Sid Jonah Anderson by Lena Simic, a live art event, took place in March 2008 as a part of MAP Live event at the Source Café in Carlisle, UK. The performance features my third baby Sid, who was born on the 7th August 2007, then 7 months old. The audiences see Sid and myself, his mother, downstage. The live action consisted of performing my daily routine with Sid: bathing, dressing, feeding, laying down to sleep. This very banal, everyday action is heightened through its staging: my movement on stage is quite sharp, neat and timed whilst the performance space and props are clearly organized. The action was complemented by audio-visual footage projected on the white linen sheet at the front of the stage. So, in addition to having me and Sid in the background of the stage, the audiences got to watch and hear about my maternity leave: photographs, texts from diary, video footage. The audiences watch my ‘home-body’ painting of my pregnant tummy into a Yugoslav (meaning non-existent, impossible, past) flag, extracts from my diary, which I have kept since my last month of pregnancy, and photographs from our walks in the park. The video footage references my maternity leave, that laborious and contemplative in-between time, in fragments, with interruptions, through routine. This is about the impossible expectations placed on the mother and a revolutionary child.
Sid Jonah Anderson by Lena Simic Live Art Event grew out of my project Contemplation Time: a Document of Maternity Leave, a bigger broader time-based project where I decided to document my maternity leave from July 2007 to April 2008, those very early stages of mothering, namely first few months of a baby’s life, time when one’s life becomes disorganized, messy and baby-centred. Through my own arts project I have come to call this short-lived messy mad time ‘Contemplation Time’. This is because one’s awareness of life (and death) is heightened through the experience of late pregnancy, birth and the aftermath. I felt that this particular time was extremely tender and fragile, and contemplative, from some kind of alien perspective. In a way, maternity leave is that time one realizes how ridiculous our world and its capitalist structures are. One is removed from the world whilst taking care of an infant – and living in a different rhythm, with a revolutionary child who sees no borders. On daily basis I kept a diary and took walks to a nearby park, systematically documenting the experience of being with a small baby and my reactions to other humans and the world at large. This diary has for me become a generative, critical and contemplative space which charts, marks and critiques notions of the maternal in the time around the baby’s birth and during my maternity leave.
As a live art event Sid Jonah Anderson by Lena Simic was my challenge to a live audience: presenting them with a very basic, everyday care of a small infant. (It was interesting to note that some audience members understood my video compilation as dealing with post-natal depression. In a way, I felt they needed to categorize my experience, name it and understand it. I did not feel I was in post-natal depression, I was just observing life around me and getting on with my life as a mother and artist.) The live art event was done partly through my own desire to thoroughly connect my two spheres of life: children and art and acknowledge the labour of parenting within an arts context. Thus the piece addressed and collapsed the difference between arts making and explicit mothering.2
The Sid Jonah Anderson by Lena Simic project is concerned with recognition and naming of the invisible maternal labour in taking care of a small baby during maternity leave, the labour, which is at the same time banal, everyday, repetitious as well as affective. I am talking about physical care of the children, preparing food, feeding them, washing them, changing nappies, putting them to bed, talking to them, taking them out to a park, playground, swimming lessons, walking, reading stories, bedtime etc. In Marxist terms, this kind of domestic labour could be classified as both unalienated labour, of ‘use value’ (as pointed out by Lise Vogel, Susan Sontag, Angela Davies, Eli Zaretsky) but at the same time it could also be seen as uselessly repetitive, trivial, isolating and lonely (Mariarosa Dalla Costa points out in her seminal essay ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’). For my own purposes, as an artist, I re-create, re-name and most importantly re-live such maternal labour into critical arts praxis and make the invisible and undervalued labour visible. However, as I am re-imagining maternal labour through an arts practice, I am also writing my own maternal subjectivity. It was though an arts practice that life has, yet again, become organized, sorted-out, neat and manageable. As an artist, through performance, I felt empowered to actively resist and question the imposed identity of the Mother with all Her impossible expectations.
The piece can be contextualized with an array of women (performance) artists who have dealt with the maternal, namely Léa Lublin, Mary Kelly, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Bobby Baker, Helena Walsh, Anna Furse and Jess Dobkin, to name a few.
Action on Stage and Performance Text:
The stage is set. Baby bath is positioned backstage centre. It is full of water. Baby bath and shampoo are next to it, to the left. Baby mat, a towel, a nappy and a pyjama suit are placed neatly next to the baby mat. The bottle steamer/sterilizer and a carton of SMA formula milk are nearby.
White linen sheet (with embroidery of two goats and flowers) is hanging in the front. This is the sheet my mother used to cover me with as a baby. Laptop and projector are set, waiting to be operated.
I enter the stage with Sid. Pushing Sid in his pram. Pram has a baby toy attached to it, playing music. A lullaby. As we enter everyone in the audience stops and watches us. Walking across the stage, pushing a baby in his pram. Some toys. Blanket. Baby stuff.
I stop by the laptop. I start the video footage which is being projected onto the linen sheet. I turn on the sterilizer. Hissing sound. I take the baby out of his pram. I know I need to undress him, bath him, dry him, put on his nappy, his pyjama suit, sterilize the bottle, make his food, feed him, burp him, make him fall asleep… I know this will be a useful performance, things will get done. I know I can judge the success of the performance by whether or not Sid falls asleep.
Photograph from live art event
VOICE OVER TRANSCRIPT:
Home Body Painting takes place on the expectant mother’s pregnant belly. It’s Sunday, 8th of July. I am in my ninth month of pregnancy, with four more weeks to go.
I enter the space in my underwear carrying a baby bath full of water. I place it on the white sheet. I stand opposite Fiona. My hair is loose. I am a female body.
This is a performance for the camera in our Liverpool flat.
This room is set up for the baby’s arrival with a cot, pram, some clothes and nappies.
The room is also prepared for painting.
Fiona paints my pregnant belly in different nations’ flags, all the states the unborn child and me might belong to.
I was born into the country that there is no more.
My child will never belong to Yugoslavia.
I tell Fiona that Yugoslavia means the land of South Slavs. We talk about how we had to paint flags in school when we were children.
Yugoslavia is no more; this flag is only a utopian idea of socialism, failure, and nostalgia.
This flag is rather like motherhood: with impossible expectations.
I’m in love. I am so happy and so on a high. I feel so full, so full of craving. This was the right time for us to meet.
I am overwhelmed by a thought that we get to keep him and look after him for days to come. Strange. Sid in this space with us, a part of our family.
It’s a bit like the whole world collapsing in bits, in short moments. And you kind of feel lost in it all and quite absurd really. Alone.
Feel a bit down, kind of locked in this love, bonding, cuddles and guilt.
Midwives were here talking about breastfeeding and Gabriel was just going mad running up and down ‘making Sid happy’. Sid is only wanting to sleep and eat: nibble me. My breasts are in pain. I hardly slept last night, on a verge of tears non-stop. It’s such an ordeal to put him on the breast; both nipples are cracked. He is a proper mammal. That snapping and elongating of a nipple, that small powerful mouth around it. That sucking, that little bit of blood with breast milk, red and rich creamy white. Biting into strawberries and release of flavour. It feels like summer outside but I’m inside.
All those motherhood brochures and magazines and leaflets are against me! They are full of happy breastfeeding mothers. I am dreading hearing my justifications, excuses, stories, words.
Maya ring sling arrived today. It’s green. Looks cool, one of those baby accessories that make you look like a cool mum. Wow! What a wonderful accessory this baby is!
Today is the last day of August. Days are slipping by. Tomorrow is September. Soon kids will be back in school and Gary’s starting work. Sid and I will be all alone, walking in the park, seeing how alive the park is in autumn.
We started going for a walk to Sefton Park on a daily basis and that feels good, like the beginning of a routine.
Time is divided into chunks of four hours, in between his feeds.
Sid and I met three more babies who were born in August, three girls. We are all part of the baby boom, doomed to fight for secondary school places. I entered the oppressive room of mothering at the birthday party. Two babies are being breastfed. It’s for their best. He was the biggest of them four, my well-fed formula baby. The usual talk of sleepless nights and routine. How come I am here again with birth stories. All so righteous so middle class so proper so stale. And here I am.
On Bad Mothering
A čujte pa morate s njim u doktora.
Ne bi mu ja ništa davala bez doktora.
A koliko dugo već to ima?
A je li stavljao šporke ruke u usta?
A što ćemo ako mu se proširi? A baš mu je grubo. Ništa, ništa bez doktora.
A moja gospođa.
I kind of feel everything around me is silly useless transparent, all these people chasing their lives. I know it’s no good to be staying indoors a lot.
Paula Radcliffe won the NY marathon 9 months after giving birth. I started jogging on Fridays.
We found a park bench on which to spend time. I started keeping a diary whilst sitting on the bench and taking photographs. We have visited our park bench 30 times.
Benching provides me with a reason to get out of the house. Getting to the bench is something of an obligation and pleasure. This is my time with Sid without mothering, without explicit mothering. This is the formalizing and charting of our existence together, these few months I have on maternity leave.
BENCH 2 5/9/07
We are out with Pid (a toy mouse Fiona gave Sid) and Big Mouth Happy (a new toy that arrived by post from Louie). Gabi named them both.
‘They are all mad today’, Gabi commented on the birds we were feeding. They were all fighting.
I find it excruciating to walk past other humans in the park especially if they also have small children and expect a reaction, some kind of supporting gesture from a fellow parent. In general I find parents one of the most despicable groups in the society. They come across as so righteous, so convincing, so essentialist, so fundamentalist. They are just so right and want the best for their children.
BENCH 4 7/9/07
Some youths sitting nearby talking about how they don’t want to get really old, I mean really, really old.
BENCH 6 13/9/07
Sid, Fred, George and Harry are a new generation of babies according to our health visitor Linda Keen who came today.
BENCH 8 19/9/07
Today on the telly I heard about a horrible accident: yellow Land Rover ended up in water, four kids dead. It has just started to rain.
I ran into Anstey at Aviary Café. With kids and another mother with kids. Same old world of toddlering. I said I may go into toddlers’ group again to do my mothering duties.
BENCH 10 24/9/07
Broken tennis ball nearby.
BENCH 11 25/9/07
There’s loads of water underneath my bench.
I think about the narrative. I worked with Neal on his homework, he had to describe what happened in the story he read, underneath this section of homework was written in small print ‘narrative’.
Lots of traffic in the park today as if something is about to happen.
BENCH 14 01/10/07
I sometimes walk the pram in a straight line with my eyes closed, for ten steps.
BENCH 15 4/10/07
Saw a double-decker bus on my way here, advertising cheap flights to Dubrovnik. My Dubrovnik, in my neighbourhood, here in Sefton Park.
Soon he will be 2 months old.
BENCH 16 5/10/07
Walking towards the bench is a mission, labour, effort.
BENCH 17 10/10/07
How strange that my womb will stay empty forever. Kids are too demanding to have more than three. Birds flying is extremely noisy today.
BENCH 19 30/10/07 Post Dubrovnik
Such different sounds. So so late autumn, so sad, cold and wonderful. They are making arrangements for Halloween and Bonfire night.
Lots of dogs walkers. I don’t think I am happy being back but sitting here relaxes me, as if I have a purpose.
I am starting to be truly here.
BENCH 20 1/11/07
Found a hair band and a skeleton mask, left here from yesterday’s Halloween party.
BENCH 22 15/11/07
I better go. Moving feels good. Sid is 100 days old.
BENCH 27 11/01/08
All is dump and muddy and green and brown. The whole of Aigburth is sinking. Bench is rotting. Leaves are covered with water. The whole place is suffocating whilst Sid is sleeping under his sheets in an old pram. It is time to move away from here.
We now live on Bright Street in Everton. I no longer visit my Sefton Park Bench on a regular basis. Sid is now seven months old. We found a park bench on Everton Brow which is near us which might be the highest bench in Liverpool, on the highest point. However, to be honest, I doubt we will have much time to be going walking there. It is too windy here. I am going back to work in late April. My maternity leave will finish soon.
He is so disruptive.
He cares not for time.
He is a revolutionary. He has no proper behaviour. Sid carries my dissent.
I get threatened by his disobedience, his constant carrying-on, his crying, his pooing, his eating and sleeping patterns.
Sid and I do not belong here.
Extract from video footage which accompanied live action on stage is available here