Rozsika Parker & Griselda Pollock
Page 96 – Feminism & Modernism
[Post-Partum Document] is a history of reciprocal socialisation which contradicts the dominant representations of woman as ‘naturally’ a mother nurturing her child. What happens in that relationship to both mother and child is determined within social, not natural, relations. The term ‘document’ is significant. It marks the kind of practice the ‘PPD’ adumbrates and realises. ‘Document’ can imply something written or inscribed; it can also be ‘that which serves to show or prove something, evidence or proof.’
The ‘PPD’ stands in opposition to a massive array of pictures of mother and child in European art. It does not picture the mother or the child. The relationship, the reciprocal activities, experiences and, at the level of the psychic, the fantasies cannot in fact be pictured or directly represented. What can be ‘documented’ is the trace of this intersubjective, social practice of childcare through which the child acquires a social and therefore gendered position and the woman is confirmed within the problematic of femininity under patriarchy….
The whole is framed within another discourse which calculatedly traverses several fields of theoretical knowledge (biological, psychoanalytical, linguistic, artistic) in order to produce feminist knowledge of the processes of femininity in the sexual division of labour in childcare, i.e. the interaction of the psychic and the social as a site of women’s oppression and complicity. Thus the ‘PPD’ attains to the level of document as evidence or proof.
Mary Kelly’s PPD made a bid to shift feminist art making into an explicit conversation with Lacanian (and therefore necessarily Freudian) theories of sexual difference. Using her son’s diapers as visual traces of the continuity and discontinuity between mother/creator and child/object, Kelly’s installation created a space for a radical and intellectually rigorous interpretation of motherhood.
(Reckitt 2012) Page 39 –
Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1973-79) intimated the turn towards theory so central to contemporary art in the 1980s. Kelly’s installation recorded her first encounters with her own maternity and in this sense was ‘historical’. Framed by Lacanian theory, especially his concept of the mirror phase, PPD emphasised the importance of interpretation and mediation as the key to transforming the Symbolic. By focusing on her experience as a mother, Kelly pointed to the dearth of artworks exploring the mother/son relationship undertaken by mothers themselves. This is one of PPD’s most important insights, for it underscores how little attention we give to the ties that are familial and yet not quite familiar.
One way to deal with this challenge [to create representations of women] is to refuse to image the body of woman at all, in order to thwart its misappropriation by the male gaze, and also to begin to build other forms of visual pleasure and new forms of representing women’s experiences. One artist who did this was Mary Kelly. Her ‘PPD’ is one of two massive, multiyear projects informed by feminist thinking that were first exhibited in full in 1979; the other is Judy Chicago’s ‘Dinner Party’.
Kelly’s text … provides a context for approaching PPD through her deep engagement with Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis … a visual representation of the mother-child relationship that does not image the body of either (apart from the 1 photo – but which is not mentioned in text).