Friday, 31 October 2014

30 10 14

I should have never pursued her. Something is happening.

I am living, with my friend and my daughter, next door to where she lives. My friend is (also) in love with you. I go next door (alone). It is early morning. You come to me and we embrace. You offer me breakfast and we talk. You are incredibly warm and tactile. Your hand hovers around my waist. I ask you questions as we move about the house: how long have you been here? How do you make money? (you are smiling and rolling your eyes as you describe the seasonal work you do in Blackpool) How much is your rent? (£300). You live with two women and a man – cardboard cut-outs of the four of you adorn the white wall of the immense vestibule. They seem peripheral, they drift about, and they are monumentally proportioned. You make us drinks and we sit together. Your chair is behind mine and we sit together watching the news on tv whilst sipping hot tea. Your chair is behind mine and the house is peaceful. Your hand is casually draped across the curve of my waist (I must be reclining). We occasionally speak. Our bodies are close. Your hand making contact with the side of my body charges it entirely. I know if I turn to you our faces will be aligned. I know if I turn to you our mouths and tongues will touch and be inflamed. I wake up still charged.

Monday, 20 October 2014

This essay will not engage directly with Emin’s words and the specificity thereof, but rather use her statement as a precipice to jump off.

In the wake of Tracey Emin's recent comments on the position of the maternal and of the artist, I am compelled to explore the status of the so-called artistic impulse in opposition to that of the, again, so-called maternal. This essay will not engage directly with Emin’s words and the specificity thereof, but rather use her statement as a precipice to jump off. For what does becoming a mother bring to or violently steal from the woman, artist or not, in the matrix of too much/not enough which all women must navigate, and furthermore how does the situation of being a mother affect my own personal engagement with the world and consequently my own art practice with which this world is entangled. One has to engage with the myths surrounding the maternal, including the existence of such a state in itself. The maternal figure is highly idealised – and denigrated. It cannot be said that this state is a singular entity and it would be dangerous to make this presumption, which acts as either a barrier to a bodily/emotional experience that runs the gamut between [the] violence [of birth] and unconditional love (that is nevertheless ambivalent), or an escape route (and for my part, I am guilty of predicating my decision to procreate upon the latter). Already one finds oneself in the murky territory of the contradictory and the incoherent. And each condition implies an act of fleeing – from the experience or from a particular idea of oneself.

Emin stated that if she had mothered a child she therefore would have faltered as an artist. Speaking from the post-menopausal position this statement shouldn't have raised hackles: enshrined in the comment is a mere explication of her situation as childless women, which carries its own burden, and a permissiveness that I find quite touching. It’s not as simple as the opposition, something which Derrida would say is appropriative of its other; this formulation of a position reveals in its articulation the passage through one state into another, and the impossibility of this state’s transformation. On the flip-side to which there is a joyful note of liberation from roles that, for her, seem incompatible with the role of the artist; a role and state of being which she has fought tooth-and-nail to occupy. One constantly seeks a narrative that cements one’s position or decision or even assuages one’s immense guilt or heals the wounds one has endured. For those of us who recall previous Emin personae we contrast this statement with that of her perimenopausal incarnation, in which she mourned the loss of her fertility: an acknowledgement, then, of a profound lack, menopause being an intertwined bodily/emotional passage through which all women pass, some enduring and others stoical, and the majority with at least a primordial sense of having 'done one's duty': as if the body and its potential functions were some kind of material to be first manipulated and last, obeyed. Parturition having occurred or not, the passage for all women is the same, and the situation of the both ‘the mother’ and the ‘childless woman’ remains a passage through both biological irruption and relational/libidinal cathection.

Bringing up a 5 year old daughter - in conjunction with her father with whom she stays for roughly a third of the week - definitely complicates the existing complexities of my existence (universally experienced or particular to my situation and the condition of the ‘I’ that occupies it), and presents both restrictions and hidden openings. These openings – some, one has to orchestrate and others attune to, are ruptures that reveal more of the morass of unconscious and experiential raw material that would anyway be fuelling my practice. There are practical exigencies that mustn’t be glossed-over; there are shocking oscillations that propel one hither and thither both physically and psychically with expansive repercussions for other relationships and the embodiments thereof. I don’t believe, as R.D. Laing did, that sociological shifts can heal the wounds of the divided self that goes some way to articulate this state. The maternal is a constant struggle that cannot be pacified by doing away with The Family or redefining the role of he father. Something more rhizomatic is going on that requires a deeper and broader engagement.

Self-identification is problematic as any attempt to fix one’s identity can generate a tumultuous situation for subjectivity (or the ego). The ego (and the unconscious narrative that is always present alongside it) generates itself in opposition to ideal-types from the outside world; necessarily mediated both externally and internally (termed by Freud as projection and introjection). The terms of our identification are defined not from within but from without, so that when one proclaims what one is, be that an artista mothera bookseller, or unemployed, there are frameworks of meaning in place to which one is subscribing. For my part I prefer a multiplicity of partial identifications with a nod to the unknown, that don’t bond me too closely to any yet take all into account. My own tendency is towards the liminal: occupying thresholds, or transitional states, which may equally be called the condition of the artist, or of the mentally ill, or of the maternal, which is a state of constant transitioning and repositioning in relation to the baby/child/adult that itself transitions and reposition in its own right. Transformations operate cross-bodily, simultaneously, echoing and jarring and playing-out over a chain or passage of selves and others. In short: the maternal is a state of relation both like and unlike any other and it unfolds spatio-temporally, produced from a situation of rupturing. One cleaves an identity that is precisely unfixed from a stream that is never conclusively apprehended by the self, for the motion is perpetual, infinite. Self-image producing myths that then set in motion cultural and social presumptions depend not on being (a mire of corporeal/spiritual/consciousness) but on doing and having: the functionality of roles and the body as vessel.

Post-partum, her body of work/sexed body remapped – territoialized, parasitised – Emin might have found herself alienated form it anew: this position of metastasis might have produced some profoundly engaging work, or might have paralysed her with the impossibility of it all and led her instead down the route of least resistance (that is, from without): the contemporary conservative figure of the ‘yummy mummy’, a cultural phenomenon that operates as a narcissistic space in which women can cast-off their prior identity in some sort of consumer-led penitential ritual (“I used to do pills and sleep around but now I do aromatherapy, tend the garden and orbit around the child that is the centre of my universe, so I am therefore forgiven for my flights of youthful fancy, and by the way I AM BETTER NOW”). I can’t help thinking that if Emin had produced from her body another life, and engaged with that process of protrusion, detachment and the complex intimacies and antinomies between mother and child, her work might not have improved or degraded – simply expanded into the territory of an annexe to the realm with which she is familiar: the emotionally violent and the libidinal; the filth and the obscurity and the extrusions of the body in inexorable negotiation with the other.

Being optimistic, as I write, (for this optimism is a fleeting state that is vulnerable to wounding and harrowing visions) about the possibility of flouting ‘lifestyle’ choices, and recognising the illusory nature of such appearances and that, in truth, the maternal is a site of extreme incoherencies and complexities, I am most disappointed by the fear that seems to permeate the subject of the maternal. “You’re life is over when you have kids” is a popular refrain, which actually says more about taxonomies of the domestic/financial that the actual lived experience of caring, in the broadest possible sense, for children. I know practicing artists who have children, men and women, and their attitude, like mine, is co-conspiratorial: the child is along for the ride, that is to say, the child is born into this and it is this (the particular routines, the adventures and the problematics) with which we will all negotiate. Like art, parenting is a process and as a trajectory it is littered with contingencies. The experience is interpenetrating – the maternal body and the mind are altered by the experience, but why fear this? Are we afraid of letting go of ourselves? For holding tight to the mirror/s supports and at the same delimits the frameworks of our identity-forms. Subjectivity, however, is in constant flux, and by destabilising the fallacy of selfhood to which we (narcisstically) cling, our potential for polymorphic intervention, experiences and leaps of faith, in short, our openness, is spread wider.