Negotiating the Lines between Work and Play

By Kate Baldwin

School of Communication Northwestern University

Motherhood has come a long way from the 1960s, when patriarchy seemed like an obvious target of critique for second wave feminists. Rather, today mothers navigate boundaries between “dominant” and “sub” cultures, in loose and relatively fluid social groupings that congeal around different interests—many of which are suggested in the work we present today (for example, knitting, sewing, biking, dreaming, reading, writing, etc.)

In many ways, it’s become more difficult to parent in a socially conscious way because of the slipperiness of the playing field—one mom’s freedom could be another mom’s restraint. Thinking about Dana’s work in the context of the invisibility of motherhood helps us to address this slipperiness.  Her work encourages us to investigate close-up the way contemporary motherhood unsettles the categories of work and play. 

Dana’s most recent work indexes the uncertain place of domesticity--lodged between labor and play. In a world where mother’s “work” is increasingly aestheticized (etsy, houzz, apartment therapy, etc.), and “play” has become downright tyrannical, Dana’s work helps to reorient our gaze. 

Using domestic throwaways, bit and pieces of the everyday, Dana’s work not only acknowledges that aesthetic experience is all around us, but also forces us to confront how our desire for that experience is coupled with a desire for a more simple relationship to things—especially the things of everyday domestic life.  We see this in the way Dana’s work reuses everything from dryer lint to the cuff of a worn-out shirt, suggesting longings for a past that never was, and the impossibility of returning “home.”

In Dana’s art these “fled treasures” speak to the ephemerality of domestic life; the way it is ensnared in objects that then can take on other lives once we are done with them.  Motherhood becomes the site of that working over—at once ephemeral and eternal.  Motherhood is the definition of the phrase “constantly repurposed.” 

Her work could be described as stitching points that suture together (but not into focus) the relatively shapeless and unstructured ways mothers’ lives take form. At the same time, Dana’s work is exquisitely poised—nothing is out of place here—suggesting the mandate of household management, or a way of handling the drudgery of the everyday (the dryer lint, the broken toy, the baby stroller).   

There is no anger, frustration or dirty laundry here, rather those emotions are channeled or aestheticized into beauty.  Everyday refuse, or we might even say “trash,” is refashioned into fantasies of escape.  Clouds billow, flowers beckon, fences suggest roads to be forged, paths to take somewhere else. The lines are soft, and delicate, almost ephemeral--punctuated with a pink bow, or a red sun.  On closer look we see the intricacies at work, the patient eye for detail, handiwork, an homage to women’s close proximity to textiles and stitching the fabric of lives together. 

At the same time, these pieces encourage us to contemplate the necessity of blank space. They encourage us to take a breath.  Setting up some breathing room from the compressed spaces that congeal into mothers’ endless tasks and affective labors.  Seen in this way, these pieces help us to question the demand for a uniform and productive mom subjectivity, and enable us to luxuriate in the interstices between and across woman/worker/artist/mom. There is breathtaking beauty here that speaks to a broad audience, inviting all viewers to partake in this transformative work that constructs a future only a heartbeat away from yesterday’s trash.