Smother

a womb of one’s own

But, you may say, we asked you to speak of the dichotomy of bad/good mother – what has this got to do with a womb of one’s own? I will try to explain. Genetically or socially speaking – having a womb of one’s own isn’t possible. The womb belongs to me but its biological purpose is to be inhabited by others, at the same time or over time. When the womb is occupied we aren’t alone.

The womb is permeable; it feeds and sustains, blood is transfused and hormones infiltrate. The maternal abdomen is a resonant chamber; sound, however distorted, seeps in to the interior listener. From bass notes to base sounds.

When the womb is occupied we become preoccupied. My tacit agreement to tolerate the sickness, the pains, and the forthcoming labour renders us utterly enmeshed. I am super human, my senses are stronger. I cannot tolerate certain smells or imagery. Rosemary is revolting and I cry over cute cat pictures. I feel her life coursing through me, or at least, the hormones I need in order to sustain her life – to nourish and keep her at all costs.

In a matter of weeks, the measuring begins. I’m weighed and measured, then pulse counted, observed, compared. Sticks dipped into my pee, then and blood taken. Always have a full bladder for the ultrasound. Drinking so much water all the time. All this incites the obsession with the maternal self, our babies and each other – where did all the pregnant ladies come from and what’s with these babies all of a sudden?

Then she arrives. I’m sleepless and she is jaundiced but we are well. Driving home from the hospital after a four night stay, our world looked totally different. The neon lights were so much brighter – the effects of anemia weren’t all bad. Be a new mum, bounce back, work out, and be sexy, but don’t cut calories, you didn’t cut calories, did you? because you need them to make breastmilk. Be an older mum, do the right thing and get back out to work, or stay at home, yes, stay at home, or work from home one day a week, but still do the work of a full time employee, feel guilty either way will you. Don’t work too hard though because it will damage the child. A little mess is good for the kids. You should have a routine because the child will dictate the routine you know. Let the child dictate the routine. One child is enough. It gets easier with two. Are you going to have another one? You’ve already got two, what’s another one? You make lovely babies. Some dualities must be admitted.

Our private lives are ostensibly made public – the foundations of self, built in the glare of examination lights and our plethora of screens. Can’t she just feed her baby here? Why won’t it stop crying? I can’t believe she’s taking that baby on holiday already. We practically stopped at home for two months. From the doctors waiting room to Instagram – we are the panopticon.

Australian conceptual jeweller Tiffany Parbs’ new work brokers the current polarities of motherhood. Through her experiences she becomes the healing warrior who has suffered and transmuted the pain, presenting the intertwining of mother and child with all the spectrum of conflicting feelings which accompany it. There is joy in her work, a sign of freedom won through struggle, an artist revelling in the abject and revealing the objectified. She frets the limits of jewellery so that adornment becomes essential, collective and political. Current works in progress include attached, a velcro loop caftan for mother and velcro hook onesie for the kids – demonstrating the difficulty in prising apart the mother as omnipresent site of loving play.

The portraits of Parbs modelling the works signal a deadpan humour and tension between tragedy and farce. A badass swag I recognise as urgent and powerful. Her face conveys a weary resolve making otherwise jovial accessories such as a sweatband embroidered with fit and absent, a sleep mask emblazoned with AWOL into stoic statements. Fit is navy blue with white embroidery, alluding to military duty, as well as referencing nike’s original old school logo. With camouflage material, absent nods off to the night as a battle ground between mother and child where sleep is a no man’s land.

The adult body as a playground is explored through structure and slope. We imagine Parbs squatting, trapped within a metal play slide which might double as a splint for spinal injury. She is trapped but needs relies on them as props – diminutive as a crouching child when within the frame. Bobbing down to the eye level of a child is a stance to reassure, discipline and communicate, but impossible to maintain for long periods.

The childhood trick of hiding under skirts would be so much more from under a crinoline. Parbs makes a kind of freestanding climbing frame structure, for the adult to stand within. The crinoline was a dreadful undergarment – then again the underwired bra is no saint – guaranteeing voluminous skirts – the price to pay being restriction and suffering. This chimera of jewelry and dress provides the maximum play keeping parental movement to a minimum. Parbs is parked, by her intention to subjugate herself for the sake of her kids entertainment. This ultra-play, the entertainment encouraged by society and satiated by parents, traps children in a cycle of boredom without external stimulus, lowering creative play.

Parbs wears a football as a mask in game, reminding me of the Mancunian comedy persona Frank Sidebottom and his papier mache head. The football only fulfills its purpose when it is kicked, so an element of masochism is found here. Mothering isn’t always such a ball. Conversely, she is both surface and turf in vacant. Her face concealed in a landscape of lurid green grass. Vacant tells of claustraphobia. Trapped within the objective of play – providing a sense of freedom for the child at the expense of the parent feeling contained. It’s interesting that in both works, only eyes are uncovered. The mother must bare witness to the fruits of her labour, this is least we can do. Maybe we don’t hear but we are attentive, we are seen to see. We think – hope, this is what being a good parent is. Good people creating good people. But what if we’re not?

vacant

Mothering gave me a delicious new sense of time and boredom that I hadn’t experienced since adolescence. The periodic relief of silence whilst feeding in the middle of the night, opened me up, my whole self friable. To find a little grace in the dark. This is a solace, this is consolation. Gloom as a recourse. The pitch isn’t entirely black, it’s fuzzy and speckled. The cubic room shades out to a cavern, angles smooshed out to the silence of something sweet to be savored, and someone I have satiated. Something so simple. We’re bound by the night; me and my little boarder mutable – made marsupial in our bed. This is the good thing. Then the baby wakes to remind us all of something more scatalogical.

Parbs’ work, purge, resembles a torture device created by a sickly comic regime – a poo bucket tipped over her head. A plasticine and plater pile of shit dripping down to jaw level. The motion stopped mid-flow and her head encased fully this time – anonymous and degraded. Parbs’ self is annulled. But the sense of humour remains. This is the good thing.

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