Conversations in art about ecological collapse and our place in the changing world

Conversation 11

Encaustic Embroidery with Honeycomb, Gold and Cream
Ava Roth

48 x 24 x 5 cm

Untitled
Anton Piatigorsky

For years my mind and body were not my own.  Pregnancy, childbirth and raising kids colonized me, so I was not myself—or, rather, it was impossible for me to think of my ‘self’ as an autonomous creature. My deepest fears and desires were interwoven with the people I loved.

I often wondered if I was crazy. Is there a specific kind of madness in women that blossoms into full flower after we become mothers? I thought so. I felt wrong for being this way. I tried to negotiate with my amalgamated self, wondering if I should fortify my borders—as if autonomy were sanity. I didn’t want to. Didn’t even think that was possible.

All the while I struggled to make art. It was an agonizingly slow process, which never fully took root. I ebbed and flowed like a wave, in art and life, in sync with the rhythm of others’ needs.

And then my kids got older and independent. My husband’s depression isolated him from me. I got tired of surfing in their waves. Wasn’t it time for me to grow into someone more cohesive? Didn’t I need firm boundaries to make some art, at last? To proceed with my life relatively alone?

And then I realized—wait, mothers aren’t crazy, not crazy at all; the mad are those who aren’t overwhelmed and destroyed by love for others, for their sacred beloved. It’s all backwards. I was enraged. We need a new definition of sanity, I thought, that’s rooted in the so-called lunacy of motherhood. And where are those women proud of their lunacy? Where can I hear their voices, the philosophers of a new sanity?

What if I made things from my amorphous self, without accepting rational boundaries—male ones?

The whole concept of ‘self’ is absurd to honeybees. It makes no sense genetically, evolutionarily, practically. It makes no sense in honeybee morality or in the honeybee world-view. A bee is nothing without her sisters or queen. In their collective need, honeybees build a practical beauty. A nurturing beauty.

What if?

A human is not a bee. We have more intelligence, a wider set of skills, the ability to plan and think. What if I doubled down on my so-called insanity, instead of refuting or denying it, and made it more my own? What if I refused to be a man, refused to make art like a willful artist, but instead like a mother, or like a honeybee?

So now here we are. They build comb. I build comb with them. We build our comb together.

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