I sign deeply, and stare out of the window. The smell of the gingersnap peach tea teases my nostrils, and the sound of my 80s playlist makes my shoulders dance with small, imperceptible rhythmic moves.
I just talked to my mum on the phone; our calls are always short and sweet, mostly keeping them under 1 minute. She asks me how I am, and I say fine. I ask her how she is, and she says fine. She asks me how my brother is, and I say fine. She then reiterates that she just called me to say that she misses and loves me, and I say that I miss and love her too. She sends kisses for my partner, I say I will deliver them, and then we hang up. Time: 59 seconds.
I’ve had a strange relationship with my mum over the years. We used to be really close up to my 18th birthday, when she moved out of the house to stay with her partner. She took the furniture from our apartment on the eve of my birthday, so I spent my surprise party sitting on the floor, eating cake out of napkins.
She then returned years later, when the relationship did not work out. The furniture she took came back, and the furniture I replaced them with were now sitting next to the dumpster outside of the house. I left, went to stay with my dad, and held a grudge for ages.
The first time I told her I loved her after that was the day my grandmother died. Suddenly, all the anger of the years that passed between her leaving, returning, me leaving and coming to London, all this anger and rage dissipated. I did not have to say that I forgave her. She lost her mum and I rediscovered mine.
As I was sitting under the Mothers (Work No. 1092) sculpture in Martin Creed’s What is the point exhibition, its towering presence revolving and taking over the space, I thought of the exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery, Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity.
The whole point of the exhibition was to bring some home truths, facts that are difficult to acknowledge, to the forefront. It viewed the nature of motherhood through a lens, and examined the nature of motherhood, gender, domesticity, the motherly figure, the maternal nature, the need for an offspring, the urge to reproduce, and the discourse that comes with motherhood.
There were some truly thought-provoking pieces in. Gazelle by Katie Murray sees her using an exercise machine to lose the baby weight still clinging on her maternal body. Slowly, her children demand her attention, and one by one they climb on her, while she is on the machine. She carries them all, and keeps moving, as a mother does. Hannah Putz‘s portraits have a familiar quality to it, clashing with the foreign dream/nightmare-like pictures of Ana Casa Broda. With a personal account on her longing to have children and the feelings that resulted from their birth, she explores her own childhood and the troubled relationship with her mother through her own personal, inter generational work in Kinderwunsch.
Janine Antoni then follows the footsteps of other feminist artists like Hannah Wilke, Ana Mendieta and Carolee Schneeman and uses her body in Inhabit by suspending herself for hours in a structure that resembled a doll’s house, whilst a spider spun a web between her legs. It was quite interesting, because her position did not tell us if she was suspended, entrapped, or just existing in the house. She just was. Leigh Leidare‘s collection of found pictures, random ephemera and portions of her mother’s life in Pretend You’Re Actually Alive was quite interesting (and closer to the art that I am more familiar with), but it was Elina Brotherus and her Annunciation Series that I found truly, heartbreakingly, achingly moving. She recorded her five year effort to become a mother through IVF treatment, and the full range of emotions, pain, chemicals, injections, waiting, charts and continual disappointment that ensued.
I remember coming out of the exhibition and feeling like calling my mum. I did, but it was a missed call.
I think that the moment we truly grow up is the moment we realise, truly realise, that our parents are human beings. They make mistakes, they fuck up, they try to find happiness and they sometimes make bad decisions. They are not always going to protect you, because they can not. This sense of security that wraps you as a warm blanket is now taken away, and is replaced with an anger. When the anger dissipates, the parent becomes a friend, and you become an adult, even though you still long for that feeling of protection and comfort that only they could give you, even in the 59 seconds of a phone call.
And with a second left before the full minute passes, I think of her, and the cereal for dinner, and the times I would sleep in her bed when I was sick, and the fits of laughter we used to have when we tried to cook something together, and my eyes water and I miss this second the moment it passes by.