ONCA: Lisa Creagh in conversation with Lucila Newell
>>LC: Welcome all. We haven’t really got a plan, we just thought we’d have an open conversation because basically, this whole project has come out of conversations.
The first conversation we had was when our children were at nursery together and we decided to take off down to the beach on a hot summer’s day. My daughter was about 20 months and your son was 2 . We sat there, on the beach, inside this shade tent . Both of us were breastfeeding. We both just suddenly started to talk about our experiences of motherhood and that’s where we started to realise that we had this synergy and a shared experience of motherhood. So, basically we’re just going to chat
>>LC:and at the end you can just ask us questions, if that’s OK
>>LN: So I think, yes, let’s start at the beginning. So can you say a little bit more…for me this is super exciting, no? To see the images there but it started, yes with that seed, a conversation about motherhood, breastfeeding what do you think about all we have survived? What kind of support and..and..and..how did you..How did you start this…
>>LC: The actual work?
>>LC: I think the work…I mean I suppose I wanted to start making this work before we had that initial conversation, because the spark happened in the first few days of being a new mum to Lily where I got to experience breastfeeding for the first time, having had no idea about breastfeeding at all, not even an opinion on whether I wanted to breastfeed.
I wasn’t a woman who wanted to mother in a specific way, in fact I was the director of a company and I wanted to go back to work (laughs). I had a lot of ideas about motherhood that I have since trashed.
The idea came from sitting there, holding a baby to the breast and experiencing this connection. That’s when I realised, wow, this is the most amazing mental space. This creative, calm, meditative space of breastfeeding.
I struggled with breastfeeding a lot, as you know. I’ve written about quite a bit. So I only got to breastfeed for 10 days before, having a tongue tied baby, I got mastitis, my milk shut down. That was when I experienced not being able to breastfeed and then my baby (I expressed), and my baby was fed by bottle.
And it was at the moment I saw a bottle going to the mouth of my baby I suddenly understood that…that is what I had expected. And that everything that had happened before then, everything I had struggled with, everything that had been difficult about breastfeeding was as a result of not really ever having seen anyone breastfeeding not really having a picture of what breastfeeding was. So, I didn’t know how to hold a baby, I didn’t know how breastfeeding felt, I was unprepared for revealing my breast in front of other people, including my family, you know? Including friends of, like close friends.
You know, someone visited me from work and I was like, “The baby’s crying and I have to run away to another room” you know? I just didn’t know how to sit there and breastfeed in front of someone.
So, all of that anxiety and in fact, the anxiety of milk coming out of my breast, suddenly I understood when the bottle went into the baby’s mouth. That felt really different and better in some weird way. It fulfilled something, made me feel more secure and I realised how anxious I’d been up to that point (and I wonder now how much that anxiety lead tothe mastitis and all the trouble that I had)..
>>LN: Yeah. And I think, one of the things that we spoke about were all different things..it’s almost like we don’t know what to expect. And how expectations are so skewed because we don’t really have a visual culture of breastfeeding and a practise and a community where we can actually see this happening.
And there’s alot of rules about….obviously the sexualisation of breasts, makes breastfeeding in public difficult..
>>LC: Well, I don’t know about you but when I did antenatal we used dolls. You know, so like, my experience of a baby on the breast was a doll. And I mean that’s not a real experience is it? It’s not the same as sitting in room, with a bunch of women breastfeeding. And that happening over years and years and years from when you are a child. It’s not, like a proper education this is just, like some weird simulation that happens once. It would be like the equivalent of, like, flying a plane, having played one computer game once.
>>LC: It’s sort of like, a real lack of preparation on a sort of, I think, a phenomenal scale.
>>LN: yes, and I mean I think that’s why these images are so important.
I want first to ask you about, you know you were saying about this putting your baby to the breast and feeling that that moment of sitting and being still and holding time – that’s what you have named this project. Could you talk a bit more about that idea?
>>LC: Well I think that, in a way, what artist’s do, or certainly what I do with my art is I try and cure myself of my ills with my work, so Holding Time is kind of the a revelation that I had.
Maybe 4 or 5 months later, when, after her tongue tie had been cut, after I’d expressed for all those months, after I’ve given up totally on breastfeeding, I mean my baby would scream when I put her to the breast, it was the most traumatic experience, I had thrush and abscesses and everything. In the end, finally, she did do this, what you call ‘biological nurturing’ she found her way back to the breast, one day when I was finally relaxed – like, day, you know, month 4!
After I’d been out with my buggy, feeding and expressing and doing all this, all this activity, finally, one day I just kind of relaxed and lying on the couch I just, put her on me and she just found her way. I was like, “Oh my gosh, she’s looking for the breast!” so I hastily undid my shirt and she went onto the breast and it was this unbelievable experience of having lost breastfeeding, getting breastfeeding back.
After bottle feeding for 4 months and after having all the security of bottle feeding, stacking the milk up in the fridge and having that safety in numbers. To then go into this incredibly free system of, like a totally open road of um, just you and your child and just intuitively trusting that relationship..
>>LC: And that seemed to be, the key component in that, seemed to be that I need to be still.
And that was the thing that I think I (had) struggled with a great deal, was sitting down, sitting still, being still, holding. And I think that’s just a very cultural thing. Because on Day 5 after my daughter was born, my sister came to visit me and said..she was joking but she said, “Oh this is what I don’t want to see: people sitting around holding the babies” You know, because we were just holding.
And I’d heard of all these other people that had had children saying “Oh, well, you know my son will only sleep if I hold him”,but they’d say it in this way that it was like “Oh this is such a problem”
So I interpreted all of this as being that, holding the baby was problematic and that was reinforced by all these mothering books, that suggested that you know, “You’ll only create a rod for your own back” “if you hold them, if you hold them if you hold them” There was this whole message about holding that is so, “If you want to have any ‘Time’ (it was always about time) you’ve got to get into this structure” “You’ve got to watch your (she looks at her watch)” and I watched mothers like, literally looking at their watches whilst breastfeeding going, “Off that’s enough” you know, pulling them off and that was my experience of watching other people parenting, of mothering.
I was constantly being told by people ‘Well how many hours, how long does she sleep during the day?’ and you know, anytime you’d say you’re tired, or, you know, it’s like ‘well, how many times does she wake up in the night? How much is she eating? How many times has she slept through the night?’. There was this constant obsession and actually that Gina Ford book is broken down into these, you know, “here’s the day” “Turn the page” “This is what you have to do at 5.05” and at 5.15 you have to do something else ( I could never understand half of what she was saying). There was some bit of sheet that you were supposed to change on the cot and you seemed to do this constantly and the sheet and the cot, you know this ridiculous regime that you had to do (laughs) and all the mothers I knew were all trying to follow that book! And they were all obsessing about naps, they’d be out and it would be like, “Oh my god it’s half eleven I’ve got to get back to get the nap!!” feeding times etc.
That was my whole experience of the early days was just worrying about time, all the time.
And then what happened was, she started feeding on the breast and I was like, “OK I can’t stop feeding her the bottles because I know she’s getting food and I’ve got this system” and she would sleep for longer, you know, bottle fed she would fill up and she would sleep for long periods of time. And once I started to let her feed on the breast, then she started waking up more and I remember this, one day, of sitting…it was 5am and I was sitting on the bed and I was breastfeeding her and I remember thinking… “If I just lean backwards, oh that’s so much better”.
>>LC: ..and then I start to lean more. This is at 5 months so I had literally never co-slept with her and I was just like, “I know I’m not supposed to do this but I’m just…I’m so tired. And then I woke up and it was 2 hours later and she was asleep on the bed next to me
I was, like (panicked) ‘I fell asleep with her, on the bed!’
>>LN: And the mothers here just whisper ‘it’s okay!”
>>LC: Yeah, Yeah.
>>LN: And now we are mothers that say that
>>LC: I mean it’s a kind of one to one mentoring system that’s going on where, mother will just, like whisper to each other. They’ll say a few key words, you know and then if they get the right response (we’ve been joking it’s like the French Resistance) so you say one or two little key indicators and if you get the right response then you know that you can say a bit more. And then you can start going, “Yeah, yeah yeah!” and you both start saying ‘yeah, yeah, yeah and also do you do that?’’ Because nobody wants to admit that they sleep with their child, breastfeed on demand, that they, you know, don’t give a toss about what time the nap is, that they get up all night… you know it’s rebellion..
>>LN: Hmm. I was going to say that when you say about control, the Gina Ford and the, yeah the kind of ‘time shift’ the linearity of time – also if if time is controlled in hours and minutes and stuff then, you know you need to ‘free time’ that requires you to kind of make space for “freetime”. And I think your work does, and mothering in this way, breastfeeding on cue, actually just makes everything explode, no?
>>LC: Yeah. There’s no such thing as ‘free time’ but also, the point is, there is the design to get away from the child.
>>LN: Yes definately
>>LC: So, the concept of ‘free time’ is that, is that…All those books are selling, is this idea that you can reverse the process of having given birth. That you can return to an ‘original state’
>>LC: ‘Normal State’ which is Without a Baby. And so they sell the idea that you can get that back by doing this regime and training your child and it goes on and on for months and months with sleep training and stuff. Basically if you, if you reject it, what you’ll probably notice is there’s this kind of, almost snobbery towards women who are perceived to not be doing that. That they are somehow martyrs: “What? Why? Why are you being such a martyr?” “Why are you doing this to yourself?” People say that sort of thing. And if you start to admit that you’re co-sleeping or feeding on demand, “Why are you doing that? This isn’t neccessary” But actually, on the other side of that it’s like walking through, it’s like Alice walking through the looking glass. On the other side of it is, like “Oh, I don’t care about time anymore and actually, I’m really happy with my baby’. Like now, she just comes with me and we have cooperation, we understand eachother. And there was this, like, revelation about how motherhood could be something really different can be something really different, if you just let go of all time keeping.
>>LN: And expectations…the compromise
(knocking by a toddler)
>>LC: Yeah, and just letting go of this idea that motherhood is a place you want to run away from. And um…there’s seats, there’s seats here at the front
(gets up to move bean bags)
Thanks for coming
>>LC: Yeah I think it’s, I think it’s a political issue. The more I got women in the studio and started to really look, you know, there’s the black background, you prepare the stage, the environment, set up the lights and someone arrives (unintelligible) and something happens. Invariably it takes, like, an hour and a half and in that hour and a half, it’s a bit like a scientific experiment – you know, you get the same conditions every single time, so you notice the variations.
The thing I noticed that was very consistent was that every mother felt harried, when she arrived, apologised a great deal. And then, there was a great deal of self-criticism that took place in alot of the shoots. I mean, some of the mothers were very liberated, but the majority of them were not and they were, you know.. I really started to pick up on this language of like, “I shouldn’t be doing this, I wish I wasn’t doing that, I know that I shouldn’t do this. Everybody tells me that I should do that. But..here’s what I’m actually doing.”
>>LC: Because it’s the easiest thing’. And I learnt that, as a mother, just as I…people would give me all this advice and I’d just start to say, “Look, I’m just doing what’s easy”
This is the..this is the(chuckles) I think I used to call it The Road of Least Resistance, you know? The path of Least Resistance. I’m just doing what’s easy and I don’t care what anyone else wants. You know, in the end I just got to that place where I didn’t care.
But once I started photographing the mothers (in the studio) I started to feel, like, upset about the fact that that so many women are spending so much time feeling so guilty that they’re not obeying the books. And that they’re not, em, following these schedules. And I it goes into every aspect of their life, because they’re blaming themselves because they’re not going back to work soon enough. It’s like, so many women would say, “Oh I know I should be back at work but I just couldn’t…” It’s like, well if we lived in Germany, you wouldn’t be back at work for another two years. And then it would be really interesting because, like the penny would drop and suddenly they would realise, “Why am I blaming myself?”. This is actually a social issue, you know.
I started to understand this whole thing, like, and obviously that’s something you have been doing with the Parlour, this whole thing of framing the importance of ‘framing’the issues so that women get a perspective on their own situation.
>>LN: Yes, because all of us feel so guilty for not…you know..for being all over the place for not being this, for not being that. And it’s like, “Actually, this is not my problem”
and then it’s just so liberating. But then you realise the world is, like, not made to fit you. I that’s ah, that’s a problem. I mean how do we react to that? It might be that there’s many different ways. One of them is this project. We haven’t seen breastfeeding. And stories, we so women can tell how it is for them. Because I think it’s you feel alone, I think that’s how it is
>>LC: Yeah. I think it’s lots of women, very isolated, trying to figure things out on their own because this dialogue is…it’s definately happening online, but you have to go and look for it to find it. And it’s a question of, I suppose, you know, our idea of The Parlour is this thing of trying to accelerate the process of women finding these discussions and to give it authority.
How many books has Gina Ford sold and how many of them are in circulation? I’d like to have a book burning ritual of Gina Ford’s books and set light to it. I think it should be made illegal, it’s made women feel so bad and led to countless instances of postnatal depression. The amount of women I know that follow that book. I mean I know women whose partners were making them follow the book and they didn’t want to follow the book and I knew women whose in-laws made them follow the book, who didn’t want to follow the book, you know? It really is a form of oppression that…it sounds like, “Oh you’re just making a fuss” but really when you know how hard it is anyway to be a mother in this society, then you realise, “No this is actually a serious issue”.
It’s..it’s the equivalent too…well..it’s..it’s very disempowering for women. It’s turning something which..it’s like you’re a criminal for doing something that’s Absolutely Good. You know, you’re doing something Absolutely Good: but because socially, the constructs are that you shouldn’t be doing that, you’re being made into The Baddie. Your doing something ‘bad’. You’re living with that sense: your partner thinks your doing something bad, your inlaws think you’re doing something bad and the woman on the bus thinks you’re doing something bad. You’re living, you’re going through life with a sense of getting it wrong every day and yet what you’re doing is the absolute best thing for your child. You’re breastfeeding them till they’re like, two and a half or something, three and a half. If you’re co-sleeping with them if you (indistinct) with them, you know, this is what paediatric research would say is absolutely, as humans, how we are designed to…We’re designed to cry and then be picked up, that is a communication system that human beings have programmed into them. It’s absolutely in our hardware and if we interfere with it we are going to mess up our mental hardwiring.
So, mothers who are picking up their children when they’re are crying, they are being criticised – this is very fundamental thing of just responding to a child’s cry. I feel like it’s a human rights issue for babies.
>>LN: They don’t have a voice to complain
And it’s so distressing for mothers, you know, their babies are crying on the other side of the door and they’re not allowed to open the door because they’ve got this book that tells them they cannot open the door for another 10 minutes and it’s absolute distress.
So, yes, I started to feel really angry about it all, doing this project. And I started to feel this needs to be amplified. This message needs to get out there quickly to stop this happening
(baby’s voice in the background)
We need to stop buying these books and stop listening to this stuff as guidance.
>>LN: I’ve always thought what we are trying to do is just value this celebrate this, this beautiful thing, this amazing, slow food you know! We can start to make connections with food, the environment, feminism etc. this is it, I think, we are picking up n something that is going on
The linearity of time is a very patriarchal (laughs) thing, you know? It’s about getting things done, it’s about production, productivity, work and money.
>>LC: Yes, because in the classic sense, motherhood is a non-economic thing – it’s something which is done for free. You’re mothering for free and you’re breastfeeding for free. No one can make any money out of breastfeeding: there’s no money can be made, there’s no exchange except for the loving, holding, feeding so where can that work in an economic system? It doesn’t, so therefore we don’t make space for it. We make space for buying coffee, we make space for reading books, we make space for parking our cars we make space for all sort of economic activity but something which is non-economic activity is not given space because no one can make any money out of it. And yet, you know, the benefit, socially..and the cost of not doing it… is huge.
(there is a pause while people arrive)
>>LN: We’ll take some time to talk about motherhood and feminism, because we’ve found that motherhood is a prickly thing in feminism. Because it’s like, either “No we should be able to do everything, we should, you know because we are equal to men in many ways”, but at the same time we are different. And motherhood is a moment where we are completely different, breastfeeding is not something men can do and there is no way of de-gendering that.
So, how do we make this a dialogue about equality but also difference? I think that’s what we have been trying to figure out.
>>LC: Well, the formula companies, in a way, they did something very similar to what the tobacco companies did in the 1920’s to get women to smoke. Tobacco companies in the 1920s – it’s documented in this, uh, great documentary called The Century of Self what they did was they, they knew that the statistics of women smoking were really low because women thought it was dirty and they didn’t want to engage with smoking. And they knew there was a big market there so they staged a photoshoot. They told all the papers that there was going to be a suffragette march and they paid models, beautiful women to carry suffragette placards through Manhattan, whilst smoking. And smoking numbers amongst women went up from that day onwards. It was covered in all the newspapers and women, from that time, started to associate smoking with empowerment. I do avoid talking about Formula generally, because
>>LC: yeah, when you talk about Formula there’s this polarised situation where it sounds like you’re criticising women who use Formula.
But my criticism is more of a lack of appreciation for motherhood and lack of value attributed to breastfeeding and that’s what I’m trying to change. But I do see that formula is filling this gap, which is there because socially, as a society, we’re not making space for motherhood. And mothering. And breastfeeding.
If you don’t support that practise and you don’t value it: it’s unpaid and women are paid only for 9 months, then they have a three month gap where they can stay off work and then they’re really forced to go back to work.
Breastfeeding is problematic in the sense that you are on a ticking clock, until you go back to work. I feel really strongly that there should be a longer maternity leave and that structurally, we need change.
>>LN: Yeah and work structures
>>LC: It’s a feminist issue because, if you don’t have, like they have in Europe – a three year system – and they have that in alot of Eastern European countries: places like Slovakia still have a three years maternity leave. If you have that then an employer will look at a man and a woman and think, because it’s shared, either one of them might take three years off. So, “I’ll give the job to you because you’re a better candidate”.
Whilst we have a system where we have only 9 months maternity, I mean, who would want to give a senior position to a woman, knowing that she might take, you know, three years off to have children or three years off to have two children. So you’re creating you’re institutionalising inequality and that is at the base, I think, that legislative decision is at the base of all these other things we are talking about. Because then, of course (indecipherable) it’s on a stop watch
>>LC: And you can’t afford to take the time maybe to..well, you have to train your baby…all these arguments for the books are about, “Well you have to get back to work!” You know.
And em, I decided to not go back to work. I found my daughter needed me almost more between 2 and 3, than she did between 1 and 2. And I think this pressure to return to work, this idea that work is the thing that liberates us that “If you can work like men then you will be equal to men” is a total misinterpretation of Feminism.
And that Feminism is about asserting our right to our own humanity, to being women and being appreciated as women. Not being appreciated as “honorary men”. Men don’t have bodies (that) leak, produce fluid, wear suits, have short hair and just act like men.
We’re not men, we need flexible working, we need longer maternity, we need, you know, in house creches, places to breastfeed (that are comfortable) and those should be the places where we are free to be ourselves.
>>LN: Yeah a lot needs to be done and I think if we don’t have these things then we are missing something really precious. And men don’t benefit from this linearity and this constant production, so, in a way they’re welcome, this is an invitation for women but I’m inviting men too.
>>LC: yeah absolutely, it’s about creating a space because what you see, you know, anecdotally in your own life is that men and women in their heterosexual environment, but what’s kind of interesting for me is also see it in gay relationships as well, with a wage earner and a biological parent (caregiver) you see the same dynamics There are the same dynamics and pressure: “I’m the one who’s going to work all the time” and “you’re looking after the child”. And, I mean if you ever meet a Swede, basically they’re all just really happy! I had a Swedish man just describe to me the beauty, that he experienced of, like, at a year and a half, of becoming a full time parent (he had three children), he was like, “You wouldn’t think that you could get closer to them as a result of being able to be a full time parent” you know? I think: how amazing would that be? Like, why do we not ask for this in this country? Why do we not imagine it? There’s this poverty of imagination in terms of what we ask for and what we want we’re just so happy to just settle for, always for second best or what we think we should do or, “Well that’s just not possible”. There’s a psychosis of ‘what’s not possible’ in England. I say England, actually I think in Scotland there alot more liberated. People say, “Oh no no no, business will not pay for that” but what does it cost business, who lose all the women they’re losing from the workforce and what does it cost the health service for long term lots of women and (the cost of health) problems with the NHS long term down the line in terms of the health implications of….do you need help? Erm, of like, the impact of women not breastfeeding, on their health and then the impact of children not being breastfed on their health. What’s the cost? Does anyone really look at it and say, it costs (this) per year? Or over 25 years?
>>LN: Now they think that it costs on average (XX) per year. How much it costs the NHS, how much it costs, em business..it costs billions
>>LC: yeah. And alot of it would be contested but there would be some, bottom line figures
>>LN: I think that’s why this work, for me, has such a big impact. Not only because it’s beautiful and you have more images of women breastfeeding, em, we just see the diversity of it and it is about saying something giving value to something that is not and to celebrate it. What do you think?
>>LC: Yeah I suppose when we first had that conversation there was a few things came out of it. One of them was: more visibility. We definately need to see more images of breastfeeding in a way that feels really beautiful. Because in those early days, when I was looking for pictures of breastfeeding I saw medical diagrams and I saw, like instagram shots, selfies, you know, like a boob and a baby and I didn’t find any of it inspiring and I didn’t feel a connection emotionally, to it.
And it didn’t make me want to breastfeed. It actually, a lot of the time, made me feel depressed about breastfeeding. Because it was so technical, you know, it was like reading a TV manual about something that was to do with love, you know? It was like a technical manual for sex, it was like, “oh, that” you know it was like sex education, entry level, “Oh no I don’t want to do that it looks awful” you know?
>> LN: It’s really off putting, I always thought, but my boob doesn’t look like that at all?!
>> LC: Yeah I mean it’s off putting and creepy and like, just, so: we need culture to fill in that gap and, of course as an artist, I looked to culture, I looked to art and I was like, “Where is it?” And the only place that I could see it was in was the Pre-Renaissance Madonnas. That in itself is a really interesting point – but, that’s where you see not just the beautiful posture of women holding babies but you see them being honoured. This thing about it being an honourable, venerable thing to do.
>> LN: The connection to the sacred…?
>> LC: Yeah. And eternal, it’s just something that is an iconic that is an archetype. At the same time, when you do create these sorts of images, they can be a little bit silencing and I think that silencing is such an issue in this area that the video interviews and the blog, you know are really necessary to create a voice around the images so that they couldn’t just be taken as something pretty. So they couldn’t just be used
why I don’t have any women who are experiencing pain, you know? So, of course I haven’t (?) that because that’s so difficult to capture. But in the interviews, there will be women there who haven’t breastfed. They’re not in the photographs because they’re not breastfeeders but I am very conscious of, like, bringing that dimension to it. I have interviewed women who did not breastfeed because it was agony, because they suffered. And all of that has to be in there.
>> LN. Yes
>> LC: It all needs to be in there
>> LN: I think that these images, in a way, are just a start and then the discussion around it, you can have the conversation which is equally important. Where do you see this going from here?
>> LC: Well, yes I see the web being a really important aspect of it because there’s a limit to us: being able to put on exhibitions and create these hubs, so the web has a really important role to play. There’s this very interesting international, grassroots, very vocal movement we want to tap into. Another way of making it international is to produce a book, which, I mean it’s a small niche market, but like a message in a bottle it allows it to go further afield.
I would really like to set the exhibition up in lots of different countries, with this model of the breastfeeding hub and test that out as an idea: that women together can share knowledge and benefit from the social capital of their collective experience.
And then, the timepiece that I’ve kind of invented, this like, ‘right-brained clock’ – that I want to programme that into an app. So that women can chart the totality of their own breastfeeding journey, using that, sort of ancient design and create a timemap for themselves. So that’s my definite stage 2. Mike, who made the glass is here. Put your hand up Mike.
>> LN: Yes, well that’s important. I’d like to talk about that, a few things: about your collaborations but also about I’d like to hear more about your timepiece because it’s downstairs if you want to see or we can put it up there…But basically, you’re trying to find a way of visualising time in a way that is not so linear? And a deep sense of the work, of you know, of what you have done, in a beautiful way, no? You’ve kind of given back some agency and some value to this time we spend breastfeeding. Do you want to talk about the collaborations and, and the timepiece?
>> LC: Yes, well, I mean when I first started this project and I described it to people, I described this timepiece that would be counting time and people would always go, “I get it up to that point but (I don’t get the timepiece). Even you..!” (they laugh) “ you were like, What?” But I mean, that is what I mean about you have this sort of ‘satori’ idea. That this is about Full Time and this time is Deep that I’m celebrating and it needs to be seen. How do I make something invisible be seen? And that is actually a tradition in photography, to make seen the invisible, whether it’s using microscopes or photographing the stars, you’re seeing something that you cannot see. So, with our clock system as we have it, that is a way of monitoring time passing. It is not a way of seeing time accumulate.
So time is not just passing, it is also…especially when you are growing a child, using food you are making from your body – you are investing like that. In a garden you see an accumulation of time because things grow and actually in nature, things grow according to a very particular pattern.
And this pattern that I have adopted, which is this Cosmatesque design, it actually uses a very intelligent type of pattern that you find in nature which is a rotational symmetry combined with a type of fractal. It’s something that’s there in biology, in physics, it’s everywhere, kind of an underpinning microcosm of everything. So, um, what’s so fascinating is that’s on the floor of the Sistine Chapel. 400 years ago they kind of understood these abstract concepts about cyclical time and patterns, in a way that we no longer really understand. But then we have all these other really interesting uses of pattern, you know algorithms and chaos theory: these are all pattern based ideas.
I like the idea of coding information, you know, taking information, developing it into a code and then using that visually, to communicate something which is very difficult to explain in words. So you can look at the film and you can see the thing growing in the middle. It looks a bit like a star. You don’t need to know what it is. But I think at the next stage, when I produce the maps, then the idea is that you really should, at a glance (and this is another thing with photography is that you have this idea of the composition, the tableau) and at a glance you recieve all the information, but it might be information from different times and places all brought together into one two-dimensional picture. So there’s the idea of the Temporal, right, of time moving and then there’s the Fixed. Adn there’s a beautiful thing with pattern and, know we’ve talked about it alot with say, Aboriginal art, that pictures are a type of map and there is a journey that’s taking place. It can be that picture is a type of recipe. If you look at Persian carpets, quite often there’s a philosophy in the numbers or Celtic gravestones, there’s such intricate ideas in those patterns that we no longer know the meaning of.
But you know, there’s simple stuff that’s being communicated over and over in all these patterns, things like the seasons and 12 months in a year…But then you can use them however you like so I’m using Cosmatesque to describe time.
I like the idea that women can see what they have done, I mean they can look at their child and say, “I did that” but I like the idea that there’s some kind of acknowledgement, like a certification process (laughs)
>> LN: Yes, well it’s a form of…
>> LC: Recognition
>> LN: Yeah, recognition it’s all about recognition, value and achievement and a sense of worth and value
>> LC: And you see it online a lot, because women are doing, like a thumbs up and all of these emojis, like, “Well done” (thumbs up) “Yay!” and there’s like a badge systems when it comes to breastfeeding, which I’ve never quite understood.. But there are these attributing levels that they are moving through and they’re doing it as a community, internationally, without asking anyone, you know. They’re not asking permission, like “Is it Ok if we, like acknowledge eachother?” They’re just acknowledging eachother because they know the value of what they’re achieving and they are giving each other what they need. Not every woman finds that, you know, not every woman, in their mothering journey, finds that community and taps into it. So, an art project like this has the ability to be very visible and get between all of these obstacles, and talk to lots of people in different ways and then come out with something that is permanent and lasting – that’s a document.
There are not many other things where you can have such an impact on society across the board, and that’s what I think is really powerful about art, artists as a type of activism. But it should still be a very beautiful experience and that’s my aim.
>> LN: But also with the activism, it is activism, also, you work in that way, you collaborate with me for The Parlour, Helen for the music and Mike with the glass and cosmatesque piece.
>> LC: I like to hope that, in finding people, I am able to offer to them an opportunity to bring their own creativity to the job Hopefully Mike feels that, Mike definitely brought a dimension to the glass that I wouldn’t have thought of. Mike collaborated, you collaborated, Helen collaborated.
With each person, I got so much more than I could have ever asked for and that is the exciting thing about collaboration.
>> Mike Barnett: I felt very relaxed from the beginning. You explained what you were going to do. You didn’t know how it would end up but you had the idea of the Cosmatesque design and the shapes and I felt very relaxed and I understood. I felt very relaxed that you were going to get there and that i could show you things that seemed to be responding to where you were headed and we’d work it out.
>> LC: Yes. I mean we went through a process of elimination, and adding things in until we knew what we wanted.. To begin with, I didn’t know what that was. It’s the same with Helen, when she played the music she had written for the timepiece I was amazed. I’m not a composer, so I don’t know how to make music.
>> LN: And she followed the numbers?
>> LC: yes she followed the Cosmatesque number system and intuited the rest. And you and have also had this dialogue, which has continued through each stage and it has continually morphed and at each stage we’ve discovered more that needs to be discussed. The discussions we are having now are not the same as the discussions at the beginning. We almost didn’t have the words!
>> LN: We didn’t have the vocabulary
>> LC: We didn’t have the vocabulary
>> LN: And now I’m writing and I’m like, “Oh!”
>> LC: And then I read it, like the breastfeeding in Public piece that you wrote I read that and then I had an interview to do and suddenly I had the words to talk about things that I didn’t have before you wrote that, so it’s accelerated my process (my thinking process) and I just think collaborations are intensively creative. And I mean I’ve collaborated on alot of other people for this work (for example) Gideon the technician at City College and (edit) a lot of good men have really supported this work. So it’s a real team effort and that makes it so much easier, as an artist, to feel proud of it. You know, It’s not about me and It’s not just it’s not just my work,
>> LN: (aside) Well it is..
>> LC: It is but, like I’m just the figurehead that has brought it all together. A bit more like a director of a film. I mean I’ve been there and I’ve photographed the mothers and I’ve slaved over it a bit..
>> LN: And you got the money
>> LC: …applied for funding, that sort of thing. I made it happen but the work itself was kind of there wanting to be made. The mothers came. Some of them came two or three times. I think Chi who’s here came lots times. I think Chi can testify about how many times I made mothers come back (chortles)
>> Chi Efluzula: It was rewarding. I found the process really rewarding
>> LC: Every mother was a collaboration in itself and it was really interesting how mothers would come in with one set of expectations and leave with another. I would see a change with each shoot.
And, I mean it was addictive, I could have carried on forever photographing mothers because that process was so theraputic for them and for me. (they laugh) Like I say, I mean as an artist you’re always trying to fix yourself in some way. You’re also trying to create balance in the world. You see where there is imbalance and injustice and where there is Not Truth. And then you want to create truth and Truth and Beauty are your tools, you know, that’s your toolkit and you’re trying to um, write the wrongs in the world through them. It’s powerful.
I think as humans we are better responding to Art you know, and The Arts: literature, music etc, we’re better at responding to than we are to, you know we might read a newspaper article about low statistics in breastfeeding – and it…what can we do with that? We need inspiring, like, we live in our imaginations – that’s the space we occupy. And it’s up to us to create work for the imagination, to feed the imagination. There is a lot of competition for our psychic space and for our imaginative space, there’s a lot of TV series, computer games and so many things wanting to… so much medias competing to fill our heads up with information.
And what I love about ONCA and these sorts of spaces is that it’s an opportunity to step into a complete artistic experience, where you can consider something and give an hour to it. Or half an hour. Or ten minutes. Just a feel a shift in your own reality as a result. And that’s something that the ritual of the arts can do really well, just to move us in a way that’s permanent, in a way that changes us permanently. Because we embody and know the message. You know, it’s like this phrase, ‘The soul apprehends the symbol in a flash” We absorb it into our selves and once we’ve done that then it’s just there, it’s written into us. So it brings about change in really subtle and interesting ways..
>> LN: That’s what it is.
>> LC: Yeah. That’s it. Great, thank you Lisa.
>> LN: Shall we thank Lisa?
 See The Century of Self for more details: https://youtu.be/DnPmg0R1M04