On Being an Artist and a Mother / Hyperallergic

Chelsea Knight, all images are stills from “The Breath We Took” (2013) (All images courtesy of Aspect Ratio)

CHICAGO — What does it mean, bodily, physically, emotionally, mentally, and perhaps spiritually, to be what Simone de Beauvoir deemed “the second sex,” to be a woman and, moreover, to be a mother? These are questions that Chelsea Knight explores in her latest video work “The Breath We Took” (2013), now on view at Aspect Ratio.

…Knight creates a duality akin to “right versus wrong” or “good verses bad” — as if the “natural mother” is more valuable to her offspring, more available — a “good” mother, yet another constructed cultural ideal.

The 22-minute video blends Knight’s philosophical musings about motherhood with a curious montage of personal biography, fictional references, and documentary-style interviews with her mother and grandmother about how they married and when they became mothers — or became aware of their roles as mothers. These conversations about motherhood and the blood relationships between generations of women are cast against the social construct of marriage mostly through other women’s and the artist’s own weddings. The video itself utilizes a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness aesthetic style, making this work flowing and fluid — like fragments of poetry snipped from the page and translated into the moving image.

The artist’s look into her friends’ wedding ceremonies feels unemotional, and not at all nostalgic; Knight has already been through this experience, yet continues to relive it through participating in their weddings. In fact, her lucid detachment trails throughout the film; it is unlike what we see through the artist’s own brutally honest mother who came of age during the 1960s, and proudly owns her hippie roots. Knight’s mother talks about how much she absolutely hated motherhood, how she wasn’t cut out for it, and that birthing Chelsea was in fact “probably the worst birth ever, and it’s probably the reason you’re an only child.” She says this all with a smile, and a chuckle. Knight, however, appears vulnerable and still seems to be processing what motherhood means to her. She reflects, “The birth wasn’t scary, but the becoming a mother part was really scary.”

Read the full story on Hyperallergic: http://hyperallergic.com/70312/on-being-an-artist-and-a-mother/