39 weeks or 273 days or 6,552 hours or 393,120 minutes or 23,587,200 seconds.
Even now while reflecting back, it is almost impossible to comprehend growing a human life inside me. Carrying her. Nurturing her. Protecting her. My body acclimated; my skin stretched, my womb expanded, my bones strengthened, my mind prepared. What you can only know after is that you will never actually be prepared. Other mothers don’t tell you the truth about labor. How can they? It is practically indescribable. It is a visceral experience. It’s messy. It’s painful. It’s unpredictable. It’s long. It’s very long. I journeyed to an unfamiliar mental space. That was the scariest part, the unknown. Will it hurt? Will I be safe? Will I be able to do this? Will she be safe? Will it take hours? Will it take days? Will I be strong enough to get through it? This array of questioning I imposed on myself revealed the role I was thrust into: Mother. Questioning now performs on a foundational level for my work. I sketch in questions, seeking clarity through examination, yet the answers are immaterial. I allow space for the objects, surfaces, colors and sounds from my everyday life to enter the work. These are the relics from those first few days, months, and now years of the most significant transformation in my life. Seemingly mundane, commonplace and deep-rooted in their conventional and often clichéd representation of motherhood, objects like the breast pump and baby clothes operate as the visual cues of the lineage I am now and forever connected to.
As she grew within, our first ways of communicating were purely gestural. She countered my body’s actions with her own; I lulled her to stillness during my long runs, stimulated kicks and jabs with small sips of cold water, and aroused tumbles and spins when I played Al Green’s ‘Love and Happiness” directly onto my belly. Our bodies traveled together. We journeyed to a residency program, to three graduate school interviews, to one funeral, to two weddings, to cities, to farms, to woods, to beaches. We were never alone because of each other. We moved as one. My body allotted for more space within as needed. As my body grew through connection, her body grew in preparation to separate. For nearly a year, one person exists as two people. Two bodies compressed into one. Two hearts synchronizing rhythms. Two lives sharing breaths. Two strangers cohabiting a sacred space. Intimate strangers. Two lives living solely in a state of waiting. Waiting to separate while growing apart, separating while waiting. The separation is subsequently violent. I was not prepared. For two days, my body strained to release her. I pushed, I ripped, I agonized, I cried, I slept, I moaned, I screamed, I gave up, I recovered, I prevailed. I reached between my legs until I felt her small, slippery body and cradled her in my hand while pulling her to my breast. Separations are never easy but this one was particularly demanding. What I know now after almost two years is that motherhood exists in a constant state of transitions, a perpetual letting go.
After pumping in my studio one of the small containers of breast milk spilled onto my desk covering a page in my sketchbook, a library book and a sheet of Mylar. The residue intrigued me. The milk dried tracing its own movement across the surface. The milk curdled and cracked all while building a collection of organic forms that retained the appearance of a purposeful mark. The slowness of each subsequent spill allowed me the time to question what exactly the breast milk was acting as in these works. My breast milk performed as the material trace of my transition into my new role as mother; beautiful but messy, quiet and calm yet chaotic and unpredictable, and profoundly abstract while similarly rooted in reality. Produced for her. Only for her. Only from me. Breast milk is the material created from an intimate exchange of body to body. Once again two bodies physically connected but this time my body inside of her body. Two bodies engaged in a continuous exchange. Breast milk acts as the invisible ink of a secret dialogue between mother and child, only revealing its materialness when separated from the body. I struggle to decode this exchange as its power fades through language. To try and connect my experience through language does not suffice. This is where the making becomes pivotal. I am not asking my breast milk to perform as anything other than what it is and what it can do: a liquid, a bodily fluid, a watery material. It dries, it curdles, it fractures, it thickens. It transforms from liquid to solid. It is an element of the earth, of nature, of my body. Milkscapes made from the essence of my body now performing as a mother. These Milkscapes, this collection of imagery reflects this process of archiving a routine through its most essential material and highlights the communication between mother and daughter through abstraction. Perhaps it is through this collection of Milkscapes that I can begin to viscerally suggest the abstract nature of motherhood as the unpredictable nature of breast milk as a material exposes and emphasizes the necessity of letting go.