Things it had to include were description, resolution, significance, context
Keywords – Motherhood failure, Accessible art, Reveal, Togetherness, Relief
Motherhood failure is a subject close to my heart. Dealing with the loss of the dream of the perfect family is a bitter pill to swallow and coupled with the ongoing anxieties in relation to my son’s mental illness and autism this has occupied my mind and life for many years. I sort relief through creativity readily accessible and found quilt making more than twenty years ago. For a time this worked to ease my mind temporarily through making. As my son’s situation worsened I found that I had a driving compulsion to reveal the situation to others. Not so much to seek sympathy but to unburden myself of the guilt and shame I felt around my perceived motherhood failure. I felt, and still feel, that I could not continue with real relationships, without revealing my dirty secrets. There was even more relief, if in the telling I found someone in a similar situation. The comfort available from another who more fully understands creates a feeling of togetherness that goes further again in bearing the burden of guilt associated with this motherhood failure.
With this in mind I am embarking on a journey to discover ways of making that bring a modicum of relief to both myself and the viewer. This is not an ambitious campaign to cure all woes, but simply investigating possibilities around integrating art into life as a component of wellbeing.
To date making art that reveals my motherhood failure and through this connects and generates feelings of togetherness and relief, has not been an easy task. I plan to use the medium of quilting as a non-negotiable component of my work. I have a long relationship with quilting, and many materials for their creation in my possession that hold meaning and memory beyond their utility. Star fabrics from a quilt when my son was eight, scraps from my first quilt donated to my son when he left for university and subsequently left behind and lost when schizophrenia drove him into homelessness. Quilting holds such weight for many other women out there too. Quilts provide comfort and warmth, cheering colour and pleasing pattern. Quilts are intimately associated with love. They embody long amounts of time invested and meaning embedded. They are given as gifts of protection and care to those around us and to those we never meet, but who need our care. They are both precious and not, able to be handled and washed, presented to others on the kitchen table or the wall. As such, I consider quilts as an accessible art. Familiar, caring, beautiful, without the element of intimidation I see in some other mediums.
Quilts also have a long history of being presented in a feminist and political art context, but this is not a feature of the medium on which I plan to focus. In recent times the so called ‘art quilt’ has, in some cases moved towards emulation of the painting, by being placed exclusively on the wall and often losing some of its comfort and resilience to use, by stiffening, flattening, gluing and the addition of board. This is not the path for me. I plan to follow the more traditional block construction with piecing and applique, layering and quilting.
In my pursuit of accessibility in relation to meaning, and separately pleasurable aesthetics, I plan to incorporate text into my quilts. I think of text as aesthetic in form and poetry, but also as evoking a layer of meaning that can be difficult to convey visually in other ways. My quilts will largely contain symbolic abstract content, rather than pure representation, and I hope that the addition of text will allow entry into content that may otherwise remain unseen.
You may note that I have come to this decision about semi-abstract pieced quilts with understandable text, through the making of many quilts using photographic work and various construction techniques. I have not felt much has worked within these, aside from possibly poetic text. The ragged edges and dull colours do not speak of comfort or give pleasure to me and the muted lonely photographs evoke sadness rather than relief. Technical problems with the printing of photographs on fabric, left those photographs low contrast and unclear, clashing in tone with commercial printed fabrics and not speaking loudly enough of their content. Instead I plan to use a mix of commercial and hand dyed fabric to construct pieced blocks to be stitched together into large quilts.
I have resolved to tough out the presentation of what may be seen by some as decorative quilts, and attempt to insert meaning through text and pattern, with the intent of having some small relief flowing to myself and the viewer.
Obviously work like this holds personal significance for me, through my engagement in mindful activity. The creation of such work acts to reduce stress and the flow on physical illnesses associated with stress, and to enhance resilience. This work also provides an avenue to satisfy my desire to confess. In terms of the broader community, it feels arrogant to suggest that my work has the power to change the lives of others. I would like to think, however, that this work could open up discussion around subjects that may, for some, be a hidden shame. In doing so the work may create a feeling of togetherness, connection and sharing. It may even encourage engagement in making by the viewer, with its use of accessible, familiar and readily available materials. In an increasingly disconnected world, with mental illness reportedly on the rise, and mothers largely shut out of the management of mentally ill adult children, this type of work feels all the more important.
Many people around the world make quilts and in the last twenty or thirty years quilts have been begun to be created for reasons relating to an art practice, as distinct from an solely utilitarian object. My companions in this field include Thomas Knauer, who creates attractive pieced quilts with an activist message, Sandra Sider who is a quilt artist who continues to work tirelessly to promote the place of the quilt in the art world, and Penny Gold, a US quilt maker, whose practice has taken on new significance since the death of her son, and whose painful quilt about this prompted me to further explore the artistic range of the quilt. Many other companions reside in the two main organisations I belong to, namely Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) and OzQuilt network. These organisations operate within the field of quilt art, providing opportunities to exhibit and generously sharing information about all aspects of quilt making. Whilst my research may take me from academic journals to poetry books and novels, if I need making inspiration, I need only return to SAQA.
I am excited to move forward with more making, to see if it is possible to create an emotive and aesthetic quilt, that connects the viewer and I with a modicum of communal relief, in a stressful and lonely world.