We, Milos & Slavica, are an artist team living and working in Leeds with our three children (19, 17 & 5). We hold PhDs in Fine Art and Literature and collaborate both as artists and researchers (milos-and-slavica.net). We are currently developing an idea towards a rather ambitious exhibition project on the theme of childbirth. We would be very grateful if we could benefit from your expert opinion about a component of our project that will offer women in early stages of labour to take part through a very brief, light yet imaginative activity.
Our aspiration is that the experience of engaging momentarily with our project will offer these women at least a small relief, and one hopefully more lastingly rewarding than the browsing of magazines. Of course, by the time they arrive at the delivery suite, many women are long past the state where they wish to engage with any such activity, however light. Yet, it is our understanding, that this is not the case with every woman, or even every childbirth of the same woman (as was our own experience).
To be sure, we will not be physically present, nor do we plan to encroach on anyone’s privacy in any way. Instead, we hope to temporarily install an art print/poster in place of the usual hospital art. This will be an image of a woman, much like themselves, in the full delivery “gear” and endearingly dishevelled, but with one exception: she will seem as if someone, just a moment earlier, switched off gravity. Her hair and garments will float as if she was the first pregnant woman at the International Space Station. Our hope is — and we will work hard and listen carefully in order to make just such an image — that at least some of the neural circuits (“mirror neurons”) will be unable to resist but to float along when the woman’s glance chances upon this poster. During this brief moment, we hope that at least a little of the weight of anxiety and physical discomfort will be lifted.
The text of the poster will tell them about a future art exhibition on the theme of childbirth and that they are welcome to contribute their own handwritten thoughts, which would then take a proud place along other women’s contributions as a centrepiece of the exhibit. There will be a stack of smaller prints nearby, along with pencils and envelops with prepaid postage. They will be able to choose one of the prints showing a variety of floating pregnant women and write their contribution into a circular blank space right in the middle of the page. They can then place the print in the envelop and seal it. The whole activity can take as little as a minute or less, or they can take as much time as they like. They will also be able to take home an invitation to the opening of the exhibition in a few months time. We would be so happy to see them all there, pushing prams and looking to spot their own contribution, now framed and exhibited in a contemporary art gallery.
What they write about will be up to them, but we will invite them to think about the future of their child. For example, to imagine that they have just met someone forty years from now and they wish to brag about their child (now a 40-year-old): what would they like to be able to say? We will then send their responses to their MPs and ask them to respond in a similar way about the future citizens of their constituency – to imagine, say, five 40-year-olds born today. Finally, we will send all these to the scientists that produce such forecasts as a part of their research and ask them to similarly respond from their less biased perspective. By comparing the imagined futures from these three sources, we hope that it will become palpable that “it takes a village to raise a child”, that we are all in it and responsible, and that nothing less than the future of the human kind is at stake. We wish each of our women contributors to see herself and her fearsome labouring, in the delivery suite or birth centre and again at the exhibition, as the pivot around which the world turns. We would like to see this exhibition ourselves and think with them about this.
This being said, we are not stuck upon any of the particulars of this idea and would very much like to benefit from your opinion and advice. Is this realistic? Will hospitals want to take part? Will there be at least one or two women in a hundred that will be in a state, let alone willing, to contribute in any such way? Are we dignifying the women or exploiting them? If you think this is worthwhile to pursue, how would you advise us to go about it?
All ideas and criticism are very welcome and will be acknowledged at the exhibition.
Milos & Slavica