Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
Everything Boring
Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Jennifer Remenchik
Aaron Horst
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Anna Sew Hoy, Guadalupe Rosales, and Shizu Saldamando
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Launch Party August 18, 2018
At Praz-Delavallade
Reviews It's Snowing in LA
at AA|LA
–Matthew Lax

Fiona Conner
at the MAK Center
–Thomas Duncan

Show 2
at The Gallery @ Michael's
–Simone Krug

Deborah Roberts
at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
–Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Mimi Lauter
at Blum & Poe
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Math Bass
at Mary Boone
–Ashton Cooper

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
–Laura Brown
Poetic Energies and
Radical Celebrations:
Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
Florals in Feminism
and Across L.A.
Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Christina Quarles
Ashton Cooper
Object Project
Featuring Suné Woods, Michelle Dizon,
and Yong Soon Min
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Launch Party May 19, 2018
at Karma International
Reviews Meleko Mokgosi
at The Fowler Museum at UCLA
-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
at Chateau Shatto
- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
at Ochi Projects
- Matt Stromberg

iris yirei hsu
at the Women's Center
for Creative Work
- Hana Cohn

Harald Szeemann
at the Getty Research Institute
- Olivian Cha

Ali Prosch
at Bed and Breakfast
- Jennifer Remenchik

Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
- Thomas Duncan
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
Launch Party
Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
- Lindsay Preston Zappas

Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
- Angella D'Avignon

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
- Keith J. Varadi

David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (L.A. in S.F.)
- Hana Cohn
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
Interview with
Hamza Walker
Julie Wietz
Reviews Cheyenne Julien
at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
at team bungalow

Ravi Jackson
at Richard Telles

Tactility of Line
at Elevator Mondays

Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Launch Party November 18, 2017
at the Landing
Object Project
Featuring: Rosha Yaghmai,
Dianna Molzan, and Patrick Jackson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McLane
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
Reconstituting Group Material
Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
Launch Party August 19th at Blum and Poe
Object Project
Featuring: Rebecca Morris,
Linda Stark, Alex Olson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McClane
Reviews Mark Bradford
at the Venice Biennale

Broken Language
at Shulamit Nazarian

Artists of Color
at the Underground Museum

Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects


Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Penny Slinger
Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Letter to the Editor
Launch Party May 13, 2017
at Commonwealth and Council
Reviews Alessandro Pessoli
at Marc Foxx

Jennie Jieun Lee
at The Pit

Trisha Baga
at 356 Mission

Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
Evaluating the
"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
Launch Party February 18, 2017
at Shulamit Nazarian
Exquisite L.A.
Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Creature
at The Broad

Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Karl Haendel
at Susanne Vielmetter

Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
of the L.A.
Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
Jessica Simmons
Launch Party Carla Issue 6
Exquisite L.A.
Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
Launch Party Carla Issue 5
Exquisite L.A.
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Revolution in the Making
at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
Launch Party Carla Issue 4
Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Launch Party Carla Issue 3
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
Reviews Honeydew
at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
Parker Ito
at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(L.A. in Berlin)
Snap Reviews Martin Basher at Anat Ebgi
Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
Matt Siegle at Park View
Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
Mateo Tannatt
Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Launch Party Carla Issue 1
Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
Anna Breininger
with Julian Rogers
Reviews Pierre Huyghe

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
ARTBOOK @ Hauser & Wirth
Baert Gallery
Cirrus Gallery
Château Shatto
Elevator Mondays
The Geffen Contemporary 
Ghebaly Gallery
Mistake Room
MOCA Grand Avenue
Monte Vista Projects
Night Gallery
The Box
Wilding Cran Gallery
Boyle Heights/ Chinatown
A.G. Geiger
Charlie James
Good Luck Gallery
Human Resources
Ibid Gallery
Parrasch Heijnen Gallery
Nicodim Gallery

Odd Ark LA
Oof Books
Smart Objects
Women's Center for Creative Work
18th Street Arts
Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis 
College of Art and Design
DXIX Projects
Christopher Grimes Gallery
DXIX Projects
Five Car Garage
Laband Art Gallery at LMU
team (bungalow)
Pasadena/ Glendale/ Valley
The Armory Center for the Arts
The Pit
Los Angeles Valley College
1301 PE
Big Pictures Los Angeles
California African American Museum
E.C. Liná
Commonwealth & Council
David Kordansky Gallery
Hunter Shaw Fine Art
Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Lowell Ryan Projects
ltd Los Angeles
Shoot the Lobster
Ochi Projects
the Landing
The Underground Museum
USC Fisher Museum of Art
Visitor Welcome Center
Culver City
Anat Ebgi
Arcana Books
Blum & Poe
Honor Fraser
Klowden Mann
Luis De Jesus
Philip Martin Gallery
Roberts Projects
Susanne Vielmetter
Diane Rosenstein
Family Books
Nino Mier Gallery
Moskowitz Bayse
Noysky Projects
Regen Projects
Shulamit Nazarian
Steve Turner
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
Various Small Fires
Gas Gallery

Hand and Rose
Elsewhere in CA
CLOACA (San Fransisco)
Curatorial Research Bureau @ the YBCA (San Fransisco)
Et al. (San Francisco)
Ever Gold [Projects] (San Francisco)
fused space (San Francisco)
Gym Standard (San Diego)
Helmuth Projects (San Diego)
Interface Gallery (Oakland)
Jessica Silverman (San Francisco)
Left Field (San Luis Obispo)
Minnesota Street Projects (San Fransisco)
San Diego Art Institute (San Diego)
Verge Center for the Arts (Sacramento)
Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art (San Francisco)
Wolfman Books (Oakland)
Non CA
Artbook @ MoMA PS1 (Long Island City, NY)
Nationale (Portland, OR)
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (Skowhegan, ME)
Small Editions (Brooklyn, NY)
Space 42 (Jacksonville, FL)
Spoonbill & Sugartown (Brooklyn, NY)
Ulises (Philadelphia, PA)
Libraries/ Collections
Bard College, Center for Curatorial Studies Library (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
CalArts (Valencia, CA)
Center for the Arts, Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT)
Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Research Library (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (Los Angeles, CA)
Marpha Foundation (Marpha, Nepal)
Maryland Institute College of Art, The Decker Library (Baltimore, MD)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library (New York, NY)
Midway Contemporary Art (Minneapolis, MN)
Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, Emerging Leaders of Arts (Santa Barbara, CA)
Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, ID)
Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
Point Loma Nazarene University (San Diego, CA)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago, John M. Flaxman Library (Chicago, IL)
Scholes Library, NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University (Alfred, NY)
Skowhegan Archives (New York, NY)
Sotheby’s Institute of Art (New York, NY)
Telfair Museum (Savannah, GA)
USC Fisher Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN)
Whitney Museum of American Art, Frances Mulhall Achilles Library (New York, NY)
Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

The Art of Birth


Dana Schutz, How We Would Give Birth (2007). Oil on canvas. 60 x 72 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York.

Dana Schutz, How We Would Give Birth (2007). Oil on canvas. 60 x 72 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York.

There are some bodily experiences that overwhelm language. It’s not that they are too intense, or too painful to want to apply words to, it is that language actually cannot contain them. Episodes of physical pain, in particular, “require [a] shattering of language…[they are] fundamentally unsharable”, writes Elaine Scarry in The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World.[1] Without the ability to relate certain subjective feelings, we rely on metaphor to do the work for us, conveying meaning through suggestion. Nietzsche, in the spirit of absurdity and resignation, called his pain “dog;” it might have gotten any name, so far was it from being aptly describable in words.[2]

I gave birth[3] to my first child nine weeks ago. The experience of labor, which lasted through the night, and then a day, and then another night, didn’t resemble any of the near-hundreds of representations of it that I’ve seen on television or in the movies over the years. It didn’t resemble any familiar experience at all. I desperately want to explain it, but don’t have the tools. Overly medical language—details of my blood levels, the baby’s pendulous heart rate, and uterine dilatation and effacement—won’t do. Likewise, phrases like “life-changing” feel highfalutin and exclusive.

I turn to metaphor as an intermediary. If I can’t describe it, what, at least, was it like? After the birth of her son Nicholas in 1962, Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal “[It felt like] a huge, black circular weight, like the end of a cannon or a crossbar… was tearing through me.”[4] Her first question to the doctor after delivery—”Did he tear me to bits?”—is echoed by Maggie Nelson, almost fifty years later. “What if I fall to pieces?” she writes in her 2015 book The Argonauts, as she prepares to deliver her first child, Iggy.

Due to my own frustrated and failed attempts to deal with the subject of birth in my creative work, I’ve spent my postpartum life seeking out its representation in contemporary art.[5] Though I was sure I’d find precedent, I’ve largely come up short. I am not very interested in the subject of pregnancy, or the all-inclusive experience of motherhood, for whom Mary Kelly remains the paragon. Artists do occasion these topics—the before and after of childbirth—yet it is the physical action itself that is distinctly lacking from the folios of art history.

I can think of a few reasons for this lack. To no surprise anyone who is awake to culture, art persists as a patriarchal and sexist economy. “Women’s issues”— and what is considered more of a woman’s issue than birth?—are deemed less worthy of making serious visual and critical interventions into. Until a mere few decades ago in this country, soon-to-be-fathers sat in waiting rooms while their wives gave birth without them several hundred feet away. It is not surprising that the image of birth has not yet entered the mainstream as mutually interesting and worthwhile, belonging in different ways to both genders. Just as we have the mistaken idea that terminating pregnancies has nothing to do with the men who were involved in creating them (only women are charged with, and bear the consequences of, illegally seeking abortions in the United States and abroad), our cultural imaginations are too limited around the experience of birth. Relegating “women’s issues” to a less serious platform is a problem, but more importantly, it is a problem that we subdivide and partition issues as strictly as we do in the first place. Our experiences are far from the same; no political, personal, or cultural experience, in other words, strictly belongs to a woman or a man. How we bring life into the world is no exception.[6]

Justine Kurland, Sea Stack (from the Of Woman Born series) (2006). C-print. 30 x 40 inches. Images courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash.

Justine Kurland, Sea Stack (from the Of Woman Born series) (2006). C-print. 30 x 40 inches. Images courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash.

Why else might there be so few images of birth in contemporary art? As opposed to mothering, birth is done is out of sight, often considered too private for even close family members to be present for. Putting aside the difficulty of doing so successfully, transmuting something so intimate into a public (and perhaps commercial) vessel cannot be easy. What good artist has not feared exploiting their most personal moments to offer up as serious “work?”[7] I can understand the impulse to keep the experience private; my partner photographed parts of my delivery, and, upon seeing images a few weeks later—all open legs, red with blood and other fluids— I balked at the idea of sending them to family or friends as planned. I wasn’t exactly embarrassed; in fact I was amazed. I felt very, very vulnerable.

While representations of pregnancy don’t abound within the art world, they are more available than images of birth. Justine Kurland’s 2006 series Of Women Born (a reference to the 1978 manifesto on motherhood by the feminist poet Adrienne Rich and clue about the work’s politics) is a good example. In the pictures, nude, full-term pregnant women cluster sylph-like on the beach and recline inside boulders; in other images, their young children run and swim and sleep among them. As with a handful of other female artists—Alice Neel and Dana Hoey for instance—Kurland extensively pictures the period of gestation, as well as its aftermath. But where are the images of the birthing process—the labor? Too grotesque? Too private? Too much a women’s issue? Not romantic enough (or at all)? Why does that part of the narrative always fall away?

There are really only a handful of contemporary artworks that actually picture the act of birthing as its central focus—most notably the fore-cited Window Water Baby Moving (1959) by the experimental filmmaker Stan Brackhage. A particularly arresting one is by the painter Dana Schutz. Titled How We Would Give Birth (2007), the painting directly, and somewhat fearlessly, depicts as its subject a woman in the midst of having a child. Her near-disjointed legs are spread wide, revealing a halfway-out baby in the center of the canvas. Her arms, which jut out from below a white sheet that is draped across her naked body, hold the sides of the gurney but don’t appear to strain under the burden of delivery. She is all alone.

It takes a lot to pivot attention from a baby coming out of a body, surrounded by an open vagina, pubic hair, and fresh blood. The real nuance of the painting, it turns out, occurs in psychic lines created by the woman’s gaze, directed over her shoulder to a back wall, towards a Hudson Valley School-style landscape painting of a falling waterfall. Her swiveled face, lost in the painting-within-a-painting, is entirely unseen, and the relationship of the woman and the wall painting — however melodramatic — reads as the most meaningful one in the frame. What is happening in this meditative exchange? Does Schutz intend to imbue a kind of subjectivity in her that is usually denied a woman in the moments and hours that she becomes a delivery instrument? Is it a meta reference to the immersive and escapist powers of landscape art, and by proxy, painting itself?[8]

As with all powerful art, its propositions are conflictual. Funny and unsettling, Schutz has made a painting that has competing protagonists and dissenting storylines. But most of all, How We Would Give Birth achieves a double consciousness all its own: it offers up the thing and the metaphor for that thing in the same picture. Here is the event: groin spread open, the bloody sheets, the swollen head and slithery body of a half-fetus, half-baby. And here is the symbol: a figure who turns to the landscape to better understand, feel, and escape from her ineffable condition. Schutz has long believed that painting can achieve both quotidian and fantastical possibilities (SwimmingSmokingCrying (2009), for instance, or Getting Dressed all at Once (2012) are both demonstrative of this vision). Birth, which already contains notes of the superreal and the surreal, is a fitting subject.

Since making the painting in 2007, Schutz had a baby, careening her experience from the imaginary to the realized. Considering how the experience changed her interpretation of her existing work, she said in an audio commentary accompanying her exhibition at The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, “The fact is, I would paint this differently now [after having giving birth]… Well, I am not sure if I would paint it now. Part of the interest at the time was the not knowing.”

This unknowing, for me, doesn’t shift with the experience, it only intensifies. As I reach for the words to faithfully describe birth, or attempt to make art that does the same, I am continually struck, and even moved, by the ways in which I founder and fall short, and by the visual or linguistic metaphors that arise to bridge the gap created by unknowing. This productive dissonance—between experience and its representation, bodily sensation and the drive to picture it—is always the stuff of great art (it is, to return to the affecting language of Elaine Scarry, its own kind of making and unmaking of the world). Birth, the strangest and most essential kind of entropy, offers us that possibility.

Justine Kurland, Mama Baby, Ocean View (from the Of Woman Born series) (2006). C-print. 30 x 40 inches. Images courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash.

Justine Kurland, Mama Baby, Ocean View (from the Of Woman Born series) (2006). C-print. 30 x 40 inches. Images courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash.

[1] Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford UP, 1985. Print.

[2] Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Walter Arnold Kaufmann. The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. New York: Vintage, 1974. Print.

[3] Margaret Atwood brilliantly undoes this phrase, “giving birth” in her short story of the same name. She writes: “But who gives it? And to whom is it given?… No one ever says giving death, though they are in some ways the same, events, not things. And delivering, the act the doctor is generally believed to perform: who delivers what? Is it the mother who is delivered, like a prisoner being released? Surely not; nor is it the child being delivered to the mother like a letter through a slot. How can you be both the sender and received at once? Was someone in bondage, is someone made free?”

[4] Printed in The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

[5] Ancient art is another matter. While I won’t focus on it here, it is worth mentioning how frequently the birthing female figure is depicted in the pre-modern era. I’ve come across many crude figurations in this research of swollen-bellied women, squatting with babies suspended from between their legs.

[6] Stan Brakhage’s amazing experimental work, Window Water Baby Moving (1959), is a nice example of this. The twelve-minute film documents the birth of Brakhage’s first child, Myrrenna. It was made at home in 1958, as the hospital would not have allowed the artist access to the delivery room with his then-wife Jane. Through fast splices and close, silent shots, the camera switches back and forth between husband and wife, who film one another during labor; as their baby pushes through, Brackage moves in closer, filming its entry.

[7] During a Sophie Calle lecture I once attended in San Francisco, Calle played a video she made of her mother’s final breaths in the process of dying, a piece that had been shown at the Venice Biennale. I felt a mild horror come over the audience; Calle’s only response: “She would have loved the attention.”

[8] Schutz’s painting calls up the great Frida Kahlo work, My Birth (1932), in which Kahlo imagines laboring herself into the world. In it, the baby’s large head has also pushed out of a vagina, exposed through wide-open legs, and pictured in the center of the frame. As in Schutz’s painting, the woman’s face—the artist as her own literal and figurative creator—is covered, in this case by a sheet. Finally, Kahlo’s painting also includes within it a painting-within-a-painting on the back wall. This time, the image, which is of a veiled female figure, is above and behind the birth scene, and the subject makes no contact with it. In part because of this specific denial—not necessarily between woman and baby, but rather woman and art—the birth scene calls up trauma more than transcendence.



Originally published in Carla Issue 5.