Artist’s Statement: In her own words... Mary Kelly talks about documenting six years of motherhood in her landmark feminist work Post-Partum Document (1973-9).
© Julia Zimmerman and the artist
"There are three things that came together to make Post Partum Document possible. One was historical - it so happened that 1969 was the beginning of the women's movement and I was involved with groups who were trying to question and understand gender and sexuality.
At the same time I was also an artist who was interested in the conceptual movement and language theory, and I did a lot of film work before I started Post Partum Document, so I tried to bring notions of real time and durational qualities to the piece.
And the third, more fortuitous thing was that I was having a child myself. So with all the discussion about domestic labour at the time...well, I really wanted to understand this process of socialisation, the division of labour in the home, and the relationships of women with their children.
When I began to work on the piece I found out this was much more complex psychologically than I had anticipated, and I tried to touch on that by combining the ambiguous diagrams with the mother’s memorabilia.
It took six years. That's two years for each element of Post Partum Document. So the first part which I made was about feeding and clothing the child. Introducing the child to solid food becomes a psychological relationship–- about how it's hard for a mother to control the outcome of events.
And this carries over into the second part, which is also a relationship, but less visible. It now shows when my son is beginning to speak. I'm asked to be an interpreter, but he says things I don't understand and then I realise he uses the system of language on his own and there's another moment of separation.
It goes on like this through the other sections with the occasions where he asks questions about sexuality and I ask questions about where this places me in the social scheme of things and, finally, I document how he learns to write.
Throughout this process I'm still helping him with his letters, but when he goes to school and writes his own name, what I discover is that this further separates him from me and in fact it concluded the project.
I used found objects and materials to give this archival and archaeological look to everything. So the work is a kind of parody of museological display.
When I first showed the piece in 1976, it seemed to annoy everybody in some way. There were those who loved the theory and hated the mucky stuff, and those who loved the experiential evidence and hated the theory.
There was this expectation that work had to be either masculine and rational or feminine and experiential. But I never intended to make something that was homogeneous, I was after the contradictions."
- Post-Partum Document is in Mary Kelly: Projects 1973-2011, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, until June 12 2011. Open 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday (12pm-4pm Sunday). Admission free.