2014 - 2016 Michelle Browne: "Can the idea of the ‘good enough’ be a model for artists working in the art world?"

Excerpt from Michelle's 20 minute presentation for Do The Right Thing ! ~ DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2015.

Good Enough


In this monologue, Michelle spoke about how ideas of hostility and mourning have lead to a reassembled, recreated and renewed position as an artist. The proposition of the ‘good enough’ mother by pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, addresses important questions of adapation and failure. In her monologue, Browne asks how having an art career affects parenting/mothering and vice versa. Understanding her position as an artist-parent through the context of the Mothership Project, a network of Irish artist-parents, helped her further explore issues related to parenting while maintaining her practice; these issues include precarity, visibility, carving out time to make work, patriarchal structures.

Browne explains that she felt hostility towards and from the art world because of her inability to participate at maximum capacity. When she recognized the impossibility of meeting the demands of art world, she began to think about how to say no. Sharing a personal experience she said that the hostility began when she was pregnant and a curator she knew said “Oh, I had such great plans for you”.

Moving from hostility to mourning, Brown recalled Andrea Fraser’s essay “Why does Fred Sandback’s work make me cry?” Fraser looks into the act of crying and its relationship to object loss and mourning: “Could it be that when I encounter Sandback’s work that I was able to discharge some of my hostility to art institutions?” Brown also refers to Mary Kelly’s Post Partum Document, sociologist Andrew Ross, Marx, Naomi Klein, Kaja Silverman and elaborates on the concept behind “the good enough mother”: she is one who makes active adaptations to the infant’s needs, and as time goes on the mother adapts less and less. This paradigm led Browne to also consider the notion of the good enough artist, one who would adapt less and less to the demands of the art world (baby). Being a good enough artist, Browne says, is not about being a lesser artist, but about adapting to situations differently and taking a different position to working within an art world that demands 24/7 availability. Furthermore, the good enough is not about withdrawal but allows an alternative model that doesn’t allow the artist to be created in the capitalist model. “Being good enough is an act of resistance,” Browne tells us. At some point, as an artist-mother, she realized she couldn’t be a 24/7 free agent and felt a loss “of what had been and what would never be again,” but the model of the good enough mother has been a way of rethinking her position both as a mother and as an artist.

Maria Hlavajova agreed that, “indeed, we need to rethink the field.” Thinking of perhaps another alternative model, she recalled the case of Teatro Valle Occupato (a theater in Rome that offered public performances and was closed down by government and turned into business center). This was an act of transformation of the institution – reclaiming the commons and “what used to be ours.” This group began an interesting campaign called “Art you lost”. Hlavajova was inspired to ask, “What would an art institution of the commons look like?” Reorganizing art institutions in a way that would also change the way of producing, and the way we work with so-called audiences could be done by sharing financial and spatial resources.

Alena Alexandrova asked if the art world can really be compared to an infant. This conversion of the art world into an infant invites us to speculate about whether the art world is really a dependent, crying figure, or something else. For Alexandrova this metaphor worked as a reversal of some sort of symbolic order, and she relates it to a notion presented in the book “The Shadow of the Object” by Christopher Bollas. The aesthetic object is related to mourning and loss of this (possibly) interior fragment we have inside of ourselves. She offers another reversal: Can the art world be a good enough mother to us?

Marina Vishmidt was also interested in what she saw as the reversal of the art world into an art baby. She asked, is being good enough a way to foster the independence of the art world, or of ourselves as artists? “In this way it could foster some kind of collective autonomy of legitimization. For Andrea Fraser, institutional critique assumes that artist is the institution to be critiqued.” So, to agree with Michelle, “autonomy is not the act of withdrawal but has to be a kind of collective production. Naturalizing the mother as something different from the artists as a kind of blank spot of legitimization.” For Vishmidt, this is not so much a matter of “showing the art world that it doesn't need you but undermining the security of the art world itself.”

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