Join us at Sydney Opera House on Saturday 17th January at 2.30pm for the launch of Issue 7 – Tiny Worlds. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org and bring your friends!
Purchase Tiny Worlds before Tuesday December 15th to have it arrive on your doorstep before Christmas! Click HERE for all the details.
Sonia Orchard is the mother of 3 girls, keeper of a menagerie of dogs, cats, fish and chooks, the writer of big novels, a scientist, pianist and more besides. To all this work she brings her ample cleverness, humour and curiosity. Sonia writes here on the nexus of motherhood and creativity from deep in the chaotic beautiful mess of a young family – complete with parasites, allergies, budding young singers and an imminent new work of fiction. I am amazed she agreed, incredulous and utterly delighted she found the time.
As much as I expected to glide effortlessly into it, motherhood arrived for me like an earthquake. My daughter was unwell and I was in a state of shock for about the first eight months. After I came to, it took me a long time to put together the debris of my old life – my relationship, my career, my friendships, my sense of identity – in a way that I felt might work and make sense. I have a memory, from around that time, of getting the opportunity to go out one night, and just staring at my wardrobe, feeling a complete disassociation with all of my clothes (not to mention the trouble I was going to have fitting into any of them…). I was no longer that person.
We live in a very individualistic culture, we’re encouraged to chase our dreams and look after Number One. Being an artist is, I believe, particularly egocentric, and for me, the transition from living quite a self-centered existence, to sublimating my needs to the needs of a family, made for a crunchy time. These days, almost eight years later, I feel extremely fortunate to be able to pursue two of the things I most love doing in life: parenting and writing. Many women can’t have children, and most women around the world are too busy trying to put food on the table to be able to contemplate being an artist. Being able to do both is a real privilege.
I now have three children, a dog, a cat, tadpoles and chickens, and despite the general state of chaos in which I live, and the very limited time I have ‘leftover’ in which to write, when I do find the time, I feel I’m much better equipped to approach issues around the human condition. In the last eight years my heart has swelled triple in size. What’s more, I believe a creative life is the perfect antidote for the ultra empathetic world of motherhood, and likewise, motherhood is the perfect antidote for the egocentricity of creative endeavour. Getting a telephone call to inform you you’ve won an award, while you’re scrubbing your sick child’s shit and vomit off the carpet is one of those perfect moments of human existence.
Mothers have an enormous amount to contribute to creative society. Like most bookworms, I grew up absorbed by stories that I only later in life realised were tales about the male journey. Literature about the woman’s journey are still horrendously scarce. For some reason (don’t get me started), a story about a bloke fishing or surfing is praised for teaching us about the human condition, yet a story about a woman growing, birthing, nourishing and caring for another human being is not. Stories of womanhood are not considered ‘serious’ literature and are usually given the condescending titles of ‘confessionals’, Chick Lit or even Domestic Lit. They’re also extremely unlikely to ever be read by a man.
Mothers in the Arts have a very big and important job on their hands!
Bravery is not being afraid of communicating what you feel and believe, no matter how unsavoury, contentious or taboo.
Imagination is at the heart of all great human endeavour, whether this be parenting, creating an art work, or addressing global issues.
Generosity is (for me) giving someone in need (usually my children) my time and undivided attention, the two things that are in the shortest supply. Generosity is also an awesome stress reliever.
When Debra Batton first heard of the Mother Artist Network and BIG Kids Magazine she claims to have been extremely jealous that she didn’t think of it – but there isn’t much that Debra has not thought of. She is a performing artist, brave inventor and acclaimed director. Debra creates gravity and genre defying works for the Australian and international stage. She is currently the show director of Circus Oz and curator of her own remarkable program as an independent artist.
Bravery is acknowledging uncertainty and taking the next step / making the next decision
Imagination is a reaching out toward understanding the unfathomable or a blurry idea / need, surrounded by clutter in which there exists a hunch that suggests a possibility that requires attention
Generosity is remembering to enquire rather than pre judging
As a young woman influenced by feminism, I was determined to push my own boundaries and insecurities motivated by the idea that art can change the world (or at least contribute to change). Today, following a depressive period associated with menopause, I am driven by the need to make art for survival, it is as essential to me as water and air.
I had very little exposure to the arts growing up, stumbling on the Dance course at Rusden College (where I was accepted to do a BEd in P.E.) changed my life. It was one of those significant experiences that broadened my horizons and led me to numerous wonderful projects as a dancer or choreographer with amazing people. I ‘tried on’ their processes and experimented with developing my own. One project led to another, I said yes to almost every opportunity to increase my experience in the performing arts. In my late thirties I chose to focus my attention on directing physical theatre, I was committed to the development of the art form as well as the devising process that I considered essential to create new work with an ensemble of physically based performers.
I faced a common female dilemma at thirty seven – that I was ready for a new challenge in my work (that of Artistic Director of a small to medium company) and that I was ready to have a child and I could not leave it much longer. I chose to do both. For me all things are connected and art offers new ways of seeing / exposing these connections. I preferred to have my son around the process of making theatre but found it difficult to remain focused especially during rehearsals. Luckily he could be with dad who worked from home (often composing music for the shows) or he went to day care. However for one reason or another he has been in the rehearsal room or theatre or tent at various stages of numerous creative projects.
As a mother artist (artistic director) it was the evening networking expectations that proved to be the most difficult. I needed and very much wanted to get home to read a bedtime story and to be awake early ready to play. This also meant I had to stop actively thinking about the work at the end of the day to give quality attention when I could. I discovered the power of leaving my unconscious brain to do its work as I slept. The next day I could stand on the floor with my ensemble of performers and know the next step without always knowing how I knew.
My son toured with us whenever it was possible, he enjoyed the community of the ‘troupe’ on the road, he was ten months old on his first tour to Brazil and some of these friends remain very close to him. He offered us a sense of perspective as work often fell into some kind of mini crisis. He has travelled to many countries, he remembers some, especially the hot chocolates of Spain. As a pre teen he developed a comfort with travelling as an unaccompanied minor so that he could meet me on weekends or school holidays. Today he picks and chooses when he joins me on tours, he is in year 10 and staying at school and being with peers has more importance.
Being a mother has influenced my artistic work, as I became a director of physical theatre I was learning to be a mother, there is no doubt in my mind that both roles affected each other, I learnt to: pick my battles; allow ideas to gradually develop from disparate sources; encourage the discovery of possibilities rather than the replication of my ideas. I also discovered that the big picture is often blurry and that sharp focus on the immediate details eventually define the art /child as it becomes itself. In the end I wonder if I had that much control over it after all.
Being a mother of a son also gives me a connection to generations other than my own as well as the technologies that excite them.
My son loved to play on the gaming console, I was often standing with folded arms waiting for this one last game to be over in order to turn it off. As I watched and waited I began to see the potential for a new performance – I realised the main character did not travel around the screen but the environments moved around it, this reminded me of a performer dancing in a harness on the wall. (we had recently made ‘Eora Crossing’ using a new aerial system developed for traversing the sandstone wall of the Museum of Sydney) My struggle with my son and his screen time inspired the concept for a new work…’On the Case’
I no longer have a loyalty to genre, in the past I have belonged to Dance, Circus, Physical Theatre and Theatre associations, attending numerous conferences etc. Today I prefer to call myself a performing artist – I value dance, circus and theatre equally, and my directorial process is based on giving performers tasks finding the process most suitable to the particularity of the project is part of the art. I also love to read and visit art galleries and my process is the concatenation of my experiences with these forms. I am an improviser, as a mother artist this is an efficient, effective practice that is an end in itself, but, also stimulates and exercises the craft/s of director and performer. In improvised performance my instincts prevail; faster than my rational, intellectual understanding of what I am doing, saying or singing, it is the accumulation of over twenty five years of performance experience and never ceases to surprise me, this work often informs other work that I am directing or making.
More recently I have begun making and performing solo work between directing projects. One of my recent favourites is about the older physical performer in a culture that is enraptured with youth and obsessed with marketing. At the beginning of this work I request that no video footage (including archival) be taken. ‘Art is Uplifting?’ has been performed just three times, once being at the Tasmanian Circus Festival in 2013 with my fourteen year old son in the audience. Although the work received a very favourable response, it might have been uncomfortable with his mum on stage wearing trousers with braces attached to her nipples. The following morning as we made breakfast under the trees he said… ”for what it is worth, I didn’t like your act and everyone thinks your mad”! Less than a year later his point of view had changed. At the Mullumbimby circus festival in 2014 he created and performed his own ‘ladder act’. It was very funny. Although he is, in my opinion, a very gorgeous mover, he performed in my friends dance film recently, he insists that he is not interested in performing and science is his thing. He doesn’t realise, yet, how similar they are. Creativity does not belong to the arts.
My son is now 16, recently he told me he needed to shave, when I asked if he needed any help he said no there is lots of advice and videos on you tube. Today it is 3.35pm the hair salon in Northcote calls, I am on tour in Gladstone Queensland, we have a day off before bumping in. Apparently Cosmo has an appointment for 3.30. I call his mobile, he is running 5 min late but on his way. He accepts my suggestion to inform the hairdresser. The salon has my number as his contact, one of those remnants of the younger, less independent, child. I am grateful for these small details that keep me connected to him and, perhaps, more involved than he might prefer…
Mother and artist Daphne Kingston was well into her 80s when she declared, by way of explaining her own prescience, “coming events cast a shadow”. We won’t hear more from Daphne due to health reasons but her words and curiosity about the shape of things to come have helped inspire this blog series. We will hear from mother artists with diverse practices and children in their twenties, teens and twos, all of them bravely sharing something of their busy, brilliant lives as mother artists.
We are very fortunate to have this contribution from artist, educator and mother Deborah Sonenberg. “Leaping and limping from one day to the next” does not leave her with much time for reflection but today she pauses mid-air to see where she’s been. Witnessing Deborah at work, the warmth and attentiveness with which she listens and responds to children is the first clue to the extent of her wisdom. The stories that emerge of her life as mother of two girls are the next and these photos don’t lie – joy springs up wherever she lands.
The Art of Parenting
I trained as a theatre worker it taught me improvisation and prepared me for parenting. I have worked as puppeteer, producer, film-maker, visual artist, theatre director, actor – performer, musician, writer; facilitator, mother.
Before I had children I worked with my peers to investigate harmony and dischord in the voices and landscape of cultural identity in Melbourne. During the early 80’s the voices of refugee, multicultural and indigenous people were growing louder. I wrote music and theatre works with my partner. Many other artists contributed their knowledge of the richness and struggles of their own cultural life and identity to my voice. I was passionate and very earnest. My first child was born into this.
My true nature was born with her. I remembered how to play…. to nurture and to yield. I could no longer control outcomes.
Since her birth every project has resulted in unimaginable pathways never leading back only forward toward many joys and new challenges. Those first practice notes on the cello or violin at breakfast-time moved me into a new job as artistic director of a Children’s Music Festival. I learnt to juggle their classes, dance, acrobatics, self-defence, horse-riding, a pet rabbit breeding program and reasoning with passionate little voices asserting their independence and dependence.
I committed myself to the blending of children and an unconventional full-time creative working life…. this took us to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory.
My first child was born at the same time as an ABC documentary film project which had evolved during a long stay in Borroloola before I became pregnant. I produced this film over a number of years with my baby daughter growing beside me. This became the new life for us as a family. When my second daughter was born, she slept in a basket woven by my friend Queenie. We lived there on and off for over 15 years and many projects. Our ‘home’ was a bush camp on a hill protected by 22 ancient tamarind trees shading a powerful river below. This was a robust cultural and working life supported by deep friendships, new languages, songs, stories, art and ceremony. We all grew together, a time of great political and artistic struggle and breathtakingly beautiful events – somewhat similar to parenting teenagers. None of this I ever felt prepared for, I became student and teacher with my peers, we improvised.
Generosity is to listen with your heart.
I worked as a Cultural Development Officer for the NT Government and later in regional Victoria. My work enabled others to explore art and form, identity and place. This work was shared with individuals, groups and communities. We made new work together. If I was without skill or knowledge we learnt together, a parallel to parenting my girls. As a family we travelled and worked. We introduced ourselves with songs and puppets inspired by Chinese acrobats. The most delightful puppet members of our family, the Dancing Krasnapolskis, lived in a suitcase. These puppets are now 30 years old. The children grew up with them and other puppets as family. We all learnt to give of ourselves.
The Dancing Krasnapolskis are still dancing.
Imagination is to dance with the unexpected
My creative life as a mother has relied on my ability to trust and improvise when presented with achievable and inspiring opportunities. My childrens’ well-being was the perimeter. I would never have expected such a rich journey with my children as they grew into adults. It was such a short time on reflection.
I work for a wonderful Melbourne based organisation ‘Kids Thrive.’ We deliver ‘child-led’ community change – imagine that ! As a team of artists and specialist educators our arts based programs create long-term partnerships with community organisations, schools and their communities. Together we give voice to children; their thoughts, ideas and hopes in performance.
My daughters are now in their 20’s.They both study medicine, one Western the other Chinese.
They are both healers, worldly, creative and intuitive.
With 2 weeks until the next Mother Artist Forum at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney we are thrilled to open the 4th blog series with guest curator and long time BIG contributor and artist, Alexandra Harrison. Here Alex describes the everyday dance of life as a mother artist, and gives us a taste of other artists navigating similar terrain.
(We look forward to seeing you at the 2nd Mother Artist Forum and film screening on Sunday 25th at the MCA for a continued conversation about the challenge and rich terrain of navigating motherhood with an ongoing professional art practice, and we would love to hear your own stories in comments below.)
“In the beginning there is pure expectation – I can only fail”
Pregnant with Rainer, I completed an anthropology degree, bought a house and made two new dance works. One was my most enormous to date – a festival of sorts comprising of a full length ensemble dance piece, a lecture, 2 short films, a video installation, a community dance project, a durational solo, a 1 hour drum roll and an exhibition. The other opened less than a month before Rainer was born and just a few days before we moved to our new home. Rainer Mallee landed 2 days before Christmas to crown the year.
I remember soon after Rainer’s arrival feeling awed by the demands of a day. But it’s the duration (days, nights, weeks, years) that makes motherhood extreme. Like so many of the conditions of motherhood, there is a practical and philosophical richness that creates artistic practice and contributes to the life of the mind; the necessary pressure of duration produces invention.
Since Rainer’s birth my achievements have been a little more piecemeal. But I have a collection of the biscuits and sweets given to him by strangers, a (long) list of the times he woke me between 3 months and 7 ½ months, a tally of the number of baths I have managed with my partner, a (long) list of Rainer’s words at 18 months and have painted thousands of tiny crosses to form water colour cross stitch. I have made 35 felt mice for his playgroup fete and sanded 55 timber offcuts for outdoor building blocks whilst pushing Rainer on the swing. I have developed a meditation practice whilst putting Rainer to sleep each night, an open studio practice for Ray and his friends and managed a collaborative contribution to every BIG Kids magazine but one. We have made two (very) short films and performed a 2 minute duet involving walking from one end of the stage to the other holding hands when he was ten months old.
Collaborating with Rainer necessitates a sympathetic relationship with repetition. Concepts of drudgery are not useful – certainly repetition in machines is replication but in humans it is change. My brilliant Papa said “knitting uses a series of loops. And loops, unlike a weave, allow for movement; stretch and range”. I think of repetition as a loop so when Rainer says “again” or “I like some more please”, we repeat faithfully and look for the appearance of difference. I have heard language form and comprehension dawn and observed the specific moments of apparent sameness that send Rainer’s repetitions in new directions. I have witnessed natality – the birth of a new idea.
Bodies moving in concert is a strategy in dance. On stage synchronicity is rehearsed, organized and impressive. But it is strongest when it is a consequence of acute attention or a serendipitous meeting. Rainer and I spend a lot of time exploring synchronicity. We practice in the car trying to yell things at the same time, or at the kitchen table with simultaneous turns of the head, or in the studio moving and stopping together. Success was felt by both of us before Rainer was twelve months old and is still met with unmixed delight. We practice our timing and sharpen our awareness, we follow each other and improvise. For Hannah Arendt acting in concert is both a manifestation of freedom and a crucial securing of that freedom through acting. It is a powerful practice dependent on plurality – the accepting and respecting of otherness. We encounter independence as well as each other in our synchronous play.
Erin Manning talks about parenting as an exercise in radical non-ownership. Rainer is absolutely and radically not mine yet my task is complete responsibility and care for what is radically not mine. This is magnificent. Excited at the prospect of not being at the centre of my own existence I am de-centralized by motherhood to new degrees and in new ways all the time. There is an opportunity here to abandon bastions of self-absorption; moodiness or battles for rights with my partner. My failures at dealing with conflict respectfully and efficiently have necessitated the invention of peace (Rainer dislikes yelling and carefully logs my sadness). I am learning too how to keep working when my heart is sore and how to listen harder to Rainer when the ground feels shaky. I hope to offer spacious and evolving love.
Beyond the personal the choreography of motherhood is endlessly complex. Reading philosophy through pregnancy I discovered this new (for me) condition was an opportunity for thinking through new (for me) concepts; splitting of the subject, flux of body boundaries, innocent narcissism, new spatial proximities, depth disappearance and double intentionality. I read cross-culturally and even cross-species to expand the perspectives and possibilities offered by my own cultural habitus. My intimacy with other mothers does important work in offering a community to my family and proving again and again the necessity of diversity in approach. I realize that the conceptual richness of motherhood was invisible to me until now and I fear it’s no accident.
On discovering I now have Rainer, a director friend of mine said instructively you aren’t going to make work about being a mother now are you? I think of the media infantilizing of mothers into “mummy”, when working with children is some of the trickiest psychological work I have ever undertaken. I think of the endless tomes lauded as serious literature where (mostly) men pursue alcohol and some (narrow) concept of women even into their old age in ways that are laughably adolescent. I am incredulous that maternity is considered negligible grounds for creativity, when here is an underworld of bona fide dirty, desperate beauty.
But some do acknowledge this reality. I am grateful to my collaborators for their openness to a toddler wandering in and out of the rehearsal room. I am grateful to my brave partner for saying yes and falling in with me in spite of the “dark shouters caution and prudence”. Gratitude extends to past collaborators who showed me integrated models of motherhood with children in rehearsal, on tour and on stage. I remember one Legs on the Wall co-production with a group of utterly wild Canadians and six accompanying children which produced more laughter both on and off stage than I have ever before enjoyed. The Canadians were so adept at inclusion they formed a circus with their kids that performed all around the country. Then there are Lilly and Jo of BIG Kids Magazine who offer a place for artists and children to put things and share with the world. Their work makes the mother artist visible in gently ingenious ways.
I’m yet to form a circus, publish a magazine or even make another dance work – but onward. I prepare a performance lecture on the choreography of motherhood, I continue watercolour cross stitch on an impossible 14m piece of parchment, I write a small book welcoming children to dance, I dance duets with Rainer that no one else will ever see, I mentor for a show in Perth, I choreograph My Lovers’ Bones and I work with a beautiful organization called Kids Thrive. I cultivate new curiosities every day through my relationship with Rainer and I value and trust the work of mothering – and I reckon being Rainer’s mother is art if I say it is.
These are racing days filled with the sweetness and mystery of creating Tiny Worlds, as many BIG opportunities are opening up all over Australia. Inside the gathering speed I am slowly getting used to the new rhythm of Twyla (almost 6!) as my right hand person, while the extraordinary Jo Pollitt works on back to back dance projects.
It is a beautiful experience to watch my own child inhabit the growing pages of the next issue and both contribute her own ideas as well as respond to the content in ways that take it so much further than I could have imagined. Twyla created the colouring page for Tiny Worlds and met an obstacle in the process where she thought she was going to have to start all over again, after already spending a very long time working on it. It was beautiful to watch a creative struggle that I have faced often in my own practice and see her solve the problem in a way that extended the work visually. Her sense of accomplishment in entering her own unknown and coming through the challenge to a greater landing was encouraging. BIG has always been about opening portals to ways of seeing, understanding and responding to the world in ways that invite children into the actual joys and challenges of creative practice. It is always so exciting to be at the stage of actually seeing all the incredible contributions come to life on the pages and our designer is completely inspired! SUBSCRIBE NOW to make sure you are in the very first mail-out of Issue 7 – Tiny Worlds!
Luca has been the ‘senior’ ed of BIG Kids Magazine since Issue 1 – First Flight. He was deeply in the dreaming of this project before it was BIG and has written the editors letter, workshopped themes, drafted ideas, supported us with honest and critical feedback for SIX issues. He was 8 when he began – making his first major editors call when he pushed us to choose a different image on the webpage animation – the one it turned out everybody loved! Since then he has watched BIG grow from ideas scribbled on a midnight page to MANY pages featuring (published!) ideas that fly all over the world. Quite a wonder. Quite a journey. He is now 11 years old and after his first school camp is careering fast to the end of primary school. He hands the reigns to Twyla, who at age almost 6, feels the perfect fit to launch with Issue 7 – Tiny Worlds:
It has a been an honor to be the senior editor of BIG Kids Magazine for so many issues. I have loved helping to develop each theme and idea. I want to thank my mum Jo and also Lilly for making the magazine and I hope it keeps going on and on and on. I feel ready to follow other interests as I get ready to start highshcool next year. The tiny thing in my world at the moment is a baby chick called Kenny, I also have a gem collection and would love to see baby turtles one day. I wish Twyla goodluck for the next issues – especially Tiny Worlds which we workshopped together – and I can’t wait to see it.
CALLING ALL CHILDREN AND ARTISTS! There is a month left to send in your submissions for Issue 7 of BIG Kids Magazine – Tiny Worlds.
Closing date for submissions: August 15th, 2014.
Tiny Worlds is about small windows to peripheral places, minuscule moments recorded in time, microscopic imagined habitats and the way that intimacy bridges distance and makes the world smaller, and bigger at the same time. We are looking for paintings, drawings, photographs, stories, poems, micro scripts, film stills and choreographed ideas to publish in the pages of BIG. It is important to send in high quality images that show your creations in the best possible light so that they land clearly and beautifully. Visit our CONTRIBUTE page or see details below:
1. *CREATE and CONTRIBUTE your response to the theme Tiny Worlds. You can write, film, paint, dance, draw, sew or sing your contributions which will be considered for publication on our blog, and/or in the pages of BIG Kids Magazine.
2. SEND high resolution print quality images, sound bites, videos or word docs of your work to email@example.com including the title of the work, your name, age (if you’re a child) and location by August 15th, 2014.
*All entries will be considered for publication in the print pages of the magazine or on the blog. Acceptance of submission does not guarantee publication.
We are so excited to share here the success of both the Mother Artist Forum and the launch of Patterns and Pathways at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sunday. Phew!
Powerpoint screen crashes at midnight, a suitcase that missed the plane from Perth, sick kids, a storm and an earache…and STILL we made it into the loading dock of the MCA before 9am. And so the very BIG day began and we didn’t draw breath until back at the airport that evening.
Thank fully the support from the MCA, and our friends and family was incredible. MCA children’s learning co-ordinator Susie acted as grand conductor of the day and enabled us to focus solely on the set up and running of our events. The MCA store wonderfully set up a BIG display and hosted our book signing. Chrissie, Georgia and the AV team were a dream and our panelists Emma Magenta and Emma Gale brilliantly matched the mood bringing gifts of humour and musli in brown paper bags. Our copy editor Karen Cormer, who we met for the very first time after almost 3 years of working, was set immediately to task as were the inspired Pied Piper duet of Rose and Jem, official photographer Nathan, and single hand support team Merrin. The audiences for both events were SO wonderfully engaged and we loved hearing and seeing pictures of all the chalk patterns created by children on their post launch pathways home .
Highlights included giving out of artist prints by Lilly to artist mother’s of babies under 12months and the joy from those receiving them.
Meeting copy editor Karen Cormer for the first time and so many wonderful contributors and online friends
Twyla’s first public speaking assignment in the official launching of Issue 6 and cutting of a red ribbon held by us
Our cover artists meeting for the first time
Emma Magenta’s alter ego
Hearing women speak about their stories
Watching the tangle of coloured string creating collaborative audience patterns in the air
The feeling in the theatre
Meeting so many kids, grown-ups and artists at the book signing
Signing the mags outside the MCA store where we once dreamed of being stocked!
How has becoming a mother enhanced, limited, provoked and/or disrupted your creative practice?