Not Showing

 

Performance Lecture with Eggs, Kate Thomas and Anne Thulson, 2015

(excerpt)

K: Playing with the limits of nothingness as we consider both the maximal and minimalist role motherhood jerks you into the moment you receive a new life. I think about the physical and durational limits of the maximalist mother practice and how I am wrestling with a role that remains largely unnoticed and yet all consuming. Billions do this everyday.

A: Yes. I remember lying on the bed and hearing a baby cry. I have to get up and nurse this person. I can’t choose not to. I can’t replace this act with some other act. I can’t procrastinate. I was horrified. You choose this duration and relationship when you try to conceive. You have an idea of what that means. Then a few minutes after birth, you find out what it really means. You are the most invisible and maximal you will ever be and both at the same time. How is that possible? Maybe, because it is about love.

K: Recently, I opened Out of Now: The Life Works of Tehching Hsiech and was re-introduced to Hsiech’s physically grueling and humiliating durational performance piecesUpon revisiting his work I felt an immediate sense of understanding.  In One Year Performance 1980-81: Time Clock, Hsiech punches into a time clock every 60 minutes for a year, testing the limits of a sleep deprived state. A nursing mother knows the breakdown of self all too well.

A: Hsiech makes his choice to do these things. I always wondered, when he finds out what it really entails, is he horrified? Like myself, who had more than one child, Hsiech continued to enact multiple performances.

K: Gradually this fullness of motherhood and performance subsides into a minimalist role with fewer needs and demands on the body, but always there is sense of needing to be somewhere in relation to the object child.

A: I was told that parents who have their children kidnapped from them, know earlier on what all parents eventually learn. Our children are autonomous and distinct from us with separate destinies. But the sense of needing to be somewhere in relation to the object child never goes away.

Once, when my children were small, I listened to several older women fret and boast about their children’s spouses, careers, addictions, and accomplishments. I said, “So it never stops? When they grow up, it doesn’t stop?” I thought they would say something wise and kind, but they just laughed at me like schoolgirls.

K: Moving from being co-performers (mother/child) to audience members as we witness our children’s selves coming into being, they insist we watch, we are practicing slipping away. (theory of invisibility?)

A: So you start off with nothing. Then you give birth to the most precious object ever, which you lovingly craft with Suzuki lessons, wholesome activities, and well-chosen schools. And then, at some point, you are all sitting on the grass with Manet and the object starts to talk back. The paint starts to lift off the picture plane and the illusion is up. Adolescence arrives at breakneck speed and you all frantically careen towards the Amory Show and across the Bering Straits to Malevich. Before you know it, you are sitting with John Baldesarri in a stuffy car, perseverating over his unsharpened pencil. Poof! So quickly, you are the most minimalist of all. Look mom, no object!

You think this is death. Then there is this lightness. You start flying around with Joseph Beuys and neither of you ever let your feet touch the ground as you hover above the old, familiar places. It is a new nought that of course isn’t really nought. You still mourn for the object, but a deep and lovely concept takes its place.

One day while this is happening, the previous objects who are no longer substantial call you up and come on over to the most substantial of dinners of pan-fried cod and they ask you things like “Was there once a party with this red wheelbarrow and a clown who was someone’s uncle who smelled like whiskey and it rained and I lost that rabbit’s foot?” And you all merrily cobble together imperfect documentation of a party that maybe was.

K: Hsiech’s final art making involves thirteen years of creating without showing his work. This kind of invisible durational process is at the very core of the maximalist/minimalist motherhood life. She is there, but not seen. She is performing the role even in the absence of her child.

A: At the grocery store with my tiny basket holding a wedge of expensive cheese and one dinner’s worth of kale, I imagine that the woman with her cart overflowing with children and foodstuffs thinks I’m quite footloose and fancy free. Not altogether true. I’m almost as tethered as Hsiech and his partner, but I’m just not showing.

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