The cards people wrote were pretty incredible–very honest, which is what I was hoping for.

Mobile Miniatures: There were two mobiles with small viewers hanging from them. Inside were images that we had made of Motherland using miniatures and baby objects that loomed large.   I had originally been thinking this piece was for the adults, but the kids really loved it.  They were so excited to peer into all of the viewers to see the miniature worlds.

Photo: B. Waller

This may have been the first art show for a lot of the kids. I intended it to be kid-friendly, but I was pleasantly surprised how much the children really enjoyed interacting with the work.

The food was wonderfully prepared by Tara Verma, one of the women in the project and the owner of Bebe Meals.  And thank you again to the wonderful Mallory Powers of Fitzgerald Photography, who generously helped us document the show.

It was incredibly exciting to see all of our ideas come to life. Greetings From Motherland is still evolving, and I’m looking forward to showing the installation elsewhere, adding to it, and soliciting new material through the web site and future workshops.

View more photos from the show.

I’ll be sharing more of the actual images, text, poetry and sound on the website very soon.

Megan, Elizabeth, Tara, Jet, Nina, Bryn, Mindy and Jane Photo: M. Powers

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: