While I Was Away
"My work visualizes the complexities of my identity as artist-mother. In three connected projects, I thematically and practically explore the relationship between mother and child, nature and technology. These projects trace the 572 hours I spent tethered to a breast pump during my son’s first year of life.
In The Distance Between Us: A Data Visualization of Exclusive Breast Pumping, I use computer programming to visually reinterpret the data collected from twelve months of breast pumping. The delicately hued rays emanating from the center of the quilt reflect the view of the sky from outside my window. While the sun rises and falls, daylight shifts from blue to grey and back again as the seasons change. A quilt provides familial comfort and as such, this one is a form of wish fulfillment with respect to the comfort I was unable to provide my son when I was attached to the pumping machine. Each strand of white beads traces a unique pumping session; the length in inches directly correlates to the ounces of milk collected. The strands pierce the quilt’s surface and drip like streams of milk from a nipple.
In the sculpture, I capture my baby’s cries and translate the audial data into visual shapes with the aid of computer programming. The sound waves loop back on themselves in a 360-degree rotation. The shapes are then stacked vertically to create three-dimensional forms which are carved out of High Density Urethane using a Computer Numeric Controlled router.
The video on the monitor displays a breast pump collecting milk, overlaid by a barrage of historical artwork depicting women who are breastfeeding. In most instances, these paintings were created by men. The male depictions romanticize and simplify a complicated experience these artists could not possibly comprehend. By co-opting and dissecting these artworks, I am reclaiming ownership of the breastfeeding experience and telling a more nuanced version of this story from a first-person perspective.
The tension created between these artworks speaks to the competing emotions and tensions the experience of pumping entailed. When natural breastfeeding failed me, the pump allowed me to sustain new life, yet pumping also created a physical and emotional barrier between me and my baby. Created with the aid of computer programming, computer-assisted carving and sewing, as well as outsourced manual labor, the works are metaphors for time, the undervalued, often invisible labor of motherhood, and the distance created by technology.
Special thanks to my studio assistants, Erica Knizhnik and Hanna-Liisa Sarekanno, as well as Anna Fifhause, Natalie Kiely, Vanessa Sapundzhieva, Rose Sperry and Hanna Strassburger, for their contributions to this piece. This project was made possible by a generous grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and a Lake Forest College Summer Research Grant."
–Tracy Marie Taylor