Not on display
- Mary Kelly born 1941
- 13 works on paper, graphite, crayon, chalk and printed diagrams, mounted on paper
- Displayed: 360 × 6493 mm
object, each: 286 × 361 × 35 mm
- Purchased 1984
Post-Partum Document. Documentation III: Analysed Markings and Diary Perspective Schema (Experimentum Mentis III: Weaning from the Dyad) 1975 consists of thirteen individually framed works on paper arranged in a horizontal line. Three of these (the first, twelfth and thirteenth) feature diagrams; the remaining ten consist of a child’s drawings in coloured wax and chalk on sheets of brown sugar paper, collaged onto white paper supports. The marks that make up the drawings on each page are simple lines and scribbles, usually in two or three colours. They are all overlaid with annotations in a grid consisting of three columns, the dividing lines of which are labelled with letters derived from the diagram on the far left of the display. The first column, typewritten and dated at the top, records snippets of a child’s speech and its context (such as ‘Go to park (answering me I when I asked where he went today)’); the second column, typewritten in capitals, contains the mother’s commentary on the speech recorded on the same day (for instance, ‘I WANT HIM TO SHOW THAT HE HAS A GOOD MEMORY’); the third contains the mother’s reflections handwritten a week later in longhand (for example, ‘I seem to be constantly trying to assess my role in his learning process’). The thirteen elements of the work are each presented in a Perspex box frame, and they are installed in a continuous line at eye-level at no less than four inches (10 centimetres) apart.
Tate’s holding is the third section of a six-part work (with introduction) by Kelly named the Post-Partum Document 1973–8. The other sections are: Post-Partum Document: Introduction 1973 (Private Collection, California); Documentation I: Analysed Fecal Stains and Feeding Charts (Experimentum Mentis I: Weaning from the Breast) 1974 (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto); Documentation II: Analysed Utterances and Related Speech Events (Experimentum Mentis II: Weaning from the Holophase) 1975 (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto); Documentation IV: Transitional Objects, Diary and Diagram (Experimentum Mentis IV: on Femininity) 1976 (Zurich Museum, Zurich); Documentation V: Classified Specimens, Proportional Diagrams, Statistical Tables, Research and Index (Experimentum Mentis V: on the Order of Things) 1977 (Australian National Gallery, Canberra); Documentation VI: Inscribed Reliefs (Experimentum Mentis VI: On the Insistence of the Letter) 1978 (Arts Council of Great Britain, London). Overall, Post-Partum Document consists of one hundred and thirty-five small units. The work has been shown its entirety only twice, in the exhibitions The Critical Eye/I, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (1984) and Mary Kelly: Post-Partum Document. The Complete Work, Generali Foundation, Vienna (1998). However, the work has been reproduced and documented in full in Kelly’s book Post-Partum Document (London 1983).
Kelly started work on Post-Partum Document in 1973, shortly after the birth of her son, and through it she documented their relationship over the subsequent six years. Tate’s Documentation III takes on a diary form; the words – including transcriptions, annotations and reflections – are based on recorded conversations between mother and son that took place at weekly intervals between 7 September and 26 November 1975 during ‘the crucial moment of the child’s entry into an extra familial process of socialisation, i.e. nursery school’ (Kelly 1983, p.77). The choice of the child’s drawings as the ground on which to lay out the mother’s ruminations on her son’s development came from the nursery routine, where the children regularly presented their work to their parents (Kelly 1983, p.77). The three schematic diagrams that are also included in Documentation III are derived from writer and academic Anthony Wilden’s interpretations of the work of developmental psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, in which Lacan conceives the developing unconscious mind as being structured like a language (Anthony Wilden (trans.), Jacques Lacan: The Language of the Self, Baltimore 1968, p.294). The symbols in the bottom right-hand corner of the pages featuring the child’s drawings refer to the age of Kelly’s son and a coded analysis of the drawing according to how the marks are placed on the paper. Corresponding to a key only later provided by Kelly in the accompanying publication (Kelly 1983, p.78), the code denotes a stage in the graphic development of a child’s visual symbolisation. On the fifth drawing, for example, ‘S2 26 MOS.’ refers to the marks being focused in the centre of the page (coded by ‘S2’), when the child was 26 months old (‘26 MOS.’).
At a time when many artists associated with the women’s movement were depicting their own bodies as an act of reclamation, in Post-Partum Document Kelly instead chose to focus on the more domestic experience of womanhood, including the unequal division of childcare; the position of the mother in a phallocentric culture; and a woman artist’s inhibited attitude to her child-rearing role (Margaret Iversen in Kelly 1983, pp.206–7). Although drawing directly from her own maternal experience, the artist has asserted that the work is not ‘autobiographical’ and instead uses her own story to suggest ‘an interplay of voices – the mother’s experience, feminist analysis, academic discussion, political debate’ (Kelly 1983, p.xviii). In this capacity the work goes beyond the development of the child to examine the reciprocal process wherein both child and mother undergo psychological changes against the background of their socio-political context.
In Post-Partum Document Kelly subverts the artistic tradition of sentimentalising the mother-child relationship, showing its complexity – the density of unexplained academic theory and its schematic presentation, sometimes literally coded, is largely impenetrable throughout Documentation III. The art historian John T. Paoletti sees this impossible documentary process as the artist ‘responding to what society decrees to be the natural role of women’ and being ‘faced only with questions and intimations of failure’ (Paoletti 1984, p.22). In his view, the work as a whole thus represents ‘a multilayered, intensely personal, and aware exploration of a mother’s concurrent relationship to her child and to the Society, in this case the patriarchic aspects of that society, which structures their lives’ (Paoletti 1984, p.20).
Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document, London 1983, pp.76–93, reproduced pp.79–88.
John T. Paoletti, ‘Mary Kelly’, The Critical Eye/I, exhibition catalogue, Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven 1984, pp.20–5.
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Kelly born 1941
T03925 Post-Partum Document. Documentation III: Analysed Markings and Diary Perspective Schema (Experimentum Mentis III: Weaning from the Dyad) 1975
Collage, pencil, wax crayons, chalks and printed diagrams on 13 sheets of coloured paper mounted on white paper; 11 panels each 285 x 360 (11¼ x 14½) 2 panels 360 x 285 (14¼ x 11¼); overall dimensions as framed and displayed variable
Panels 2-11 each inscribed with extensive typewritten and handwritten texts;
Panels 1, 12 and 13 inscribed with printed and typed text; Panel 1 inscribed 'DOCUMENTATION III | ANALYSED MARKINGS, | DIARY -- PERSPECTIVE SCHEMA' t.l. and 'REF.I-105' t.r.; Panel 12 inscribed with diagram, numbers and letters and EXPERlMENTUM MENTIS III (WEANING FROM THE DYAD) | S (O) A (P); Panel 13, '(WHY IS HE/SHE LIKE THAT? | S' |
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) Kelly 1984
Exh: Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document, lCA, Sept.-Oct. 1976 (no cat.); Hayward Annual '78, Hayward Gallery, Aug.-Oct. (126, detail repr. p.64); The Critical Eye/I, Yale Center for British Art, Newhaven, May-June 1984 (no number, listed p.47, detail repr. p.23)
Lit: Laura Mulvey, 'Post Partum Document, Mary Kelly', Spare Rib, no.53, Dec. 1976, p.40; Jane Kelly, 'Mary Kelly', Studio International, vol. 193, Jan.-Feb. 1977, pp.55-6, detail repr. p.56; Jane Kelly, 'Mary Kelly,' Studio International, vol.193, May-June 1977 pp.186-8; Mary Kelly, Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document 1973-77. Footnotes and Bibliography, Oxford 1977; Mary Kelly, 'Notes on Reading the Post-Partum Document,' Control, no.10, Nov.1977 pp.10-12; Terence Maloon, 'Mary Kelly Interview', Artscribe, no.13, Aug. 1978, pp.16-19, detail repr. p.17; Sarah Kent, 'Mary Kelly', Hayward Annual '78, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, 1978, pp.62-3; Mary Kelly, 'On Femininity', Control, no.11, Nov.1979, pp.14-15; Mary Kelly, 'Post-Partum Document.' Kunstforum International, no.36, 1979, pp.110-12, detail repr. p. 112; Margaret Iversen, 'The Bride Stripped Bare by her Own Desire: Reading Mary Kelly's Post-Partum Document', Discourse, no.4, 1981, pp.75-88; Jo-Anna Isaak, 'Our Mother Tongue: The Post-Partem [sic] Document', Vanguard, II, April 1982, pp.14-17; Paul Smith, 'Mother as Site of Her Proceedings: Mary Kelly's "Post-Partum Document,'" Parachute, 26, Spring 1982, pp.29-30; 'No Essential Femininity, A Conversation between Mary Kelly and Paul Smith', Parachute, no.26, Spring 1982, pp.31-5, detail repr. p.35; Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document, London, 1983, pp.76-93, repr. pp.79-88; Lucy Lippard, 'Foreword', in ibid., pp.IX-XIV; Kate Linker, 'Representation and Sexuality', Parachute, no.32, Sept./Oct./Nov.1983, pp.12-23; Kate Linker, 'Mary Kelly, Eluding Definition', Artforum, Vol.23, Dec. 1984, p.61; Craig Owens, 'Posing' in Difference, On Representation and Sexuality, exh. cat., New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York 1984, pp.7-17; Lisa Tickner, 'Sexuality and/in Representation: Five British Artists', in ibid., pp.19-23, listed p.46, detail repr. p.21; John T. Paoletti, 'Mary Kelly', The Critical Eye/I, exh. cat., Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven 1984, pp.20-5 (see also separate Bibliography, ibid., 1984, pp.17-20); Laura Mulvey, 'Impending Time', Mary Kelly, Interim, exh. cat., Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 1985, pp.4-7; Griselda Pollock, 'What's the Difference? Feminism, Representation & Sexuality', Aspects, no.32, Spring 1986, pp.4-5; Sandy Nairne, 'Sexuality, Image and Identity,' State of the Art, Ideas and Images in the 1980's, London 1987, pp.148 and 156-157
T03925 consists of thirteen individually framed panels. Three of the panels (nos 1, 12 and 13) are diagrams and the remaining ten consist of a child's drawings in coloured wax and chalks on sheets of sugar paper, collaged onto white paper supports. These are surmounted by drawn diagrams, annotated with typewritten letters and typewritten and hand written texts. Each panel is framed in a perspex box frame. The panels are correctly installed at standard height, in a continuous line and no less than four inches apart.
T03925 is the third section of a six-part work (with introduction), the 'Post-Partum Document' 1974-8, consisting of one hundred and thirty-five small units. The main work comprises:
‘Documentation I: Analysed Fecal Stains and Feeding charts (Experimentum Mentis I: Weaning from the Breast)' 1974, paper nappy liners, mixed media, diagram and algorithm, 28 units, each 355 x 280 (14 x 11) in the Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto (repr. Kelly 1983, pp.10-37).
‘Documentation II: Analysed Utterances and Related Speech Events (Experimentum Mentis II: Weaning from the Holophase)' 1975, wood and mixed media, diagram and algorithm, 24 units, each 254 x 203 (10 x 8) and 2 units, each 355 x 280 (14 x 11), in the Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto (repr. Kelly 1983, pp.47-69) T03925 (for details see above).
‘Documentation IV: Transitional Objects, Diary and diagram (Experimentum Mentis IV: on Femininity)’ 1976, plaster and mixed media, diagram and algorithm, 9 units, each 355 x 280 (14X 11), Kunsthaus, Zurich (repr. Kelly 1983, pp.98-105).
‘Documentation V: Classified Specimens, Proportional Diagrams, Statistical Tables, Research and Index (Experimentum Mentis V: on the Order of Things)’ 1977, wood and mixed media, diagram and algorithm, 34 units, each 178 x 127 (7 x 5) and 2 units, each 355 x 280 (14 x 11), Australian National Gallery, Canberra (repr. KeIly 1983, pp.115-157);
‘Documentation VI: Inscribed Reliefs (Experimentum Mentis VI: on the Insistence of the Letter)' 1978, slate and resin, diagram and algorithm, 16 units, each 254 x 203 (10 x 8) and 2 units, each 355 x 280 (14 x 11), Arts Council of Great Britain (repr. Kelly 1983, pp.I70- 184).
Parts I-III were first exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1976. Part I had already been exhibited in 1975 at the Northern Arts Gallery, Newcastle. The work has only once been shown in its entirety, at the Yale Center for British Art (in The Critical Eye, 1984) but the complete work has been reproduced and fully documented in Mary Kelly's book Post-Partum Document, (1983). The book also reproduces an introductory section consisting of four folded baby's vests, 'Folded Vests' 1973 (4 units each 203 x 254, 8 x 10 repr. Kelly, 1983, pp.3-6). In the introduction, Kelly stated that in the 'Post Partum Document' she was trying to show 'the reciprocity of the process of socialization in the first few years of life. It is not only the infant whose future personality is formed at this crucial moment, but also the mother whose "feminine psychology" is scaled by the sexual division of labour in childcare' (p.1). According to the artist:
It [the work] grew up as an exhibition, adapted to a variety of genres... and finally reproduced itself in the form of a book... As an installation within a traditional gallery space, the work subscribes to certain modes of presentation; the framing, for example, parodies a familiar type of museum display in so far as it allows my archaeology of everyday life to slip unannounced into the great hall and ask important questions of its keepers... As an exhibition, the 'Post-Partum Document' is intended to construct several readings or ways through the work, indicated by the juxtaposition of found objects and commentary ...with a series of diagrams. [It] is not simply about child development. It is an effort to articulate the mother's fantasies, her desire, her stake in that project called 'motherhood' (Kelly, 1983, p.XVII).
The 'Post-Partum Document' documents a relationship between a mother and son over a period of six years. It has been described as 'a multilayered, intensely personal, and aware exploration of a mother's concurrent relationship to her child and to the Society, in this case the patriarchic aspects of that society, which structures their lives' (Paoletti, in Yale Center for British Art exh. cat. 1984, p.20). The artist has said that it is not 'autobiographical' although it is her own story. 'It suggests an interplay of voices - the mother's experience, feminist analysis, academic discussion, political debate' (Kelly 1983, p.XVIII).
Kelly started work on the 'Post-Partum Document' in 1973, shortly after the birth of her son. Each of the six main sections in the work is labelled 'Documentation' which, John Paoletti writes, 'indicates an accumulation of facts from which conclusions may be drawn', (ibid., p.20). The first section, 'Documentation I', records the process of weaning the child from the breast and charts the six-month old baby's intake of solid food over a period of one month (February 1974). The record of food taken is presented in typed lists on the baby's stained nappy liners which are individually analysed in relation to a key linked to the condition of the baby's stools (see Kelly 1983, P.9).
'Documentation II', comprising typewriting on file cards with typeface and printed text, records the child's speech development during its seventeenth and eighteenth months in 1975, from early monosyllabic utterances to structured speech. Mary Kelly analyses this on various levels. For example, the identifiable phonetic context of the child’s speech:
The sounds made by the child are glossed by the mother in her mirroring capacity, indicated by the reversed typeface and the printed text. The Mother's voice is heard in this section for the first time, not only as the amanuensis for the child but also in her own right... the child through the acquisition of language... an acquisition prompted and aided by the mother, recognises himself as distinct from the mother (Paoletti, p.20).
'Documentation III' (T03925), which takes on a diary form with three parallel texts in each section, is based on recorded conversations between mother and son that took place at weekly intervals between September 7 and November 26 1975 during 'the crucial moment of the child's entry into an extra familial process of socialisation, i.e. nursery school'... (Kelly 1983, p.77). The conversations came to an end when mother and son 'adjusted' to school:
At this moment a kind of splitting of the dyadic mother-child unit occurred. This was evidenced in the mother's references, in the diaries, to the father's presence and the child's use of pronouns (significantly 'I') [panel 9), in his conversations and by the implied diagrams (concentric markings and circles 5-10S) [panels 5-10] in his drawings. The marking process was regulated by the nursery routine, so that almost daily finished works were presented by the children to their mothers. In retrospect, these markings became the logical terrain on which to map out the signification of the maternal discourse. (Mary Kelly 1983, p.77)
According to Kelly, the written sections within each of the main panels of T03925 consist of the following:
A condensed transcription of the child's conversation, played back immediately following the recording session; a transcription of the mother's 'inner speech' in relation to [the above], recalling it during a playback later the same day; a secondary revision of [the mother's inner speech], one week later, locating the conversation (as object) within a specific time interval (as spatial metaphor) and rendering it 'in perspective' (as a mnemic system) (Mary Kelly 1983, p.77)
Kelly has deliberately adopted a pseudo-scientific approach in this work (Kelly 1983, p.XVIII), one motive being to 'counter the assumption that childcare is based on the woman's natural and instinctive understanding of the role of mothering'. Each section is preceded by a diagram ('Experimentum Mentis I-VI'). T03925 is articulated according to a compositional 'diary perspective schema’, which is a revised presentation of a traditional artificial perspective diagram (the first panel). Kelly analyses the diagram as follows:
ABCD The object to be drawn or the 'real' in the sense of what is real for the subject
V The vanishing point or the vanishing reality which defines the subject in terms of a lost object
DP The distance point or the distancing function of the Symbolic father which inserts the lack of object into the dialectic of the Oedipus complex (Kelly 1983, p.77; see also 'Notes' p.194 for instructions on articulation of diagram and sources.
Different analytical diagrams are applied to each of the ten 'Documentation' or diary panels of T03925).
In T 03925 the child's words, linked to events, are presented as 'real' while the mother's comments on the events are outside the perspectively numbered 'picture space'.
Each of the ten small main panels of T03925 consists of a chart superimposed on one of the child's drawings. Mary Kelly has commented on this section:
Most children follow the same graphic evolution in discovering a mode of visual symbolisation. By the age of 2 years they place scribbling so that the total configuration implies a shape, and by 3 years children make the kind of diagrammatic marks (i.e. crosses, circles, squares, triangles, and 'odd shape' aggregates) which will become, on the one hand, the signifying system of written language, and on the other, the signifying practice of art. In this document, the figuration of the diary-perspective schema is superimposed on the child's drawings which are also analysed according to the specific placement of markings and his age at the time of making them (25-28 months).
S3 spaced border
S4 vertical half
S5 horizontal half
S6 two-sided balance
S7 diagonal half S8 extended diagonal half
S9 diagonal axis
S10 two-thirds division
S11 quarter page
S12 two-comer arch
S13 three-comer arch
S14 across the paper
(Kelly 1983, p.78)
Each of the main panels is analysed according to the above list, as follows: 1.S8 (25 Mos.); 2.S13 (26 Mos.); 3.S9 (26 Mos.); [months] 4.S6 (26 Mos.); 5.S2 (26 Mos.); 6.S10 (27 Mos.); 7.S9 (27 Mos.); 8.S9 (27 Mos.); 9.S14 (27 Mos.); 10.S2 (28 Mos.).
Within the three principal divisions of the first 'drawing/chart', the three commentaries read as follows:
A. [The child's commentary annotated by the mother's typewritten notes] 13.9.75 | 1.9 Name Kelly (looking at a picture of his first birthday) | 1.2 Whats thats (looking at my beads) | 1.3 Look Mummy! (doing a trick) | Put that back. (putting the | baby picture back in place) | 1.4 Go to park (answering me I when I asked where he went | today) | 1.5 Tiny birdie, big birdie | (reading stories) | 1.6 Nothing there (referring to | an empty page)
B. [The mother's/artist's commentary, typewritten] 13.9.75 | I'M NOT SURE IF HE RECOGNISES THE | PICTURE AS HIMSELF. | THERE ARE SO MANY DIFFERENT KINDS | I'M HAVING DIFFICULTY EXPLAINING | WITHOUT CONFUSING HIM. | I'M VERY PLEASED WHEN HE PERFORMS | OR DOES WHAT HE'S TOLD. | I WANT HIM TO SHOW THAT HE HAS A | GOOD MEMORY. | I TOLD HIM TO SAY 'BIRD'. REALLY | I'M CORRECTING MY OWN BABY TALK. | I THINK THAT DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN | TINY AND BIG AND RECOGNIZING | NOTHING IS BRILLIANT.
C. [Later commentary, handwritten in longhand] 20.9.75 R.3. I was nervous about his first days at the nursery, they thought he was still a bit young. But I've been more relaxed about his agressivity lately. Now I'm concerned about his development i.e. intellectual - he isn't precocious and physical i.e. he's small for his age, & seems very narcissistic but I want him to be tall (like my brother) and 'studious' (i.e. like me). I told the nursery head mistress that he was potty trained when he wasn't but fortunately he has gone twice on the pot today. He doesn't have the [?bottle] much any more, the teats are all worn out anyway. R cut one up in front of him (I didn't approve). I seem to be constantly trying to assess my role in his learning process. (S's encouragement is very important now). I observed his extreme attachment to A, so I sometimes worry about the affects [sic.] of our unconventional family form.
Section IV of the 'Post-Partum Document' continues the mother's dialogue with herself, typed on fragments of the child's comforter. Above these are mounted plaster plaques cast from the child's hand. In 'Documentation V' nature specimens collected by the child are mounted and scientifically identified, in a series of panels resembling a display in a museum of natural history. Each mounted specimen is accompanied by a photocopy of itself paired with a series of questions from the child, revealing the beginnings of sexual inquisitiveness. These are also accompanied in each case by sections from a diagram illustrating the female body at full term pregnancy, indexed from A-T by a series of words relating to female biology and the mother. 'This encyclopaedic biological fact-list acts as a foil to the innocent assertion of the child of his own sexuality' (Paoletti 1984, p.21).
The sixth and final part of the work consists of a series of partly polished slates, shaped like the Rosetta stone (see Kelly 1983, p.165) which document (with the mother's commentary) the child's progress when learning to write. The work 'begins with simple letters and ends with Kelly writing his patronymic surname, Barrie becoming "the author of his own text", a final phallic assertion of his independence from his mother' (Paoletti 1984, p.22).
Each of the six sections of the 'Post-Partum Document' is followed by a panel bearing a phrase, described by John Paoletti as a 'Litanic Coda:'
What have I done wrong?
Why don't I understand?
Why is he/she like that? (The Tate's panel, T03925)
What do you want?
What am I?
What will I do?
'Supposedly responding to what society decrees to be the natural role of women ...the artist is faced only with questions and intimations of failure' (ibid.). In addition, each section is accompanied by a further diagram, 'Schema R, Experimentum Mentis' I-VI (see Kelly 1983, p. 193 for analysis and source of original diagram), which record and schematize in another way, the complex relationships documented in the main work. These diagrams are derived from psychoanalytical models, from an interpretation of the work of Jacques Lacan by Anthony Wilson in Jacques Lacan, The Language of the Self, (Baltimore 1968, p.294; a key to the diagrams is published in Kelly 1983, P.193).
In her preface to the published version of the 'Post- Partum Document' Kelly records that the work was conceived as 'an on-going process of analysis and organisation of the mother child relationship' (Kelly 1983, p.XV). In her foreword, for the same work, Lucy Lippard lists five 'intentional contradictions' at the roots of the work; the 'displacement of the fetishisation of the child' onto the work of art itself - Lippard describes it as an aesthetic compensation for the loss of the child; a parody of the commodification of works of art suggested by the pristine and institutionalised look of the work; 'the "conflict" between patriarchal sources (Marx/Freud via Althusser/Lacan) and the feminist analysis', the disruption' of the accustomed feminist biological/autobiographical readings; the 'visualisation' of the mother/woman without 'picturing' her and the 'resolute avoidance of photography' (Lippard in Kelly 1983, p.XII).
For the 'Post-Partum Document', Kelly has taken an archetypal theme in art, the mother and child. The impetus to begin the research for the work, apart from the artist's pregnancy, was given by a series of contemporary debates:
Most important of these was the tendency within the women's movement to reflect on the subjective moment of their oppression informally in consciousness raising groups, and rigorously in the books such as Juliet Mitchell's Psychoanalysis and ant Feminism [London 1974].
The Document plots, in six stages, the mother's pleasure in narcissistic identification with her child, her subsequent re-experience of castration with the 'loss' of her child, and her consequent re-recognition of her inferior status within phallocentric culture. The work attempts to explain the way in which motherhood seals the feminine psychology... It confronts directly the professional woman artist's inhibited attitude to her child-rearing role, challenging that ideological construct which opposes creation to procreation as mutually exclusive functions.
It is, at the same time, a critical response to a type of feminist art which focuses on the female body, most often the artist's own... In sharp contrast to this strand of feminist art practice, Kelly refrains from directly representing the female body, with the exception of sections of a diagram taken from a medical self-help text book. This restraint follows from the theoretical assumption 'that femininity is not a pre-given entity, but a representation of difference constructed within specific discourse.' There is no pre-social femininity, no essential core which can be reached beneath the layers of discourse, clothes, artistic conventions (Margaret Iversen in Kelly 1983, pp.206-7).
In the preface to the published work, Kelly speaks of the work as ‘invoking the metaphor of procreation’ but states that this work 'refutes any attempt to naturalize the discourse of women’s practice in art (p.XV). According to Kelly, the work was influenced by Sigmund Freud's essay 'On Narcissism, an Introduction' and by her reading of Lacan's 'Signification of the Phallus'. This determines the central concern:
the mother's desire as desire for the child to be the phallus, and the co-incident trajectory of narcissistic identification through which her imaginary state is articulated... The third section 'Weaning from the Dyad' relied especially on Maud Mannoni's view of the importance of the mother's words (that is, above all, her reference to the father), in The Child, his Illness and the Others, 1970
At the time of writing 'Introduction to the Post-Partum Document', in 1973, the problem of 'the feminine psychology of the mother' seemed to be posed as if it were an effect of the sexual division of labour; but there was also an insistence on the 'reciprocity of the process of socialization' which suggested that the notion of 'subjectivity', especially one founded on Freud's theory of the unconscious, might displace the more familiar rhetoric of 'ideological oppression' as indeed it eventually did. Juliet Mitchell introduced that position in Women's Estate and consolidated it with Psychoanalysis and Feminism. By the time 'Experimentum Mentis I, II and III' were written in 1976 the Lacanian re-reading of Freud was under way. 'The Patriarchy Conference' in London that same year clearly indicated that the debate had shifted from the terms of sexual division to the question of sexual difference. Some readers will regard such formulations as 'negative entry' or 'negative place' with scepticism (or perhaps nostalgia?) but will recall the context and our first attempts to articulate a different relation to language (and to castration) for women without subscribing to the essentialist notions of a separate symbolic order altogether (Kelly 1983, pp.XIX-XX).
Interviewed by Terence Maloon, Kelly said that the 'Post Partum Document' was about the mother's realisation or recognition of the loss as the child develops:
The loss of the child is really the loss of plenitude one can associate with having the phallus. The child's a means whereby the woman perhaps disguises her lack, her negative place. It actually provides her with a positive identification which she only relinquishes with difficulty. Almost everyone sees some evidence of this in their relationship with their mother, the way she continues offering you food, for example, or looking after the way you dress. These are all different expressions of the way in which women fetishize the child, which is in fact a compensation for their sense of lack. In a way the art displaces that fetishizing of the child. That's why all the objects in the work are fetish objects, very explicitly, to displace the fetishizing of the child and also to make an implicit statement about the fetishistic nature of representation. It's almost comical in that the value of the objects is minimal in any commercial sense, yet their affective value - in terms of what Freud called 'libidinal economy' -is maximum for me.
The objects in the work - the stained nappy liners, the scribblings, the hand-imprints, the insect specimens, and in the recent work the inscriptions of Kelly's pre-writing - all these constitute a strand of extra-linguistic discourse within the document. They're recognition points, particularly for mothers, but at some level for everyone in their relationship with the mother. The juxtaposition of the objects and the diaries, the diagrams and the footnotes, locates the work in such a way that the full impact of the theoretical language can be felt, though there's an antagonistic relation between various levels of discourse. The footnotes don't talk about art at all. They provide you with my reading of the events, and of course that's not the only reading possible - it's more a matter of what Freud called 'secondary revision'. All this is a way of working through those experiences and locating them temporally, in an historical process. The diagrams introducing the documents do so in a rather schematic or mechanistic way (for example, a chart on metabolism, one on patterned speech, two by Leonardo, one on perspective and another of perceiving objects). So as a whole the work doesn't represent a 'true' interpretation of the topic, but it sets up all those ways of seeing and reading in a discursive relationship.
It's the kind of fetishizing you get in museums, where fragments of significant historical events are set out, labelled, explained. That's why it's presented clinically, with the various markings that give it authenticity. It's only a mock-authenticity though. It's an archaeology of the female subject constructed from a specific case-history. I think the most interesting reading of this history will be the one that follows it, rather than my own - that is, the reading the Women's Movement will be able to make of it in the future, in the sense of its representation of a particular historical moment within the Women's Movement, and also within the discourse of past art (Kelly and Maloon 1978, pp.17-18)
In the published version of the 'Post-Partum Document', Kelly supplies the following note as an appendix to the section reproducing T03925:
'Experimentum Mentis III
Weaning from the Dyad'
For both the mother and the child, the crucial moment of 'weaning' is constituted by the intervention of a third term (i.e. the father), thus consolidating the Oedipal triad and undermining the Imaginary dyad which determined the inter-subjectivity of the pre-Oedipal instance. This intervention situates the Imaginary third term of the primordial triangle (the child as phallus) and the paternal imago of the mirror phase within the dominance of the Symbolic structure through the Word of the father. That is, the mother's words referring to the authority of the 'father' to which the real father may or may not conform. When she calls upon him to bear witness to the child's indiscretions, as for example in 'Documentation III', 10S, she is conclusively re-instated in her negative place precisely because in order to be what she herself would like to be the child must be handed over to the Symbolic father, the figure of the Law. In this way the 'cutting out' of the child's ego leaves what is lacking in the mother's ego, that is, her lack of the privileged signifier of the Symbolic. The consequent denigration of the mother for this lack posits her insufficiency as an ego-ideal for the child and this reinforces the initial depletion of her own ego.
This critical moment is over-determined by the child's entry into an extra-familial process of socialisation (the school). It is ultimately here that the child masters the finite system of language and sublimates the absence on which it is founded through the infinite fabrications (marks, songs, rhymes) of his/her autonomous desire. The Oedipal child learns that being what the mother wants him/her to be is what he/she wants to be but cannot be. Consequently the mother's sense of lack is lived through as the repetitious transgressing, by the child, of her narcissistic aim. This provokes her question 'Why is he/she like that?' For the boy it is because he is like his father, a projection which reinforces the maternal separation; but for the girl, inevitably, it is because she is like her mother, an introjection which recapitulates the ambivalence of the Oedipal moment for the female subject.
(Kelly 1983, PP.92-1).
This entry has been approved by the artist.
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1984-86, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.187-194, reproduced p.188
- mother and child(404)