Introducing Some Wonderful Side Effects…

Halfway through the Mothers Who Make Crowdfunding campaign that I ran back in December, a startling challenge to the campaign’s output appeared on the MWM Facebook page:

Where is the sense - for the outsider - that all this isn’t just tea and toddler natter? You have pictures of kids, and kids’ toys, and mothers and kids - but where’s the ART?! Where’s the visual sense of the extraordinary capabilities in need of being nurtured here? (Nicky Singer)

            It was a very valid and vital challenge (thank you Nicky!). Once confronted in this way the truth seemed stunningly obvious – yes, of course – where was the art?! I had been so focussed on MWM as a process, as a peer support network that involved creating safe, well-held, pressure-free, diverse spaces, welcoming to any woman who identifies as a mother/maker, that I had not even considered representing the outcome, the art, within our campaign.

            Ultimately my ambition for Mothers Who Make is incredibly simple: I want it to do one thing really well. I want it to provide support. I want it to be welcoming to the many of us who do not feel confident about our status as ‘makers’ or artists. I want it to be accessible to someone who has made nothing but soup for ten years. Or someone who has simply made it out the door, has managed to arrive in the room, or on our page online. No one is going to stop you at the entrance and demand to see your CV or latest artwork. As I have said before, if you feel the need to be there, if you recognise why such a thing as MWM exists, you can come.

           One of the strongest links for me between my mothering and my making is that they are both practices. By this I mean nothing glamorous – I mean I have to show up everyday and do them. The emphasis for me will always be on this, on the practice, the process of turning up, of listening, of holding space, for my children, for other mothers and makers, for myself but – “Where’s the ART?!”….. Focussing on practice should not become an excuse to hide away, an avoidance tactic. Putting stuff out there is a critical part of the practice, the process, the unfolding conversation – without it the conversation only circles in on itself, and grows smaller, not wider, richer, deeper. I have realised that to do that one thing well, of providing support, Mothers Who Make needs to put out some art.  

           Last year, in the foyer space outside the Olivier at the National in a fantastically apposite space, on the margins of the prestigious, like some small protest camp that had been given legitimate rights to set up our stall, 8 mothers and makers came together. I had put out a call for participants to engage in a MWM R&D, 4 sessions over 4 months, with homework in between. It was unfunded. I would not charge but nor could I pay, but I wanted people to commit to all 4 sessions so that there would be a consistent group of us meeting. I wanted to go further, deeper than I felt the regular monthly peer support meetings in London, run on a drop in basis, enabled me to go, to research how mothering can inform making and vice versa.

           The homework I set – notice what you notice in your mothering days - was inspired in large part by a writer, graphic novelist and heroine of mine, Lynda Barry. The one thing I told everyone they must bring along to our sessions, outside the Olivier, was a notebook. Over to Lynda Barry on the power of the notebook:

I wasn’t quite 20 years old when I started my first notebook. I had no idea that nearly 40 years later, I would….still be using it as the most reliable route to the thing I’ve come to call my work….a place to practice a physical activity – in this case writing and drawing by hand – with a certain state of mind. This practice can result in what I’ve come to consider a wonderful side effect: a visual or written image we can call ‘a work of art,’ although a work of art is not what I’m after when I’m practicing this activity. What am I after? I’m after what Marilyn Frasca called “being present and seeing what’s there.”

           In the midst of the practice, some things appear we can call a work of art. This is what happened as a result of our R&D group last year: I am building up to announcing Mothers Who Make’s first set of commissions, some wonderful side effects……

           One more thing to acknowledge: I am one of the commissioned artists. I want to explain why this is. I included myself in the R&D group as a participant as well as a facilitator, as I do in all MWM sessions. MWM is a peer support network. I may have started it, but I am, at the end of the day, a participant, a peer. I am a mother and a maker, trying to figure out how on earth to do these two things, and finding it hard right now to eke out any inch of the day for my making, hoping that I can find a way for MWM to support rather than exhaust me. Also I think I should be willing to do whatever it is I am asking of others. This involves my being prepared to feel vulnerable.

At the start of every MWM group I ask people to name “What they make or what they are dreaming of making.” I can answer this – I say I am a theatre-maker and a writer. It is a stock answer that it is no longer hard for me to say. BUT to tell people what I am actually making, let alone show any of it to them is another matter. Over the last six years I have breastfed my children well into their toddlerhoods, brazenly getting out my boob in public in front of countless strangers. No problem. During the same amount of time I have been writing a novel, which I have revealed to almost no one. I think it is time at last to answer that intervention: Where’s the ART?!

           All of the MWM commissions have a participative/ invitational element – it was part of the brief. Watch out for these. Take them as invitations to engage, to practice, to make, to share and show. And this is also my question to you for the month. What are you making right now? It could be epic or tiny. A book, a show, a play, a song, a composition, a picture, a sculpture, a design, a pot, a poem, or just an idea, a sketch on the back of a napkin or a nappy, or simply in the back of your mind – a flicker of something in between the shopping lists and laundry.

           Come to a meeting to share it in a safe, supportive space, post it on FB, tweet it with our hashtag. Let’s show each other and the world where the art is….

Go here to read about the MWM commissions: