Lenka Clayton’s Maternity Leave
On April 23rd 2011, Lenka Clayton gave birth to her son, Otto, in Pittsburgh.
Throughout the show, a Fisher-Price baby monitor transmits, via live-streamed audio, all the noises Clayton’s son is making in their home in Pittsburgh. The monitor sits on a plinth, thereby earning its place in the gallery.
(Photo by Henry Chan)
Originally commissioned by the Carnegie Museum of Art for the 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial, Clayton’s durational Skype-mediated piece was, in part, a response to the woefully pitiful state of mat leave in America. For the first year of her son’s life, and unable to get remunerated for staying at home, she has been transferring her home life, via live stream audio, into her traditional work space, ie the gallery, and turning it into art.
The conflation between life and art is not uncommon for a conceptual artist, but I find this scenario particularly fresh, not to mention, socially and politically subversive. When does taking care of your son turn into paid work? In Clayton’s case, as soon as you bring it into a gallery. The baby-monitor is the New Maternalisms equivalent of Marcel Duchamp’s toilet. In return for her live transmission via baby-monitor, the host gallery pays Clayton the same amount of government subsidy she would be entitled to were she living in her native England.
I liked this piece a lot. It’s cheeky. The monitor was on all weekend, keeping us company in the gallery. I heard it many times, and wondered what it was they were doing over there, in their home. In a sense, this piece represented the truest presence of motherhood in the show. The general ubiquity of a child and their voice in whatever space you will inhabit, once you have given birth, is an inescapable reality. Children are the constant interruption. And to avoid or incorporate? That will always be the question.
(Photo by Henry Chan)
At one point, Otto’s voice punctuated a performance at an interesting time. That is how children work. They are ubiquitous and sometimes their interruptions are charming, sometimes profoundly disturbing, or awakening, sometimes delightful, sometimes annoying, but always inescapable. Similar to the symbiotic relationship between form and content, inescapability is a challenging mold to have to adapt to. But with challenge (as we saw in Alejandra Herrera Silva’s piece) unprecedented new shapes are born.