Devotion is an installation that reflects on mothers and on the necessity of mothering in maintaining human relational structures. “Mothers” can be considered to be those females who have given birth to and/or raise children, and mothers have historically been left to handle “mothering”: the perpetual wiping and washing, comforting and helping, cooking and cleaning tasks that sustain everyday life. Recently, paradigms have expanded to recognize that caretaking can be and is performed by both men and women; standards of housekeeping have relaxed as more individuals pursue work outside the home; affluence and industrialization have allowed such tasks to be shifted to hired workers or to machines. Yet, the need for ongoing caretaking tasks and someone to perform them – the need for someone to be the mother - does not disappear. In Devotion, I utilize fabrics, laundry soap and repetitive processes to create and examine the function of mothering as necessary within a structure.
“Mother” bears some weighty baggage, holding places in idealized and all-powerful realms as well as in everyday and unremittingly pragmatic ones. In Devotion, I have given nod to both while also considering this structural analysis by philosopher Jacques Derrida: “Mother will always have a place, so long as she is content to remain on the bottom.” In this vein, “mother” is recognized as the basis for life - that which must remain of the bottom because it is the ground from which everything grows. “Mother” makes everything possible. However, in its place on the bottom, “mother” is also that upon which everything lands. The workplace reminder to “clean up after yourself, your mother doesn’t work here” aptly captures this structural necessity: whatever no one else is willing to pick up and do is left for a “mother” to attend to. Everything falls to mother.
Devotion has been a collaboration between myself and the Regis community: members of the Jesuit leadership, the University’s faculty and staff, the student body, and the contract labor force serving Regis who were willing to record their acts of caretaking. Designated rags were distributed around the campus and to a few off-campus programs affiliated with Regis, and individuals (both men and women) used those rags to “mother” – to tend to someone or something other than themselves. The rags, used and soiled and marked by caring (and by various materials), were returned for use in the installation. Within the installation space, women and mothers from Regis (and beyond) will be acting over the course of four weeks to press and place the rags.
Through this installation, the labor of mothering and the structure within which such labor occurs are both made visible, recognized as limiting, sustaining and potentially self-supportive.