Live Art Event and Performance Research
Medea/Mothers’ Clothes is a subversive take on Mother archetype as well as social and ideological representations of motherhood. Medea, as an archetypal anti-mother figure from the Greek mythology, is juxtaposed with a group of contemporary Liverpool mothers that I personally know from two toddler’s groups. The performance is my intimate, artistic and feminist response to social and cultural constrictions that are placed onto me as a mother and a ‘Foreigner’ (Croatian, resident in Britain).
Medea/Mothers’ Clothes consists of a 30 minutes long solo performance which includes slide show, audio-visual footage and live action. The performance is followed by an installation, the six screen split video projection which depicts my daily life as a mother and performer.
Medea/Mothers’ Clothes Live Art Event was initially developed for the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool in 2004. The project was supported by the Arts Council England and the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool. Subsequently Medea/Mothers’ Clothes was performed at Manchester (emergency, green room October 2004), London (Brunel University, November 2004), Santa Clara in Cuba (Teatro Guiñol, January 2005), Dubrovnik in Croatia (InterUniversity Centre, May 2005), Carlisle (Performance Art Carlisle Event at Source Café Carlisle, February 2006), Manchester (The John Thaw Studio Theatre, Manchester University, May 2006), Bristol (International Conference Medea: Mutations and Permutations of a Myth, Bristol University, July 2006), Scarborough (On the Edge annual programme of contemporary small scale performance at the University of Hull in Scarborough, October 2006), the University of Winchester (February 2007) and Studio 12 in Bratislava, Slovakia (February 2016).
Action on stage
There is a large white screen in the background of the stage.
The video footage inspired by Medea monologues is projected onto it:
hanging the washing outside my block of flats, trying on mothers’ clothes, playground, dead nature and leaves, toddler’s group.
There is a washing line with Medea’s costume and a white sheet hanging on it.
All the mothers’ clothes are piled up on the floor.
I enter the stage carrying my children’s bath. Full of water.
I wet the white sheet and hang it on the washing line.
The slide projector starts running (mothers’ slides on the sheet).
I perform the banal action of washing mothers’ clothes in my children’s bath.
The clothes are hung on a washing line. The clothes are hanging, dripping.
Sound: dialogue with my husband around Ladies of Corinth monologue, toddler’s group, calling upon Zeus, disclosure of Medea’s plans to murder her children.
Stabat Mater occasionally supports the video footage.
Medea is prompted by a male’s voice – writer/translator/Greek theatre actor.
I continue performing the banal action of washing mothers’ clothes.
The slides finish.
I wet Medea’s costume.
The video footage and sound finish.
I put on Medea’s costume.
All is dripping wet.
Nursery rhymes about sailors, pirates and children in connection to sea and adventure.
“A sailor went to sea sea sea
to see what he could see see see
and all that he could see see see
was the bottom of the deep blue
sea sea sea”
“Ja sam gusar s Porporele
cuvam barke i brodove
tra la la la la la la la tra la la la la
tra la la la la la la la tra la la la la
Mi smo djeca s Porporele
cuvamo barke i brodove
tra la la la la la la la tra la la la la
tra la la la la la la la tra la la la la”
Medea – a character from Greek Mythology. She helps Jason get the Golden Fleece and joins him on the way back to Greece . She is a barbarian (bar-bar: incomprehensible language), a foreigner, not Greek. She and Jason marry and have 2 boys. In 10 years time Jason decides to marry the king’s daughter and Medea (according to Euripides) takes revenge on Jason by killing their two boys.
Of all creatures that have life and reason we women are
the most miserable of specimens! In the first place, at great
expense we must buy a husband, taking a master to play the
tyrant with our bodies (this is an injustice that crowns the
other one). And here lies the crucial issue for us, whether we
get a good man or a bad. For divorce brings disgrace on a
woman and in the interval she cannot refuse her husband.
Once she finds herself among customs and laws that are
unfamiliar, a woman must turn prophet to know what sort
of man she will be dealing with as husband – not information
gained at home. Now if we manage this task successfully and
share our home with a husband who finds marriage a yoke
he bears with ease, our lives are to be envied. But if not, we’d
be better off dead.
When a man becomes dissatisfied with married life, he goes
outdoors and finds relief for his frustrations. But we are bound
to love one partner and look no further. They say we live
sheltered lives in the home, free from danger, while they wield
their spears in battle – what fools they are! I would rather
face the enemy three times over than bear a child once.
However, we are not in the same position, you and I. You
have your city here and the homes where your fathers have
lived; you enjoy life’s pleasures and the companionship of
those you love. But what of me? Abandoned, homeless, I am
a cruel husband’s plaything, the plunder he brought back
from a foreign land, with no mother to turn to, no brother or
kinsman to rescue me from this sea of troubles and give me
shelter. And so there is one small kindness I ask of you, if I
devise some ways and means of making my husband pay
for this suffering of mine: your silence. Women are timid
creatures for the most part, cowards when it comes to fighting
and at the sight of steel; but wrong a woman in love and
nothing on earth has a heart more murderous.
Medea – Mothers – Me
Medea symbolizes the Anti-Mother archetype. She transgresses from mother to anti-mother through the ultimate rebellious act of murdering her children. She challenges the patriarchal system. However she is not a woman, but Woman as sign – a construct of a male-dominated theatre tradition, invented by patriarchy for patriarchy to teach patriarchy a lesson.
Medea/Mothers’ Clothes project is about deconstructing Medea, contemporary representations of maternity and ultimately Mother as Archetype: the burden on mothers as mater natura and mater spiritualis – totality of life (Jung).
Becoming a mother has forced me into a conscious playing of the Mother role. New to Liverpool , an outsider, a ‘foreigner’, I socialised with other mothers in the area. We all became a group in which it was difficult to assert our identity as individuals. Our identity was shared: we were ‘mother’. I needed to rebel – to claim an identity, a voice other than the maternal. I offer the ‘voice’ of this performance to the mothers who participated in the project.
From the flyer given to mothers in two toddlers’ groups Lark Lane Old Police Station and Ullet Road Unitarian Church in Liverpool 17 in July and December 2003:
Dear Mothers from Toddlers’ Group
I am working on a Live Art/Performance piece entitled Medea/Mothers’ Clothes and would be glad if you took part in it.
What I would need from you is to take your picture (that will be later used in the slide show during the performance) and that you give me one piece of your clothes (anything, can be clothes that you no longer wear).
So I kindly ask you to bring your old dress, shirt, skirt, stockings, blouse, hat…. next time to toddler’s group and I will take your picture.
lilac nursing bra
NEW LOOK blue stripes top
white nursing bra
blue M&S Top
purple pink top
white blouse TIGI
green top H&M
purple blouse NEXT
stripes top Dorothy Perkins
pink NEXT top with buttons
purple dotty shawl
cream white blouse
purple top H&M
Branded clothes make me think of women as consumers, as objects, as desire.
Made in Portugal ; made in China ; made in Greece ; made in Austria … made in unknown
Putting a costume on makes you into a character,
into someone else, into pretence.
Costume is like a mask.
Should we think of the clothes like a possibility
to be whoever you want to be?
Medea poisons a dress and sends it as a gift to
Jason’s new wife.
Even the king’s daughter can’t resist the splendour
How is the Mother archetype re-figured in performance through its juxtaposition with the mythical anti-mother Medea and experiential accounts of motherhood?
What happens when performance brings together the universal (archetypal and mythical) and the lived social realities of motherhood?
In Medea/Mothers’ Clothes the maternal archetype is revisited through myth, a local community of mothers from Liverpool , and myself as mother and live artist. In seeking to portray my autobiographical experiences of motherhood and my personal connections to a group of contemporary mothers, I intervene in the cultural mythmaking of Medea. The mythical anti-mother Medea and the lives of local mothers (including myself) are all constrained by the social roles and cultural imaginings of maternity. In searching for a reassessment of maternity and womanhood the universal (mythical and archetypal) is discharged through the individual (specific/local) and the experiential (autobiographical). My exploration of archetypes is framed by feminist archetypal criticism, autobiography, poststructuralism (deconstruction) and performance art / live art.
Autobiography signals my personal investment in live art and performative writing. ‘Authority of Experience’ is tightly connected to my creativity. In order to subvert the Mother Archetype, I need an authoritative personal voice of the lived anxiety of experience. In this particular piece I draw on motherhood and my sense of ‘being foreign’: of being connected to the idea of being seen as ‘Other’.
Intimacy is the method through which autobiography is articulated: the way in which the artist uses creative material (performative writing, Medea text, self, mothers, clothing objects on stage) to convey the art piece and to achieve a personal relation with audiences/readers.
In Medea/Mothers’ Clothes I am the nexus between mothers and Medea. I do not play Medea, I play with Medea. In respect of the mothers, I am both a mother , belonging to the particular group I am exploring and an outsider – artist-anthropologist – observing objects/subjects. My voice and view is personal and autobiographical.
Extracts from the Performance Journal
There’s a child, the child. He is so mine, and yet the most striking thing about him is that he has his own little personality. And it is getting stronger. Yet he is mine. I need to let go of him (unfinished thoughts about allowing the child to be, independent of the Mother). Who is it about? Me or him, my child? Me or them, my children?
A woman become a mother. Stripped of her identity. I found myself spending numerous hours in front of a computer writing long emails to all of the people who know me from my old/real life. Who knew me, Lena.
I met people from my past and they were only interested in my new role. They observed my new role, the Mother. They all pretended to be interested in children.
Children as props. In Medea, in life. Accessories. Commodity. Things.
My children? Sometimes. Other people’s children? Always.
Motherhood is a new world. There are rules. I became a mother and became less of a foreigner. I had a role. Liverpool was more eager to accept me. I joined in. Still at a Tesco checkout, as a checkout lady, begins the conversation with my baby “Hiya” and as soon as I open my mouth… the accent… the possibility of invasion…. The justification that I am here because I married (all proper) to a British person. Wow, a British person. So it is not like I came to suck up the state’s benefits. Oh, no I am not the asylum seeker. Better not say Croatia … nor Yugoslavia …That might give them the wrong idea. Now, in public I talk to the children in Croatian. It is loud and strange. No one dares to talk to me. I choose to endure the strange looks. This is much better than justifying my position as a foreigner each time I am invited to open my mouth by an accidental passer-by who casually refers to the colour of my child’s hair. Ginger.
Now I’m a Toddlers’ group veteran, with two boys aged 3 and 1.
21 st century mothers. My first born child in the year 2000. My millennium baby. Motherhood has become a commodity, a full blown life-style, self-indulgence. Each mother I meet is so immersed in this idea of being a mother. The children are divinities. Centre. We all jump around them and yet it is not at all about them. It is about us. We fool ourselves into the ownership of the children.
Why is it so important for “them” to control their children’s life fully? What are “we” protecting the children from? Which school, which friends, which snack, which toy, which hat… All organized, all for us. I am under the influence. I am obsessed with motherhood at the expense of my children’s well being. I am in competition. I am in! Am I still a foreigner?
Kids got us together and keep us together. We act against them as we chat over our cups of tea. Let them get along. There’s always a super mother somewhere… playing with the kids all the time. She runs and saves my younger one as big boys ride their tricycles towards him. She talks all the time to the child even though the kid is not yet even 6 months. We don’t want to be like her. She’ll learn. We are women having a chat. There are no kids around…
Live Artist: Lena Simic
Graphic and Set Design: Ben Cain and Tina Gverovic
Audio Visual Support: Ross Dalziel
Costume Design: Tina Gverovic, Ana Piplica and Ben Cain
Bluecoat Arts Centre
Arts Council England
By permission of Penguin Books Ltd. Medea text (approximately 80 lines) used in performance is from: Euripides Medea and Other Plays (translated by John Davie), Penguin Classics, London 1996.
Music used in performance:
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi Stabat Mater performed by The Academy of Ancient Music and conducted by Christopher Hogwood, London 1998
Link to Studio 12 performance of Medea/Mothers’ Clothes (followed by 6 Notebooks for 6 Women for 6 Years in Bratislava and post-show discussion).