Moving Through Motherly Territory

Moving Through Motherly Territory

I curated a small pop-up show with artworks by artists who are mothers in Ithaca, NY. The show was part of my artist in residency at The Soil Factory, and took place on February 17. Artists included were Marisa Mandabach, Deborah Justice, Allison Usavage, Sara Tro, and Lea Elleseff. Here is the text I wrote to accompany the exhibition:

Moving Through Motherly Territory

Someone very wise wrote that the mother's body is everyone's first territory. I can't find the exact quote or remember in which context I encountered this idea, but this thought has helped me as a mother countless times. Especially as an immigrant in this country, to think that my body was my child's whole territory gave me strength and dignity in those challenging first days of motherhood, as we lay down with the baby for long periods or carry the baby everywhere we go.

When I first encountered Neil Schill at the Soil Factory and told him my plans for an artist residency, I joked that bringing mothers together here made sense because a mother is a soil factory, and at first, I felt silly for such a crude metaphor. As I continued to play with this idea throughout this first week of residency, I started to think that the mother as a soil factory is a great way to expand the thought of the mother's body as a territory.

On the one hand, it is evident that to mother is a form of labor that, like in a factory, sometimes uses repetitive actions but other times requires innovative, specialized, or highly skilled ones. As a part of the workforce, however, a mother defies the economic system, especially in the US, where mothers have close to zero financial support. From the economic perspective, mothers continue to be the opposite of workers in many ways, starting with the impossibility of delimiting our working hours and calculating its price, given the infinite scope of our required abilities.

On the other hand, a mother is very much like the soil that carries the nutrients for new life to grow. Like the soil, a mother is a biological miracle, where nutrients are passed on to new life; a mixture that gathers minerals, vitamins, gases, liquids, and organisms that give materia to the beginning of life and sustain this life as it comes into existence. Like the mother, the soil can hold life without containing it, allowing roots to grow deeply or spread widely, stems to reach high, and flowers to touch the wind. Unlike the soil, however, mothers rely on the cultural systems that structure our human existence in this current society, which takes me back to this beautiful and slightly disturbing combination of concepts: the soil factory.

In this small pop-up exhibition, I put together works by local visual artist mothers I've been conversing with or who responded to a post I did on the Ithaca Mama Facebook group about my time as an artist in residency. I chose to work without a strict curatorial perspective, moving through the territory of my body as my reference point, observing how I felt excitement receiving other mothers' artworks and messages or got tired and needed to fall asleep early with my children at the end of an entire day of artmaking and childcaring. In this way, the making of this exhibition reflects what one can accomplish while centering care and radical openness. The artists here selected artworks that speak to how their art practice looks now while mothering is also central to their lives. They create artworks that answer their child's requests, focus on expediency, or explore different media to expand their poetics. I thank them for their positive response to my experimental way of working.

Debora Faccion Grodzki

February 17, 2024. Ithaca, NY.