AN ARTISTS MOTHER APPROACHES YOU
looping audio track, speakers, booklets
Installed at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn, NY for an exhibit titled The Future is Now!
The parents of artists are the creators of those creating. At an opening reception, my mother approached one of my colleagues and spoke to him for over an hour about her life and mine. Reflecting on my mother’s storytelling, I attempted to draw a connection from the way in which families influence the formation of our personalities and our decisions to the development of an artistic practice.
I wrote a small book about myself, my family, and my artwork told from the perspective of my mother. The book begins with the text ‘The artist’s mother approaches you in the gallery, she tells you this…’ Multiple copies were left available for people to take on a table as they entered the space. The looping audio track is a recording of a phone conversation between my mother and I.
Text from booklet:
THE ARTIST’S MOTHER
APPROACHES YOU IN THE GALLERY
She tells you this…
“I don’t know how Valerie ended up the way she did with parents like us. I’m not artsy at all. Her father’s pretty conservative, but she pierced her nose and went to art school. Her friend had piercings, so then she pierced her nose. I liked the rhinestone in it better but she says the hoop’s more comfortable. She always used to dye her hair all different colors. Black, blonde, red, pink. But for her sister’s wedding she went down to two.
“When I went with Val on the art school tour, in one of the studios I see this girl all in pink, lookin’ like strawberry shortcake. Then in the next studio over, there’s a kid all in black who looks like the spawn of Satan and I think to myself ‘of course this is where my little artist will fit in.’
“My mother wanted me to be an artist. I didn’t want to. We weren’t close back then. We got close later. She would say, ‘Go to Skidmore’. I was a waitress and you know what she said? ‘Waitressing is below you.’ I was like ‘Who the fuck are you the queen of England or somethin’?’
“I just wanted to work with kids. The pay is shitty. I mean we’re poor but I’m a daycare teacher. That’s what makes me happy every day. Early Childhood Education. I work at the college. When she started here I got the job at the center. She was so mad. She was like ‘Awww mom you’re not gonna follow me are you?’ and I was like ‘No I’m not gonna follow ya kid.’
“Ya know when she first started college she ate lunch in her car, little goober.
“But I’m not an artist at all. Nope. Well I can draw some things. I did it in high school. I drew a dragon for my babies the other day. It was pretty good too. Big long piece of paper on the wall. I called it Puff the Magic Dragon. Remember that song from when you were little? Valerie used to love that one.
“My mother should have been an actress. She loves all that shit. When she would drive me crazy I would just tell Val ‘Hey go talk to grandma about school or something.’ Just to get her off my back. Her grandkids can do no wrong. Valerie did chorus and art and drama club. Oh yeah, all of it. Just like her grandma. At those concerts mom would sit on the edge of her seat leaned all the way forward to see a bunch of friggin’ fourteen year olds singin, ya know?
“I was like the freakin’ black sheep of the family, ya know? I didn’t do what anyone wanted me to do. Mom always made us go to church. I went to church in the days when if you didn’t go pray you were goin’ to hell. Oh Jesus, I hope you’re not religious. You’re not religious are you?
“I got in a fight with a nun once. When Valerie was born, she told me, ‘You better baptize that baby!’ We were in the Rite Aid parking lot. Val was in the car seat in the back. She was so chubby and cute. This woman points at her and says ‘You better baptize that baby!’ Ya know what I said? I pointed and I said, ‘You look at the face on that beautiful baby and you tell me she’s going to hell! I don’t think so!’ Then of course this woman runs to church and tells my mother and then I hear about it, ‘blah, blah, blah.’
“But ya know I was born on a military base. I was closer to my father. He would bring me to bars with him on the base. Sit me up there on the bar and hand me a Shirley Temple. I was three! I used to sit in the garage watch him punch his punching bag, fix cars, all that shit. He was a good man. I don’t care what her grandmother says.
“When I would cry or couldn’t do something he would say, ‘How are ya gonna be a Marine?’ and I would say, ‘But dad I don’t wanna be a Marine, I wanna be a ballerina!’ And anybody who knows me knows that I’m no ballerina. I’m not graceful at all. I’m definitely more of a Marine.
“Ya know what I found the other day while I was out Christmas shoppin’? I’m in Target and I see this little girl nutcracker, about this tall, and it’s a marine. Strawberry-blonde hair. Just like me. So I bought it. And my friend from work, she’s always makin’ all kinds of crafts and shit. She’s gonna make a little pink tutu for it! I’m gonna keep it in my classroom and tell my kids, ‘This is Miss Dana, the Marine that wanted to be a ballerina.’
“Valerie wouldn’t wear pink when she was little. When I would try to dress her in pink she would say ‘I don’t wanna be a foo foo girl.’
“She’s not a lot like me. I’m really organized, kind of anal and this kid just flits around dee dee dee.
“She went cross-country one summer. She calls me and says, ‘Mom, I think I’m gonna do this.’ She saved the money. And I said ‘Go, you better do it now while you’re young.’ The little monkey came back a month later all friggin’ dirty and smelly with armpit hair but I’m so glad my daughter has had the opportunity to do things that I couldn’t do.
“She went to Spain in high school. We saved and saved for this kid to go with her art class and the night before she leaves, she doesn’t wanna go. Doesn’t wanna leave her boyfriend. She cried and I cried. She cried while packing and cried herself to sleep. The next morning she skips down the stairs and I’m like, ‘What the hell happened to you?’ and she tells me the boyfriend’s bringin’ her to the airport.
“I don’t know where this kid came from. I remember when we went to one of her first art shows. She’s got these freakin’ nude photos with writing and projection on her back. And I’m thinkin’, ‘Ya gotta be kiddin’ me, how am I gonna explain this to your father?’ I had to brace him for it at the opening. I really don’t understand the stuff until it’s explained to me, but I told him, ‘ya know, ya gotta read the statement. She really has reasons for what she’s doing.’ He was pretty freaked out but I think he understood. I thought her grandfather was gonna have a heart attack though.
“Val’s dad is pretty uptight. Conservative. I remember he would be yellin’ at the TV sayin’ shit like, ‘Let’s just blow those bastards off the map.’ Talkin’ about some friggin’ guy in a country on the other side of the world
and I’m like, ‘Whatever.’
“Maybe that’s why we didn’t work out. I probably drove the man crazy. He was so stubborn. He could be sitting two inches away from the TV and wouldn’t move his fuckin’ arm to change the channel. One time I hid his remote. He’s friggin’ stomping around the living room, tearing the house apart looking for the stupid thing. So say to him, ‘Hey you’ve walked by the TV about twenty times, why don’t you just change the channel?’ He would get all pissed off and I couldn’t help but laugh at him. We were just too different.
“Oh, this story, I love. We’re eating dinner and I can’t get the ketchup out of the bottle. So tough guy comes over and he’s like, ‘I’ll show you how to do it.’ Takes the bottle, doesn’t see that the cap’s not on all the way and he swings it! A line of ketchup, doot doot doot doot doot, up one wall, doot doot doot doot doot, across the ceiling, doot doot doot, down the other wall. He looks so mad but I can’t help but start laughing, and once I laughed, he cracked a smile and started laughing too. It was hilarious, what can ya do?
“Oh this was good too. At the old house we had a woodstove. Val’s dad would cut wood and throw it into a pile next to the house. So I’m sittin’ in the living room and he’s outside chuckin’ logs and I hear thump. thump. thump. CRASH! And a log lands, thump, at my feet. He pokes his head in through the broken window, ‘Jesus fuckin’ Christ’. I giggle. We put cardboard over the window. The next day, he’s out there again. I’m sittin’ there and hear thump. thump. thump. and, thud! A log right through the cardboard. I lean and look through the window and say, ‘Hey idiot, ya did it again.’ And he gets all pissed off. That’s probably why we didn’t work. I drove her father nuts.
“I don’t know where this kid came from though. When she started at the community college, she didn’t wanna be there. She would say, ‘But all my friends went away to school.’ She would even eat lunch in her car. She’s there three years, then she doesn’t want to leave. Then she transfers to a four year school, same thing, not happy and by the end she doesn’t want to leave. First she is sick of school then she talks about wanting to get a PhD. I swear I’ll be ninety-five before this kid’s outa school.
“One time for a project, Val’s diggin’ freakin’ pillows out of the trash and I’m like, ‘That’s disgusting!’ and her grandmother goes, ‘I’m sure Valerie would wear gloves.’ And she did wear gloves. I never understand the stuff until its explained to me, ya know?”