Susan Merrick

Artist and Interpreter. Power Language Access

Introducing – Mother House London

 

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This week I had the honour of starting to work with the pilot project MotherHouse at IKLECTIK Art Lab in London. It is a studio space that is introducing/testing a new collaborative model of childcare for Artists. For more about the project itself please see the links at the bottom of the blog post.

I decided to go with little expectations except that I would need to bring lots of sandwiches for my two children! But I also though that as my work now involves a mixture of photography, performance and film,  it would be good for me to just go with the flow of the children, rather then try and work around them. So from the start we played with the camera, finding some fun shots and asking them to direct the shots too. They entertained themselves and me for about an hour and a half and within that time I got to observe and join in, allowing me to consider how such a space could work for me.

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The project is a pilot, so there are going to be a great deal of learning opportunities within it, for the wonderful organisers and for all of us Artists who are involved. Mostly I will not have my children with me as they will be at school, but it is a space and project that I am able to be involved in because of the flexible hours. Most call outs and residencies do not have such flexible hours so if you have childcare restrictions or school pick ups you are limited in what you can be involved in.

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For me it is an opportunity in several ways. It is the opportunity to work with a wide range of Artists from a range of disciplines and hopefully to collaborate with some of them. It is also the chance to work flexibly and in a great space that inspires creative thinking and the development of ideas and process. But it is also the opportunity as a Mother, Feminist, Artist and Linguist to pull all of these areas together and create some work in response to it. A unique opportunity to look at this area of life and to make work that deals with it.

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One question that has been rising within me and that I spoke to another soon-t0-be Mother Artist about was the exclusion/inclusion of Men in this pilot. It is not something that I have broached with the other artists and organisers yet but will be doing so when I return on Friday. I assume that it is mother artists only, as that is what the call out was. As a woman, mother, sociologist and artist I  am very aware that inequality around childcare responsibilities are still rife with women still being affected far more than men (see references). As the parent with the main childcare responsibilities in my own family I have experienced some of the difficulties this creates in terms of my work as an emerging Artist. However I do also wonder whether if we include Fathers in this type of project from the start too, perhaps we begin to open up the discussion in more ways too. Over the past two decades we have seen a vast change in family dynamics, and the roles people play within them. In heterosexual relationships, studies and general attitudes are starting to show a marked difference in the childcare expectations. Many men now actively taking an equally shared or the majority childcare role in the family. The employment laws are starting (in some areas) to support this too and the more it is visible then the more we are likely to see it happen. So should this project be inviting Fathers too? Is there a call for it from Father Artists? I would be interested to know.

In the Arts there has been some research done in this area and I will be looking into it more over the month. Women still face far more discrimination, is this because it is the women who more often than not have to ‘ask’ for time off and flexible working? Do men in the Arts ask for such a thing? Another question to ask.

 

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So as you can see, this project began with my exploration of the space with my children, and their photographs of me and it, and it is turning into a question for me around gender stereotypes, childcare, attitudes and expectations. As a working class woman and artist I would also be interested to know if any research has been done on working class/middle class attitudes. I come from a community where there is still quite a high assumption that the women will do the majority of the childcare or if not the childcare then the domestic chores. I was lucky in my eyes to have a stay-at-home dad (he had retired) and so I did not believe this was the case until I began visiting friends houses when I was older and seeing how the mothers were treated. And now as a friend to many other mothers and fathers, I see first hand how the expectations are still there, within the comments and actions of some grandparents, some fathers, the mothers themselves, random people in the community, the media, schools, hospitals… and on and on. In my work it is language that pulls me. So I will be focusing on the language I hear, see, find on these issues. This will be the instigator for my work.

So for now I will begin some conversations and see what happens.

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References

Women more than men adjust their careers for family life

https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/10331.pdf

https://www.tuc.org.uk/economic-issues/equality-issues/women-who-become-mothers-33-suffer-15-pay-penalty-says-tuc

https://www.academia.edu/22307699/Gender_role_attitudes_and_expectations_for_marriage

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/rights-at-work/parental-rights/parental-rights-at-work/

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