“Thank you for your kind note. I won't be able to attend, I have too much on my plate these days, and probably I am not on the (mailing) list because everyone in the world knows that, while I am a caring person, I lack maternal-ity ;-). “
What is this “maternal-ity” that the writer refers to? More so, what is this “maternal-ity” that “everyone in the world” knows about? Who are these knowers and what is this singular “maternal/-ity” that the writer speaks off and that they all know about?
The message was sent to me in response to my invitation to attend a reading group where maternal theory was being read alongside some key continental philosophers.
Whilst the note was written with warmth and affection, the message itself overwhelmed me particularly because its writer was a sharp, highly educated, inquisitive mind with many academic accolades and professional successes to her name.
It appeared to me that the writer was referring to a personal lack of maternal-ity in the sense that she wouldn’t want to mother a child. What stunned me was not her personal choice to not mother a child, or having no desire to mother a child. What stunned me was the realisation that for me, as someone who has engaged in mothering work for over 17 years, the word ‘maternal/-ity’ does not at all conjure up images of the maternal in this way.
There seemed to be a huge discrepancy between our understanding of the maternal and its meaning. Where the notion of the ‘maternal’ seemed to conjure up an image for the writer of a woman carrying and caring for a child, I saw a potential proposition for new orientations points for our being-in-the-world. Orientation points that do not fall from a fixed center, but rather from human relations held together by an ethos of ultimate hospitality towards the other.
So what then is the maternal? Is it a physical thing? Is it the ability of some bodies to carry and give birth? Is it a concept connecting various notions? Is it a metaphor for something else? Is it a space, an attitude, a practice, a symbol?
For me the maternal has become to symbolize a way to deconstruct and rethink existing structures and questions related to various notions such as hospitality, otherness, economics of exchange, ethics, time and becoming to name just a few. All subjects which are also very much present in the practices of artists, scholars and cultural producers alike today. Yet the dominant discourses, philosophies and critical theories within the arts all seem to systematically fail the inclusion of the figure of the mother in their otherwise multidisciplinary discourses.
The age-old myth of the artist as a solitary genius has been on a fade-out already before the millennium and growing numbers of artists and other creative practitioners are embracing and investigating forms of collaboration and participation in their methodologies of artistic production. Artists and other cultural produces are embedding their practices more and more within the socio-political tapestries of world events and not only in subject matter but also in their formal choices and aesthetics. Yet, despite these tendencies towards relational aesthetics and social engagement, art world structures are still dominantly organised in ways, which support the endlessly mobile, individual subject; the solitary genius, the flâneur who “.. is always in full possession of his individuality...”
When art production dominantly stems from such singular subjectivities there remains a gap between those who get to produce ‘new knowledge’, and those who don’t, and the kinds of knowledge that gets to be (re)-produced. Persistently, even within the arts, the figure of the mother remains viewed simply as a domestic necessity for the continuation of life in which then great things can happen.
Through monthly columns m/other voices wishes to open up a space of resonance for the expansion and sharing of the diverse practices and strategies that we adapt, invent, appropriate and encounter in our daily working lives as m/others, thinkers and producers. Topics for reflection may include questions reflected also through the m/other voices Field Trips, for example: How do the two different modes of labor - that of mothering and that of participating in the art world - co-exist in ones daily life? How do we perform and negotiate these two identities? What are the social, political and economic conditions in which we perform these roles and (how) do they inform each other? How does maternal experience, practice and thinking effect ones methodology/-ies of production? How do these methodologies in turn effect what is produced? And furthermore: How do these ‘objects’ function/ perform in the world? What kind of relations do they produce?
In her must read book Maternal Encounters: The Ethics of Interruption, Lisa Baraitser defines the maternal as the condition of “being singular and multiple simultaneously”. How do we as m/other -artists, -curators, -critics and -scholars negotiate and embrace this condition in our practices as thinkers and producers? Moving between philosophy, theory and the everyday life, this space is for your stories and reflections on m/othering and cultural production.
For queries on submitting contributions please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘column’ in the subject heading.