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Complicated Labors: Feminism, Maternity, and Creative Practice (Symposium & Gallery Exhibition)

February 5, 2014 @ 10:00 am - 7:00 pm  |  Digital Arts Research Center (DARC) Light Lab, Room 306


Poster Complicated Labors 2.5.14

The Complicated Labor Research Cluster is an interdisciplinary collaboration that brings together artists, writers, and scholars around questions of feminism, maternity, and creative process. It seeks to center questions of care in our research and art whether they are explicit sites of inspiration and study or simply important to the conditions in which we undertake expressive practices. Through film, visual art and photography, performance, writing, and scholarship we will explore the complexities of contemporary motherhood.

This symposium, with keynote address by foundational feminist artist Mary Kelly, will create a space for critical interdisciplinary dialogue around issues of maternity, feminism, art-making, and writing, explicitly putting the 1970s in conversation with the current moment and putting writers in conversation with visual artists. The symposium is on Feb 5th from 10am-5pm at the Digital Arts Research Center (DARC) Light Lab and will be followed by a gallery exhibition and reception from 5-7pm at the Sesnon Art Gallery.

Symposium – Feb 5 @ 10:00am-5:00pm
Digital Arts Research Center (DARC) Light Lab, UCSC
Free and Open to the Public

Nearly forty years after Mary Kelly’s germinal 1976 exhibition of Post-Partum Document, the work of women artists who explicitly engage with images, processes, and experiences of maternity remains marginalized and relatively misrecognized in the art world.  Despite a notable resurgence of attention to the maternal in 21st Century art theory and practice, such work is more often than not, read inside a discourse of indulgence, sentimentality, and identity rather than as representative of larger concerns with ecological systems, ethics, care, or labor.  Complicated Labors investigates this problem, bringing together historical and contemporary work addressing maternal labor to ask questions about the status of feminism — and feminist art — today.

Gallery Reception – Feb 5 @ 5:00-7:00pm
Sesnon Art Gallery, UCSC
Complicated Labors Gallery Exhibition runs from February 5 – March 15, 2014

Complicated Labors builds on recent group exhibitions on the topic, including Myrel Chernick’s and Jennie Klein’s 2004 and 2006 Maternal Metaphors and Maternal Metaphors II and Natalie Loveless’s 2010 New Maternalisms.  This exhibition addresses recent books such as Andrea Liss’s 2009 Feminist Art and the Maternal, new journals such as Studies in the Maternal, and new collectives such as Broodwork.

Symposium Schedule:

10:00 AM – Welcome (Micah Perks and Irene Lusztig)

10:30 AM – Mary Kelly Keynote (opening remarks)

11AM: Maternal Interventions (artist panel and discussion)

12:30 – LUNCH

2:30 PM – Maternal Secrets (writer panel and discussion)

4:15 PM Closing Remarks by Megan Moodie

5:00 – 7:00 PM Opening reception, Sesnon Gallery (with performance by Alejandra Herrera Silva)

All events are free and open to the public.

Symposium & Gallery Participants:


Mary Kelly is an American conceptual artist, feminist, writer, and professor of art and critical theory in the School of Art and Architecture at UCLA.


Amra Brooks was born and raised in California. Her novella California was published in 2008 by Teenage Teardrops. Her fiction, critical reviews, essays, interviews, and poems have appeared in such publications as Artforum, Spin Magazine, index, the LA Weekly, The Encyclopedia Project Volume F-K, Ping Pong: the literary journal of the Henry Miller Library, Not Enough Night, Inventory Magazine, and others. She has taught at the University of California in Santa Cruz and San Diego, Naropa University, and Muhlenberg College. Currently she lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her family and is the Director of the Creative Writing program at Stonehill College in Easton, MA.

Kate Moses is the author of Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath and Cakewalk: A Memoir . Moses is the coeditor, with Camille Peri, of Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race & Themselves and the national bestselling, American Book Award-winning Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood. As a senior editor and contributing writer for Salon, Moses cofounded Salon’s groundbreaking, award-winning Mothers Who Think site.

Micah Perks is the author of a novel, We Are Gathered Here, and a memoir, Pagan Time, about growing up on a commune in the Adirondack Wilderness. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Epoch, Zyzzyva, Tin House, and The Rumpus, among many other journals and anthologies. She’s won an NEA Award, a Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts grant, four Pushcart Prize nominations, and several residencies at the Blue Mountain Center. Her most recent publication is the short memoir, Alone In The Woods, an ebook from Shebooks, about motherhood and the wild.

Carmen Giménez Smith is the author of a memoir, Bring Down the Little Birds, four poetry collections— Milk and Filth, Goodbye, Flicker, The City She Was, and Odalisque in Pieces. She is the recipient of a 2011 American Book Award, the 2011 Juniper Prize for Poetry, and a 2011-2012 fellowship in creative nonfiction from the Howard Foundation. Formerly a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she now teaches in the creative writing programs at New Mexico State University, while serving as the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Puerto del Sol and the publisher of Noemi Press.

Michelle Tea is the founder and editor of Mutha Magazine, an alternative parenting site obsessed with all things Mom. Her blog Getting Pregnant With Michelle Tea, on, has documented her struggle to get knocked up. Tea is the founder and Artistic Director of RADAR Productions, a literary non-profit which oversees the annual Sister Spit performance tours; Sister Spit Books, a publishing imprint with City Lights; the monthly RADAR Reading Series at the San Francisco Public Library, and other programs. She is the author of many memoirs and novels, and a collection of poetry.


Lenka Clayton is a British conceptual artist whose work exaggerates and reorganizes the accepted rules of everyday life, extending the familiar into the realms of the poetic and absurd.

Natalie Loveless is a Canadian artist, curator, writer and professor of contemporary art and theory at the University of Alberta whose work explores feminist embodiment, material entanglement in the everyday, and the frameworks of artistic research.

Irene Lusztig is an American filmmaker, media archeologist, and new media artist whose film and video work mines old images and technologies for new meanings to reframe, recuperate, or reanimate forgotten and neglected histories.

Jill Miller is an American conceptual artist who works collaboratively with communities, with a focus on on motherhood, feminism and performance art. Faculty in New Genres and Design and Technology at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Mother Art Collective

Alejandra Herrera Silva is a Chilean visual and performance artist living and working in LA.  Recent body and action-based pieces have investigated the body as object at the intersection of maternal labour and affect.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Video Program Artists:

Myrel Chernick, Mark and Beth Cooley, Masha Godovanaya, Courtney Kessel, Ellina Kevorkian, Dillon Paul and Lindsay Wolkowitz


This exhibition and symposium are sponsored by UCSC Institute for Humanities Research, Sesnon Gallery, Porter College, University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA), UCSC Arts Dean’s Excellence Fund, UC Presidential Chair in Feminist Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, Kresge College, Cowell College, Oakes College, Merrill College, Stevenson College, History of Art and Visual Culture, Art, Literature, Film and Digital Media, and Feminist Studies Departments.


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February 5, 2014
10:00 am - 7:00 pm
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