Thursday, May 27, 2010

What's All This, Then? Motherland Art Review: Part 1

Head's up: I will hereby attempt to review an art show I attended last Sunday. I intend to break it up over a few posts over the next week or two. This will be the first time I have ever attempted to review a piece of art, much less an entire show, and I feel that I must disclose the fact that I have absolutely no qualifications which allow me to review shows of any sort (not even picture or dog). And actually, I should probably be calling it an exhibit or project or something, so I'm already off to a rocky start. Nevertheless, I shall continue, starting with this first selection and following-up with more as I finish writing them. And then I will possibly go back and update everything if I read other's review and realized I was way off base. So. Read on if you dare! And be kind. Remember, I'm a novice.

First off, an overview. Greetings from Motherland is, per its website, "an evolving participatory arts project about the culture shock of becoming a mother." Artistic Director Mindy Stricke met regulary with a small group of Madison mothers and over several months they sculpted, photographed, collaged, sewed, wrote, and proceeded to create works meant to share their experiences as women who have traveled the often trepidatious road from pre-child to POW! You're a mother! The show's bulletin listed eight primary artistic contributors and several other peripheral contributors to Sunday's initial showing (with additional contributions expected if/as the show continues).

I arrived at the Motherland show (exibit?) ten minutes before it was scheduled to open (carpooling gets you places, not always exactly when you need to arrive). I looked the antithesis of hip or artsy: I was wearing my Birkenstock sandals (I'd come directly from lounging at the lakefront), a jean skirt, and a bright yellow seagull t-shirt which, while fine for a beach retreat, had no place mingling with artists. (A bird had pooped on my chest earlier that afternoon--True Story--and the bright, ironically bird-embellished tee was the only back-up piece of clothing in my possession that day other than the 12 month onsie still cluttering up the bottom of my 19 month daughter's diaper bag).

I mention my outfit in order to set the mood. My mood, that is, as I stepped into the gallery space. Basically: I felt incredibly foolish. There I was, entering a room in which I could only imagine were women much more successful than I. Not only were they more creative and productive than I felt, I wouldn't even be able to pretend I was cultured or had class lest they point at my shirt and laugh in my face. I was outside my comfort zone.

As I was saying (I know, I know: get to it already, Thomasin! Jeez, remember what I said about being nice?), I stepped through the exhibit door unfashionably early and, well, just plain unfashionable. Much to my relief I received not heckles but immediate welcomes from the artists. They were hurrying about adding finishing touches to the set-up, and though I still felt awkward there was nothing more to do than to jump right in take them up on their invitation and explore the installations.


I've decided to describe the works in the order I would have viewed them had I moved about the room counter-clockwise. I didn't exactly move that way myself, but I think most visitors probably did (it seemed to be the natural flow).

I didn't see titles on any of the pieces, so I'm calling each by a simple descriptive name I've made up (I hope no one is offended with the liberties I've taken).


After walking by tables with refreshments and child crafts thoughtfully provided for guests & their children, I observed numerous (12? 20? I didn't count them) multi-colored rectangular plastic boxes hanging from wires, mobile-style . I initially passed them by, believing they were simply flair for the space, attractive to look at but nothing begging closer attention.

I was, of course, wrong; before long I'd spoken to one of the artists and was directed back to the colorful hanging arrangement. It turns out each brightly colored box was an individual slide viewer. You were meant to grab one of the dangling boxes (moving one caused others nearby to bob all about, but for the most part they were independent of each other), point it toward the light source, and then peek through the viewer to view a single slide/photo.

Click here for a link to a photo of the piece.

There two slides I recall most clearly:

The first depicts two figurines (I believe male and female) in the foreground, their gazes set on the huge baby (doll) in the background.

The second also showed two figurines (I don't recall the genders, it may have been unclear) surrounded (engulfed) by Cheerio-type cereal o's.

Both slides brough to mind a familiar feeling. First the "Oh my goodness. We have a BABY!" that shocks you the first time your child cries and you look around to see who will pick that baby up and suddenly you realize It's my baby. I am supposed to pick her up! It's all me! Also the feeling of being overwhelmed by the minutiea of baby-rearing. The hundreds of items we're told we need (from the o's to the strollers, pumps, clothes, teethers, walkers, highchairs and all the other bits that most everyone accumulates when they are preparing for a baby which they may or may not actually need).

For me, the slides felt familiar. I've known something akin to panic as I realized we weren't just planning for a baby any longer: our baby was here. And looking around at the spread of food and toy stuffs we've accumulated into our home since our daughters arrival, I have some emphathy for the little plastic people and their halos of Cheerios.

Other impressions from the slides:

~just because something's small doesn't mean it can't pack a whallop

~so I hadn't recognized the viewers as part of the show. It's possible that was part of the point. I think about my pre-baby life and stuff and how it's still with me. I don't think about it being there, but it is. It still affects how I move about my life.

~child-friendly and reminiscent of childhood:  I could appreciate the medium (once I spotted it!)

~it's all in the details. Life isn't just about the big and showy, it's about the pieces that may be all too often overlooked as well. They still help create our world, our space.

The viewers were an interesting way to begin the show (I say that even though I rushed right on past them). It was an interesting idea, asking the art-viewers to begin participating in the experience by changing them from passive observers to action-takers immediately. It certainly set the tone for the rest of the installations (in which the artists sought not only to share but to encourage the sharing of experiences).  Also:  giving a person a "job" (even if it's such a simple job as to pull a viewer to your eye and peek through it) does much to dispel the awkward but I'm wearing a bird shirt feeling of the uninitiated art-goer.

So. How'd I do? Go ahead, you can tell me. It'll help me work on the rest of the reviews. :-)


Momma June 2, 2010 at 4:13 PM  

You did very well! I look forward to more, and wish I could have been there, too! (I do think is was too bad the birds didn't poop on the bird shirt. ;)

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