Artist Feature: Courtney Kessel

In partial protest, I am putting the mother in the gallery. She is not the idealized mother painted with glowing beams of light smiling down at her child, but the real, subjective, elated, grumpy, sexy, frustrated, proud mother who wishes to express herself in that space, not to be spoken for. I’ve been thinking, researching, and making work along these lines for ten years. In that time, I’ve been able to organize the work into three seemingly arbitrary categories of moments, holes, and stuff.

Moments address the sometimes fleeting, often repetitive, usually mundane, moments curated from ‘life with child’. Slices of life are culled out and edited through my maternal lens. These are the times while folding clothes that I realize she is just a miniature of me with similar clothing, just smaller. Or it is the time in the restaurant when she is cold and gets into my sweater while I’m wearing it. These are the moments that I explore further through video, performance, and sculpture.

The holes refer to the parts missing or cut out of a material. They reference both the material itself being of the same as that which is removed and the lack experienced from birth onward. The materiality is based on the constant state of construction that a relationship is in which is neither finished nor fixed. Holes are literally the words that are cut out of drywall, wood, metal, and paper. They are both the marker and the thing that is marked.

The stuff in my work refers to the objects that perform themselves. They are the things around the house that attend to the child. The books, toys, soccer shoes, balls, hats, gloves, dolls, doll clothes, computer, iPad, movies, crayons, markers, photos, drawings all perform the presence of a child. Without her, there would be none of that stuff. Stuff also exists mentally that is all-consuming. Holding her hand while crossing the street or hoping that she’ll call takes up space in my mind as a mother. My work sources inspiration and representation from the home, so its presence is such in the gallery.

I hope to make visible the quiet, understated, and often unseen love and labor of motherhood. Through sculpture, performance, video and sound, my work transcends the binary of public/private. Repositioning the ongoing, non-narrative, dialogic flow that occurs within the domestic, I hope to open up a dialog of the subjective experience of maternity.

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