Kat Murrell
Susceptible to Images

“here, mothers are”

Sonja Thomsen and Adam Carr dig into life at 24th and Locust. A review in video, pictures and text.

By - Aug 25th, 2012 02:21 pm

What do you see outside your door? People. Buildings. If you live in the city, this is the short and easy answer. As quotidian as this may seem, it is an important starting point for considering the world around us. These elements are also integral to the outdoor temporary art project here, mothers are.

Photographer Sonja Thomsen and audio producer / storyteller Adam Carr spent a few months meeting women involved with The Dominican Center for Women, a nonprofit in the Amani neighborhood of Milwaukee. With their support and sponsorship of the Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation, Thomsen and Carr created a multimedia, monumental work on the exterior of a vacant, foreclosed home and adjacent lot at 24th and West Locust.

Here mothers are 1Images seem to float on the boarded windows and decrepit walls of the house. Pictures, enlarged to poster size and greater, are also framed in the lot. Closeups of such details as a flower vase and a hanging light fixture glow with reflections and illuminations. Excerpted from their ordinary domestic surroundings, they become objects of meditation. Statements, often short but poignant, supplement the images. Thomsen and Carr drew them from interviews with local women about motherhood, their roles, and the experiences of their own mothers. Family photographs figure prominently throughout the installation, as proud connections to loved ones of past and present generations.

The installation explores the latticed emotions of motherhood. The relationships alluded to in the textual statements are not all easy. Tough times are suggested in quotations such as, “I didn’t have time to be a kid” and “I didn’t know I knew how to be a mother.” There is also admiration, respect, and resiliency: “And I would cry, saying ‘I can’t do this.’ She said, ‘Oh yes you can.'” Sometimes it takes a lot to come to terms with maternal wisdom, as one notes, “And I just started listening to my mother. I’m 54.”

Such personal statements rarely appear at such scale — writ large and in the open — as in this show. Likewise the glowingly beautiful pictures of people holding cherished family photos. The installation stops short of exposé. The show clearly signals the heart of these matters, the love and trouble. The artists disguise specific details but deliver the potent center. This delicate mix also draws us into thoughts of public space versus private world. Even the construction of frames for displaying the photographs alludes to home architecture. Over the square boxes, beams are angled like the pitched roof of a house. The sides are open to see inside, to see through. The homelike structures are also planters; both nature and nurture dwell in them, in full view.

Meaningful suggestions ripple outward from the core of the imagery into the larger context of the neighborhood. The show is a point of departure for thoughts of the economic instability of foreclosure, the work of making a successful life in a struggling family, and the influence of generational expectations.

The drama of the human condition plays out around us every day in close proximity, but we are largely aware of only our own narratives. here, mothers are is a conceptually impressionistic presentation of one area, one neighborhood, and just a few of its stories. We encounter them in the moment of this installation, but they are ongoing all around it.

here, mothers are continues until October.

Categories: A/C Feature 3, Art

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