Contemporary representations of parenthood are rampant in popular culture. Ranging from idyllic to distressing, such portrayals oftentimes generalize a complicated experience. Love Hours, an exhibition currently at the Alice Gallery in Salt Lake City tackles this immensely personal and time-honored experience. As a scholar of feminist art, the show’s curator Laura Hurtado works to expand this rhetoric, not by deconstructing popular imagery of parenthood, but by expanding its various connotations.
More than a general treatment of the subject through the eyes of various artists, Hurtado’s vision contains multiple meta-narratives and nuances. Perhaps the strongest of these narratives is the reference to time. Each of the works in the show contains what Hurtado calls a “time signature,” expressing a desire to record or index each moment of the parenting experience. In fact, the concept of time is implicit in the show’s title-Love Hours — the innumerable moments of love, labor and care that encompass the experience.
Love Hours tackles the various contradictions of parenthood — utopic vs. dystopic, messy vs. blissful — which both foster and complicate the preconceived ‘tasks’ of parenthood. The show’s visual material characterizes a touching, if not obsessive, attempt to catalogue a history of parenthood’s most ephemeral moments. The artists render their subjects in touching and complicated ways — paying homage to a visual record that is undoubtedly personal.
The work of Leah Moses explores the indexical and often abstract experience of motherhood. In a striking series, Moses creates a record of fetal movements on fragile paper, collapsing various moments in time and documenting the evolution of life.|1| Her other piece, 9 Days Nursing, exists as a visual record of breastfeeding. Moses plays upon the delicacy of her materials, creating a ‘quilt’ made out of newspaper.|2|The quilt contains patches of text and image detailing the etiquette of breastfeeding. As such, the work plays upon what is often considered “visual evidence” of good parenting. By mapping an experience of great intimacy and warmth, Moses reveals an often protective and hidden experience.
As an art historian, Laura Hurtado investigates representations of motherhood in visual culture. Much of this history stems from the Feminist movement of the 1960’s. Mary Kelly stands out as one of the movement’s most dynamic artists. Hurtado regards Kelly’s rejection of familiar and generic portrayals of motherhood. Kelly’s work is rooted in the philosophical realm-often using abstraction as a vehicle for navigating the complicated role of parenthood. Thus, as Hurtado proudly acknowledges, Love Hours is an homage to Kelly’s feminist innovation.
Kelly Brooks’ ‘movement maps’ combine Kelly’s penchant for abstraction with the show’s larger dialogue of time and indexing. Brooks’ conceptual works is multifaceted. She begins by using video to record her family engaged in everyday tasks.|3| Her ‘maps’ then abstractly render the movement of bodies. The end result of this process is a series of abstract drawings, color-coded with a legend in the corner relating the color of the abstract mark to its human counterpart.|4| Visually, the drawings appear similar to the high modernist tradition of decidedly masculine artists such as Jackson Pollock. In these works, Brooks conflates the subjective abstract scribble with sentimental meaning. For Brooks, home is the canvas and family the abstract mark.
The show relishes in the subtle and delicate aspects of parenthood. Heightening this effect is the auditory poetry of Sylvia Plath ruminating from a vintage record player. A line from one of Plath’s poems adorns the wall above the record player.|5| As with the exhibition’s other works, Plath’s poetry is a nuanced rendering of the experience of parenthood and a move away from the ideal.
Although the show relishes in such nuances, there is room for some traditional renderings of the cycle of life. A beautiful portrait of a woman holding her child created by Utah painter Trevor Southey hangs near the exhibition’s opening.|6| Across from it hangs a small drawing by Nathan Florence entitled, Marian at 8 Months.|7| The drawing is at once an academic study of human anatomy and also a loving time signature of the critical moments preceding birth. In a contrast to the subtle or sentimental, Brad and Susan Barber’s video evokes the sense of urgency involved in procreation. The artistic duo explores this stressful moments of preparation from both the female and male perspective.|8|
Love Hours succeeds in deconstructing the familiar and popular representations of parenthood. While indisputably celebratory of the creation of human life, the show importantly disengages any supposed emotional outcome. Instead, artists ask us to ponder the many facets of an enormously subjective experience. The exhibition reminds us that the creation of life and the role of parenthood is by no means static or objective. In fact, the process of creation is one artists can intimately relate to. The exhibition, with its many intellectual, cultural and above all personal ramifications forces one to consider what feminist scholar Julia Kristeva calls, “the enigma of gestation.”
Scotti Hill is a lawyer, art critic, and curator based in Salt Lake City. She has contributed to various publications and serves as an adjunct professor of art history at Westminster College. She has a Master’s Degree in art history from the University of Utah.