Visible M(others): Exhibition Reponse, What Piece(s) Speak to Me?

I've been selected to participate in a gallery exhibition over the course of the next six weeks titled "Visible M(others): Images of Parenting in Visual Culture." The show runs March 4 - April 11, 2010 at the Boise State University Student Union Gallery and is free to the public (go see it!). I'm collaborating with Shannon Paterson over at We'll both be writing new posts on Thursdays each week for the six weeks of the exhibition, exploring ideas of how our "mommyblogs" are a sort of "digital front porch swing," a place to share information and be heard, a forum for asking questions, showing of our kids and our skills. Mommyblogs act not only as an informational outlet, but a creative force in our contemporary maternal culture, as the blogs are loaded not only with verbal creativity, but photography, crafts, and other digital imagery, documenting our lives as mothers. Provoking complex questions, the exhibition presents new perspectives on traditional, contemporary, alternative or imagined parenting and how they operate in a visible/invisible landscape of maternal visual culture.

I first heard that Dr. Kathleen Keys and Dr. Janice Neri, professors of art education and art history at BSU, were organizing an exhibition on parenting last summer. I was thrilled; this has been an under researched and under appreciated theme in the American art world. Since my family plays such a big role in my artwork, I was excited to submit a piece for consideration. After thinking about it for some time, I decided I wanted to collaborate with someone else and explore the notion of what constitutes fine art and what plays a vital role in our visual culture - the Internet. Of course, I was already writing this blog, with a focus on parenting. I love the idea of collaboration and immediately my friend and fellow mommyblogger Shannon Paterson of came to mind. Shannon and I met probably seventeen years ago (eegads!) while undergrads at the University of Idaho. We were both studying in the communications department - me, public relations, and her, journalism. We both met and eventually married our husbands there, who were also friends and fraternity brothers. When I moved backed to Boise almost four years ago we reconnected. What we didn't know was that our lives would take such similar, but different, paths; a year ago she left her career as a news anchor to be a stay at home mom and I was forced into the situation with a layoff. It was coincidence that we both began blogging at the same time, a fun and interesting coincidence. We were both becoming new kinds of moms, blazing our own unique trails and combining our professional and personal lives in different ways. So, Shannon and I collaborated on a proposal for the exhibition and were thrilled to be selected. Especially after I attend the opening of the show a few weeks ago and saw all the other amazing works in the exhibition. Wow.

As a former local museum curator, I know many local artists already. Another friend, father, and artist, Ben Love, was participating in the exhibition with his daughter and invited me to help create a celebratory opening party event for the kids. As gallery exhibitions are typically not geared toward children, this one was an exception. Ben and I knew there would be a ton of kids there and wanted them to feel comfortable in what can sometimes be a, lets face it, stuffy event. We came up with the idea of a 'don your artsy attire' dress up room.

The curators were thrilled and rented a room for us to use. We brought masses and masses of dress up gear and costumes and the kids had a blast dressing up fancy, in their own ways.

I even ended up wearing a Snow White crown the entire evening. We brought animal crackers and pretzels as kid-friendly appetizers and covered a large table with a blanket to make a fort. Ben brought coloring books and crayons and set up a really popular coloring table. The space became a hang out for the adults, too, who participated in dressing up and art making with their children. We got so many positive comments from artists and guests alike about how this was the most fun art opening they'd ever been to. The kids were entertained so mommy and daddy could spend some time chatting with adults and actually looking at the art. But the kids didn't feel confined to the room; they ran throughout the exhibition in their fancy gear, experiencing the artworks and reminding us all what this exhibition is really about after all.

Here's a shot of our piece's physical space in the exhibition, although it's really more of a virtual performance art piece. Shannon and I decided that we'd like it to have a presence to invite visitors to sit down and use the laptop to view our blogs. We set it up to look like our work stations at home do - a simple desk and chair littered with board books and academic resources, an old coffee cup, a stray binkie, a display of our kids drawings. We also have our business cards on the desk, inviting visitors to take one home with them to continue following our blogs and the exhibition.

There are so many interesting and compelling pieces in the exhibition that it was difficult to pick my favorite for this post. I feel most drawn, however, to the collaborative nature, humor, and seriousness of this piece, by Boise artists Ted Apel and Brooke Burton. This is a photo of the wall label for their piece. I know it's a bit blurry, but I think their list of media is brilliant. It includes the more traditional listing of the physical mixed media the piece is made from - paper, glass domes, wire, and table. But it also includes the intangible forces that REALLY came to play in the creating of this artwork: 2 babies, 7 dirty diapers, 11 bottles, 21 wipes, 1 stroller, 3 blankets, etc.

It turns out that Apel, a father of an infant son, approached Burton, a mother of a one-year-old daughter, to collaborate in a unique way. He offered to watch the babies while Brooke did the physical creation of the piece they both brainstormed on. I love that new definition of collaboration as it applies to the art world, and I love the piece they came up with.

It's a lovely, clean white table with glistening glass domes covering white paper origami cranes. Some of the cranes appear to be floating alone and some are crammed into a dome together. Each of the domes have a separate title, based on familial figures Burton has either known or read about it the numerous parenting books she has recently consumed.
They represent the complicated relationships among family members, including the most tenuous one between parent and child and the fine line between nurture and suffocation. While the pieces are physically lovely, they can also easily be interpreted as putting someone on a pedestal, confining them to a glass dome where nothing and no one can get to them, which is a common fear and struggle of new parents. I know I have felt the pull between perfection and protection, and letting my girls go and experience life and pain on their own is a difficult process.

Keys and Neri's students assisted in the creation of the exhibition and have written curatorial statements on each piece of the exhibition, which adds to the educational value of the show. The exhibition is free and is open anytime the BSU SUB is open, so I highly recommend stopping by. Make a date of it - grab a coffee at Moxie Java downstairs and bring your significant other and/or your kids. It's a great and poignant example of what parenting means to a few in our local community, not to mention a stellar showing of contemporary art.