“I’m Not Your Mother” Exhibition


poster for “I’m Not Your Mother” Exhibition
[Image: Carolee Schneemann "Secret Garden" (1956) oil on canvas, 25 x 23 1/4 x 1 3/8 in.]

This event has ended.

“But I resist the accolade of “mother”…Mother of anything, with the examples that you and I have of “mother” that’s not a position I want to invite. I prefer art priestess, goddess, whore, snake-swallower, smoke-blower…but “mother” is deprived of self-definition…her energies must go unquestioningly to sustain…what?”
- Carolee Schneemann, January 10, 2014

P·P·O·W presents I’m Not Your Mother, a group exhibition bringing together early landscapes by Carolee Schneemann with contemporary artists whose compositions reject misogynistic and romanticized depictions of nature and grapple honestly with the realities of our natural world today. Including works by Grace Carney, Jasper Francis Cropsey, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Jacci Den Hartog, Brook Hsu, Hortensia Mi Kafchin, Daniel Correa Mejía, Nohemí Pérez, Mira Schor, TARWUK, and Robin F. Williams, I’m Not Your Mother questions how we define motherhood and its damaging consequences for bodies both feminized and ecological.

The history of western landscape painting is inextricably connected to ideas of consumption, ownership, and domination by a masculine vision over a maternally feminized land. In the nineteenth century, European artists such as Cézanne described painting their “motherland” as an “instinctual absorption in the bosom of mother nature.”[1] In the US, the artists of the Hudson River School developed highly formulaic canvases from which viewers could imagine experiences of heroic conquest, quiet occupation, and surveying ownership over a “virgin” landscape already transformed by economic and colonialist endeavors.[2] From the mid-1950s to early 1960s, Carolee Schneemann devoted herself to this genre. However, instead of viewing nature as passive or maternal, Schneemann saw an expressive lifeforce filled with its own power and agency. In rhythmic brushstrokes, Schneemann painted what she saw and felt directly, without any feeling of possession or domination.

“Her father was a country doctor, and her mother took care of the family.”[3] As a young teen, Schneemann’s dual discoveries of a deep connection with nature and the writings of Virginia Woolf made her aware of an alternative life of freedom and nonconformity beyond the domestic toil prescribed to the female body: “From childhood-without any break-I felt myself a part of nature; saw the world as animate, expressive, alive and sometimes responsive to my own desires… The sense of my own physical life and making things within that life were united.”[4] In one of Woolf’s most biographic novels, To the Lighthouse, which centers around the fictional Ramsay family and their holiday home off the coast of Scotland, the central character, Lily Briscoe, a single friend of Mrs. Ramsay’s and an aspiring painter very much in love with the natural world, endeavors to paint a landscape. However, she is continually thwarted both by the intellectual male company with which Mr. Ramsay surrounds himself (“…whispering in her ear ‘women can’t paint, women can’t write…’”[5]) and especially by Mr. Ramsay himself. Every time she lifts her brush, Mr. Ramsay is there “bearing down on her… Every time he approached- ruin approached, chaos approached. She could not paint… That man, she thought, her anger rising in her, never gave; that man took. She, on the other hand, would be forced to give. Mrs. Ramsay had given. Giving, giving, giving, she had died-and had left all this.”[6]

In many ways, the treatment and fate of Mrs. Ramsay runs parallel to that of our natural world. Like an insatiable and greedy child, Mr. Ramsay quite literally sucks all the lifeforce from his wife. We often describe mothers and mother nature as “precious gifts,” but in reality, such definitions give license to treat both not as “a bowl of berries,” writes Robin Wall Kimmerer, “but an open pit mine, and the spoon a gouging shovel.”[7] Ultimately, I’m Not Your Mother wonders if mothers and mother nature were not considered gifts but powerful gift-givers, and this power belonging to everyone regardless of gender identity. In Death By Landscape, Elvia Wilk reveals that we are all already mothers full of reproductive capabilities. Referencing an interview with Sophie Lewis, author of Full Surrogacy Now, “If everything is surrogacy, the whole question of original or ‘natural’ relationships fall the wayside. In that sense, what surrogacy means is standing in for one another, caring for one another, making one another. It’s a word to describe the very actual but also utopian fact that we are the makers of one another, and we can learn to act like it.”[8]

[1] Smith, Paul. “Cézanne’s maternal landscape and its gender.” Gendering the Landscape, edited by Steven Adams and Anna Gruetzner Robins, Manchester University Press, 2000 pp. 116.
[2] Cao, Maggie M. The End of Landscape, University of California Press, 2018.
[3] Breitwieser, Sabine. Carolee Schneemann: Kinetic Painting, Museum der Moderne Salzburg, 2015, pp. 13.
[4] Schneemann: Early & Recent Work, exh. cat. (Max Hutchinson Gallery; New Paltz, NY: Documentext, 1982).
[5] Woolf, Virginia. To the Light House, Hogarth Press, 1927, pp. 48.
[6] Ibid, pp.149.
[7] Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed Editions, 2013, pp. 383.
[8] Wilk, Elvia. “This Compost: Erotic’s of Rot.” Death by Landscape. Soft Scull Press, 2022, pp.44.


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