Panel 1: Reproductive decisions
Chair: Jo Winning, Birkbeck, University of London
10:15-10:35: Intimate citizenship and the procreative norm: Bulgaria, Norway, Portugal & UK (Sasha Roseneil, Birkbeck, University of London)
Drawing on a comparative study of Bulgaria, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom, this paper explores the centrality of what we call “the procreative norm” to regimes of intimate citizenship. We discuss how nation states have historically actively promoted procreation, and moreover how they have sought to define the parameters within which their citizens reproduce. From the explicit pronatalism of the Bulgarian Communist “Bachelor Tax” which financially penalized the child-less, to the nationalistic familial propaganda of the Salazar regime in Portugal and the vehement opposition to abortion of the post-dictatorship Portuguese state, to the feminist maternalist influences on the twentieth century Norwegian and British welfare states, we consider the wide range of laws, cultural interventions and policy provisions that have served to construct procreation as a, if not the, fundamental citizenly practice of national majority populations. We also point to the differing, racist state policies and practices that have existed in relation to procreation amongst minoritized/ racialized groups of citizens and non-citizen residents. We go on to argue that as the lived reality of practices of procreation have changed radically during recent decades, with the rise in births outside marriage, and the increasingly public desire of same-sex couples and single women to have children, intimate citizenship regimes are undergoing significant transformation. Responding too, more or less explicitly and speedily, to the demands of social movements, particularly women’s and lesbian and gay movements, and in the context of emergent human rights regimes, transnational gender equality frameworks, and the development of new reproductive technologies, states are engaged in ongoing processes of reframing the gender and sexual politics of the procreative norm. Finally we offer a brief analysis of some of the ways in which the procreative norm is experienced as an aspect of intimate citizenship in the lives of people, from majority and minoritized/ racialized groups, in the four countries.
10:35-10:55: Between transformation and normalization: bisexual women’s and their partners’ constructions of having children (Annukka Lahti, University of Jyväskylä, Finland)
My presentation is based on my ongoing doctoral research addressing how interviewees living in non-heterosexual relationships construct their dating and (couple) relationships. How do these constructions relate to contemporary cultural relationship discourses, e.g. to the somewhat contradictory trends of individualization and marriage-like relationship discourse that now have become a regulative norm also for non-heterosexual relationships? Do e.g. everyday life, experiences or feelings the interviewees describe create tensions in their “relationship talk”?
The core of my interview data will consist of 14 individual in-depth-interviews of the bisexual women and their partners of different genders who I interviewed as couples for my master’s thesis in 2005. I named the dominant discourse in the couple interviews as “long-lasting relationship discourse” in which the relationship was constructed as a durable, even life-long union of two people. Most of the interviewees considered also having children as part of the couple relationship. In order to plan the next round of interviews, I focus in this presentation on the already existing data: on the meaning of having children to the future and reproduction orientated “long-lasting relationship” talk and on the parts in which it is being challenged or somehow fractured. How is this negotiated and how are these experiences constructed? Would there be a way I should address the topic in the upcoming interviews, which would give more space to other possibilities to narrate the relationship, if it has become evident that the future orientated discourse “doesn’t always work out”?
When analysing my interview data I apply the psychosocial approach introduced by Sasha Roseneil (2006, 2007). It focuses on the contradictions and conflicts that develop when a person’s (psychic) experience won’t fit in the socially available subject positions and discourses. These conflicts and ambivalences could appear in interviews for example as absences, silences, contradictions, corrections or humour.
10:55-11:15: Anticipatory Reproduction: Representing oocyte cryopreservation (Lucy van de Wiel, Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA), University of Amsterdam)
As the last century saw struggles for women’s reproductive choices both to avoid childbearing (abortion, contraception) and to achieve it (IVF, AI), now, after the turn of the millennium these two approaches to regulating reproduction are combined in oocyte cryopreservation (OC), or egg freezing. With it, a new reproductive question has emerged as egg freezing simultaneously represents an active choice not to have children at present and a commitment to future, possibly assisted, reproduction. Women’s usage of OC to preserve fertility is itself an act of refusing current childbearing, thus calling into question an easy distinction between reproductive and non-reproductive behaviour. In this presentation I propose to discuss the representation of this new choice in a selection of Dutch and UK news media, focusing specifically on the implications of egg freezing for conceptualisations of the female reproductive body as site of a gendered politics of ageing.
I argue that the biotechnologies’ novelty follows in part from its negotiations with ageing, including the long time span of the procedure from freezing to implantation, the material dislodging of bodily and cellular reproductive ageing, the articulation of age-appropriate behaviour, the disciplinary and commercial potential of the fear of ageing and its link to risk and surveillance. I approach these concerns with a discussion of three tropes used in the news coverage of egg freezing. Firstly, I address how notions of the “biological clock” and its egg-focused, decline-oriented understandings of the female fertility contribute to a conceptualisation of the non-reproductive body as a figure through which fears about ageing can be articulated. Secondly, I discuss how the rhetorical tool of categorising women according to an artificial division between lifestyle and medical motivations for freezing leads to the subsequent moralisation of that distinction. Thirdly, the role ascribed to anticipation and futurity—not in relation to children’s, but women’s bodies—is particularly pertinent to this debate. The description of women as ‘delaying’ or ‘postponing’ reproduction holds implicit chrononormative claims about the temporal organisation of women’s lives as public and political concern. As an alternative to the popular idea that OC is a medical act of postponement, I suggest instead that it can be read as an expression of a biopreparedness that exemplifies the disciplinary potential of future ageing in what Adams et al. refer to as “anticipatory regimes.” The news coverage of OC thus reveals a gender politics of ageing, predicated on reproductive ability, which interpellates not only (potentially) infertile women who desire to reproduce, but impacts on the wider public.
13:00-14.15: Time and Again: Repetition, maternity and the non-reproductive (Lisa Baraitser, Birkbeck, University of London)
The notion of the ‘non-reproductive’, whether understood as a principle of radical refusal, a failure, an individual choice or the product of political coercion, suggests alternative temporalities to the normative developmental timeline of reproduction. Scholars have variously presented the ‘dead’ repetitive time of the death drive or stuck chronic time that refuses to unfold as ways of queering the temporal orchestrations of both individually ordered lives, and the macrodynamics of generation and history (Edelman, 2004, Freeman, 2011). Through this critique of reproductive time, however, the maternal (understood in its widest sense as lived experience, social location, political and scientific practice, economic and ethical challenge, a theoretical question, and a structural dimension in human relations, politics and ethics) has tended to be positioned as the antithesis of queer subjectivity. This occurs through a particular characterization of maternal time that aligns it with the futurity of the child, and renders it deeply conservative. My aim, in this paper, is to re-queer queer time through a deliberate reinsertion of ‘maternal time’ into the non-reproductive turn in queer studies. I do this through tracing the entanglement of two terms, reproduction and repetition, that stems not just from psychoanalysis but from feminist theory. Both Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt, for instance offer different attempts to uncouple the meaningless, repetitive, and therefore futile securing of survival that is involved in female labour, from the productive, inventive and generative sphere of ‘work’. This distinction between repetitive labour and generative work is taken up by both Marxist and Socialist feminists through the 1970’s in their debates about the relation between reproductive and domestic labour and capital. The struggle to recast repetitive domestic labour as work, work that might even demand a wage, gave way to subsequent discussions about the specificity of care, and an interest in maternal desire, ambivalence, and the paradoxes of maternal subjectivity. However, a central tension remains: if maternal time is understood as meaningless repetition (even when it is recast by Julia Kristeva, for instance, as generative cyclicality) it remains dangerously aligned with the death drive, an association that feminism has been keen to break with. If it is aligned with futurity, it is damned by association with chrononormativity. One way to treat this tension might be to draw on Deleuze’s understanding of repetition as itself the principle of difference which may allow an alternative reading of repetition as generative. However, an equally viable option might be to embrace the non-reproductive temporality of chronic or stuck time as itself a model of maternal time, here understood as the elongated temporality of waiting. Through an engagement with the poet Denise Riley’s powerful new work, Time Lived, Without its Flow (Riley, 2012), I argue for a rendition of maternal time that shares with queer time a dynamic chronicity, alive to the potentials of not moving on, whilst at the same time maintains its link with the ethical principle of one’s own future being bound up with the future of another.
Panel 2: Contemporary literature and the non-reproductive
Chair: Bianca Leggett, Birkbeck, University of London
14:45-15:05: The Impossibility of Narrative: The naturalist aesthetic in J.G. Ballard’s post-pill world (Rachael Stanley, University of Nottingham)
It has been commented that the social landscape depicted in the novels of J.G. Ballard ‘is a post-pill world. No female character can get pregnant, because that would impede the narrative flow; and if any woman does get pregnant, she must have an abortion immediately, silently’ (Toby Litt, 2008). For Ballard, procreation becomes an irresponsible act in a world that seems to be nearing the end of its own life span. If a character does get pregnant their offspring are grotesque, like that of Miranda and Quilter in The Drought, or else genetic cul-de-sacs like the ‘mutant’ children of ‘Low-Flying Aircraft’. Ballard’s fiction constantly produces a curious sense of displacement where the tangible possibility of children – and especially childhood – is denied. Even a woman’s coil is transformed into a fantastical mirage of procreation: ‘she stepped from the car, the coil hanging in her womb
like a steel foetus, a stillborn star’ (Ballard, 1970).
Ballard’s fiction constantly calls attention to an absence of children and fertility and in doing so challenges the reader’s sense of narratorial ordering and progression. Without any sense of a future generation, where can any story go? It is surely not coincidental that another characteristic of Ballard’s fiction is its compulsively repetitious structures and plots: he works through the same queries over and over in slightly differing terms. This paper would seek to examine what the implications are for a fiction without procreation, comparing Nineteenth century literature’s interest in a diseased or corrupted genealogy (as in the works of Zola, which were formally and thematically confined by this concept) with Ballard’s post-modern obsession with the end of the family line and asks what this means for our already precarious sense of ‘narrative’ in postmodernism.
15:05-15:25: Freedom and its Discontents: recreational sex, neoliberalism and the non-reproductive body-politic in Bret Easton Ellis’s The Rules of Attraction (Edward Powell, University of Leeds)
Students at Camden liberal arts college – the setting of Bret Easton Ellis’s second novel The Rules of Attraction (1987) – hardly ever study. Instead, they pursue unscrupulous, unbridled sex, whose recreational – hence non-reproductive – nature Ellis emphasizes throughout. Indeed, such is the level of dispassionate debauchery at Camden, that this novel is often considered a continuation of Ellis’s first novel Less than Zero (1985), which similarly portrays the excessive lifestyles of spoilt, over-privileged teenagers in 1980s Los Angeles. Sex in The Rules of Attraction, therefore, ostensibly reiterates this generation’s incapacity for both meaningful relationships, and emotional or intellectual depth: they literally commodify and consume one another as sex objects.
Nevertheless, this paper will consider the significance, of how Ellis juxtaposes deliberately non-reproductive sex with references to the Reagan administration, including debates surrounding the economic value of a liberal arts education. I will argue that recreational sex reflects how Camden’s students decline to participate in a self-reproducing ideology of neoliberal economism, insofar as their activities as students are hardly motivated by the pressure to maximize one’s economic productivity or potential. Instead, they indulge in excessive overconsumption, disregarding the wisdom – according to Jiwei Chi – that to be able to consume, one must also produce in order to obtain the necessary capital.
Admittedly, these students produce absolutely nothing, economic or otherwise, and their hedonistic self-absorption render them contemptible to absolutely everyone, including themselves. Nevertheless, I contend that Ellis’s antipathy towards these spoilt, overly-privileged and intellectually-bankrupt teenagers is undercut by a concession, that their freedom from economic pressures is simultaneously an enviable freedom from neoliberalism’s unrelenting imperative towards maximizing economic productivity, a freedom they fully indulge in. Camden, therefore, ironically becomes a space of both debauchery and freedom, freedom to refuse to produce economically, and subsequently to reproduce neoliberalism’s ideology of maximizing productivity, first and foremost.
15:25-15:45: Anorexia and Dehumanisation: Artistic and biological reproduction in A. S. Byatt’s ‘A Body Art’ (Benedetta Liorsi, University of Lancaster)
This paper examines the representation of the anorexic body in A. S. Byatt’s short story ‘A Body Art’ as a means of exploring larger questions of artistic and biological reproduction. Firstly, I argue that the anorexic transformation of the body in Byatt’s story leads to a reinvention of the concept of natural reproduction which is discernible in two ways: the production of a non-living artefact out of a female human body and the (perhaps, unconscious) effort of the female body owner to eliminate natural human reproduction completely. Moreover, the woman’s rejection of maternity is crossed by the male ‘sovereign’ counterpart (the father of the child, the doctor overseeing and invading the biological process). The dehumanised body of the woman is transformed into a means – a ‘tool’ – by which to deliver a child irrespective of her will; the male figure disposes of her body in an abuse of (bio)power and imposes himself as the one who controls the reproduction process. This wasted body is thus a disquieting representation of the biopolitical relation between the body (corpus) and the management of corporeality. In conclusion, I further argue that the dehumanisation of the anorexic body in Byatt’s story introduces another dimension to the biopolitics of reproduction, namely, the production of a posthuman body that takes over the task of perpetuating the human species for itself.
Panel 3, Queer modernism
Chair: Cathryn Setz, King’s College London
9:30-9:50: Djuna Barnes and the Death Drive (Ery Shin, University of Oxford)
In the wake of Nazi fascism and its emphasis on the immaculate nuclear family unit, Djuna Barnes wrote towards an alternative future, one accosting reproductive dogma itself. The phallocentric order persists through marriage, childbearing, and gendered indoctrination—patresfamilias grooming the next generation to take their stead. Yet Barnes gravitates instead towards the anti-social energies running through all sexuality, dwelling on extramaternal representations, fallen child figures, and those sexual as well as ethnic outsiders that ordinarily would never have a place in the heteronormative imagination.
Lee Edelman’s No Future can well be applied to Barnes’ writing in this regard, given Barnes’ concern with anti-natalism. If we perceive “the survival of the social in the Imaginary form of the Child,” Edelman posits, then homosexuality does away with such survival, biologically and figuratively, in its pursuit of “sterile, narcissistic enjoyments understood as inherently destructive of meaning and therefore as responsible for the undoing of social organizations, collective reality, and, inevitably, life itself.” Although Barnes refrains from urging us to embrace the death drive in quite the same way Edelman does, she does express an interest in negative futurity, that is, in non-reproductive schemes. This paper will explore that interest, reading sexuality as trauma, enigma, and annihilation in Barnes.
In Nightwood, for instance, none of the women want children, all the men do (Jews and a gay), and of the two children actually present, one is a baby-lesbian while the other is an “idiot.” The belief in a heteronormative future is violently expelled at all quarters. None of the novel’s characters, moreover, whether straight or gay, find romantic fulfilment. To the contrary, desire dismembers them. As Dr. O’Connor tells Frau Mann, “[I]f one gave birth to a heart on a plate, it would say ‘Love’ and twitch like the lopped leg of a frog.”
9:50-10:10: Copied: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and queer reproduction (Ben Nichols, King’s College London)
Lee Edelman’s No Future is widely regarded as the most fervent example of queer theory’s enduring hostility towards reproduction. Many have criticized Edelman (Munoz; Snediker) and some have sought to explore “queer” modes of reproduction (Dean; Rohy), but the concept remains problematic for much queer work.
Whilst Edelman is often seen as representative of those who organise against reproduction, this paper will show that he also helps to identify the disavowed investment in sameness at the heart of its most normative versions. Queer scholars have insisted that the homo/hetero (same/different) split that organizes understandings of sexuality influences structures of value beyond those related to sexual object choice (Sedgwick; Edelman [Homographesis]). In light of recent renewed attention to this insight from figures like Madhavi Menon, who has critiqued historicism for investing in differences of period and refusing to countenance cross-temporal sameness, might we read the denigration of reproduction as a move similarly inflected by this split? Paradoxically, might it be the rhetorical associations of reproduction with the sameness of the homo that make it so unpalatable?
This paper considers these questions by reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “utopian” novels. In Herland, for example, Gilman presents a world populated only by women who reproduce by copying themselves. In presenting such a world, might Gilman, with Edelman, help us recognise the disavowed copying rhetorically central to all reproduction? What is enabled in relation to reproduction when it is not seen as the imprimatur of heterosexuality? In their concern for societal transformation—for social as well as sexual (or asexual) reproduction—her novels might also encourage us to question Edelman’s rejection of the political hope that he imagines constitutes reproductive futurism. Might it be distaste at sameness that would underwrite criticism of these political utopias in which social functions achieve the uniform efficiency of machines?
Panel 4, Film and futurity
Chair: Mandy Merck, Royal Holloway, University of London
10:50-11:10: “Kill the child and you kill the future”: Re-establishing reproduction in cinematic portrayals of parental bereavement (Katie Barnett, University of Birmingham)
The death of a child in cinema remains rare. When it does occur, its impact retains significance: a comprehensive death of innocence, a loss of the promised future. “Kill the child and you kill the future”: it is this ‘killing of the future’ that the child’s death threatens, by rupturing the linear generational progression inherent in Edelman’s concept of reproductive futurism. If the hope of the future is invested in the next generation, then the child’s death upsets this model and curtails the potent promise that the child, as an extension of the self, has come to symbolise.
The film Rabbit Hole (2010) seeks to evade this ‘killing of the future’, even as the audience discovers the depths of parental grief. It follows the broad construction of a variety of films concerning parental bereavement: that of a gradual ‘working through’ grief until a new normality is established on the other side. Yet the film does not simply indicate a moving through, but a moving towards; specifically, a moving towards a future in which reproduction, and another child, will take centre stage. This preoccupation with what comes after grief, with retrieving a future from that most traumatic of deaths, demonstrates the enduring desire to exist beyond one’s own lifetime. Key to this future is the re-establishment of a sexual relationship between the mother and father (the loss of which, to paraphrase Edelman, marks a potential queering of the future, one in which reproduction plays no part). This paper will interrogate the extent to which sex is used on screen—from Rabbit Hole to Paradise (1991) to Don’t Look Now (1973)—to suggest the possibility of a reproductive future, and whether there is ever a space for non-reproductive sex in these representations of child death and parental grief.
11:10-11:30: “Let the sky fall/When it crumbles/We will stand tall”: James Bond resurrected as a sinthomosexual, still saves the British establishment (Nick Hocking, Birkbeck College, University of London)
‘Sinthomosexuality’ is Lee Edelman’s coinage, combining ‘homosexuality’ (obviously) with the Lacanian concept of the ‘sinthome’: the “senseless jouissance” which ties a particular Subject together, binding their Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic aspects into a functional unity called ‘I’). At the termination of a successful Lacanian analysis, if such a point were conceivable, a subject should have shifted their perspective fundamentally from “believ[ing] in” their sinthome, to simply “identifying with it”, i.e. no longer expecting it to bear any Symbolic meaning (No Future, p.37). The sinthomosexual, therefore, becomes a metaphor, or perhaps more properly a sinthome, which holds together Edelman’s (anti)Identity (anti)Politics in which ‘Queer’ subjects are exhorted to fully assume the role of nemesis to reproductive futurism which conservative discourses have projected onto them in any case. The sinthomosexual “offers us fantasy turned inside out, the seams of its costume exposing reality’s seamlessness as mere seeming” (No Future, p.35).
I read the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, through and against Edelman’s ideas, showing how Bond’s symbolic death (officially killed by a misdirected bullet, fired on the orders of his own agency) provides the occasion for a profoundly ‘Queer’ reinvention of the character – seen in the shift in the gaze of the camera from the traditional focus on the bikinied flesh of ‘Bond Girls’ onto Daniel Craig’s own gym-honed body; in the way Bond’s devotion to his duty remains constant, even intensifies (despite his visceral contempt for the authority which sanctioned his killing), reduced/purified into a senseless formal drive; and in the way that the villain, Javier Bardem’s exuberantly ‘Queer’ rogue agent, holds up a mirror to Bond which Craig’s blue-eyes meet without a hint of disavowal. If I am right to see something like Edelman’s sinthomosexual embodied in the latest reinvention of Bond, why does the film ultimately uphold a profoundly reactionary, exclusionary fantasy of Britishness? And would this demonstrate conceptual problems with Edelman’s reaction against reproductive ideologies?
Panel 5, Voluntary childlessness
Chair: Sigal Spigel, University of Cambridge
12:00-12:20: Voluntary Childlessness: A critical review of the literature (Gilla Shapiro, London School of Economics and Political Science)
A voluntary childlessness identity is a pertinent aspect in the discussion of non-reproduction. While childlessness describes a person (or couple) who does not have children, voluntary childlessness is characterized by a choice, commitment, and permanence regarding the decision not to parent. Voluntary childlessness is a burgeoning lifestyle choice that is becoming increasingly vocal through a growing international social movement that has emerged to provide support and connect like-minded people. Since Veevers’ 1973 paper—Voluntary Childlessness: A Neglected Area of Family Study—described the voluntarily childless as receiving ‘selective inattention’, there has been considerable research examining voluntary childlessness.
This paper reviews the literature on voluntary childlessness by examining four central debates: (1) who chooses to be childless; (2) why do individuals choose voluntary childlessness; (3) what are the consequences of voluntary childlessness; and, (4) stigmatization of this lifestyle and responses to stigma. In so doing, this paper reviews diverse literature including sociological, psychological, medical, autobiographical, oral history, and feminist perspectives. Where applicable this paper also discusses methodological limitations and critical areas for future research.
This review not only summarizes four decades of diverse literature, but also critically discusses the underlying assumptions of the field. Accordingly, the focus on who is voluntarily childless indicates a bias as to which segment of the population is encouraged to procreate. Further, the discussion on why individuals choose voluntary childlessness reveals an academic emphasis on ‘freedom,’ ‘autonomy,’ and ‘individualism,’ as underlying one’s decisions to be childfree. Thirdly, the debate concerning the consequences of voluntary childlessness illustrates how academic research on this topic has been used to control women’s bodies. Lastly, investigations into the stigmatization of those who choose to be childless and their responses illustrate how womanhood is constructed as motherhood. A bias-free approach is necessary to advance the field and some recommendations to achieving this objective are described.
12:20-12:40: Women who choose not to reproduce (Rose O’Driscoll, Cardiff Metropolitan University)
Despite many years of progress on women’s rights and women’s issues, certain sections of our society still view motherhood as the most appropriate or desirable option for women. In doing so, women who choose not to have children are very often cast as the ‘Other’ not ‘Mother’ (Letherby, 2002). Similiar to Adams (1976) my interest in exploring this area of study began as an observation that married/cohabiting women without children are often expected to explain why they do not have children, preferably with a story of misfortune. Whereas, women with children are rarely asked to explain why they had/have children. This is interesting in a time when many more women are making a decision not to have children for a variety of reasons. The current predictions are that by 2020, twenty two per cent of women who reach the age of 45 will be childless (ONS, 2011). Yet, we see very little evidence of an acceptance or inclusion of the choices these women make in the wider structures of society. Certain sections of the Media constructs ‘motherhood’ as the obvious route for women. Quite often women who do not have children are asked about whether or not they ‘regret’ not having children (Desert Island Discs. 2011). Social policies created by the dominant political parties assume the functionalist view of the nuclear family, which means women or couples without children are often excluded from benefitting from these social policies. Childlessness by choice is seen as problematic and the voices and experiences of women who choose not to have children are silenced.
The aim of my study, which is a qualitative study, is to explore with women who choose not to have children, why and how they reached that decision, their experiences arising from this decision and the perceived impact on their lives . The proposed paper, if accepted, would present some initial findings from my preliminary study.
Adams, M. (1976) Single Blessedness: Observations on the Single Status in Married society. New York. Basic Books.
BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs. 27.05.2011. Interview with Debbie Harry.
Letherby G, (2002) Childless and Bereft? Stereotypes and Realities in Relation to ‘Voluntary’ and ‘Involuntary’ Childlessness. Sociological Inquiry. Vol 72, No1, Winter 2002- 7-28
www.socialtrends.ons.gov.uk. Social Trend 41.ONS, 2011 Accessed 21/08/2012
Panel 6: Reproduction and Art
Chair: Fiona Johnstone, Birkbeck, University of London
14:00-14:20: Shouts and Murmurs: Textual repetition as visual documents and verbal utterances in Sue Tompkins’ artwork (Kim Dhillon, Royal College of Art)
This paper will focus on two elements of Sue Tompkins’ art practice: spoken-word performances, and text-images. One is tangible: typewritten texts written on broadsheets which are later folded and then loosely bound in ring binders, totaling hundreds of compiled pages. These texts are visually similar to Beat poetry where the paper supports the creative flow, trying to harness the word as a rhythmic beat; perhaps a Dada mix of words abstracted to sounds; or concrete poetry wherein the visual presentation of the words echoes their meaning. With some pages of her text-images sparsely written upon and others densely filled, Tompkins’ typewriter keys seem to tap out words at a pace like the keys on a jazz saxaphone. The other part of Tompkins’ practice is ephemeral: fast-paced performances of the artist, standing with a mic, bouncing around a make-shift stage. She reads the texts in a gallery setting as she flips through the pages of the binder, her mouth keeping pace with the swift beat of her words, which are often repeated. (Tompkins was formerly lead singer of a Glaswegian Indie band whose style laid the foundation for her later, performative art practice). Her singing resembled someone compulsively murmuring a stream of consciousness, alternating between quiet utterances and excitable exclamations, often more like spoken word than singing). Both her text-images and performances show the artists’ attempt to harness a rush of creative energy with language. In these two strands of her practice, Tompkins demonstrates verbal repetition in two ways. But it is in how she reads and performs, at a hyperactive pace, rhythmically repeating words to the point of abstraction that her texts develop impact.
This paper explores the repetition of words in Tompkins’ art, and how the effect of such repetition shifts in its translation from a typewritten document to a time-based performance. I consider how Phelan’s argument — that the radicalism of performance art is in its status as ‘representation without reproduction’ — applies to Tompkins’ artworks. Do the typewritten texts weaken the impact of language in the performances, or strengthen it? What is the role of repetition of words in Tompkins’ art? How does such repetition, and meaning born through repetition, differ if it is read by the artist, or seen or heard by an audience? Do the visual artworks simply reproduce or document the performances, or do they produce something altogether different?
14:20-14:40: ‘Mother Artists’: Ideas of non-reproduction explored through visual culture (Rebecca Baillie, Independent Scholar)
In a book called Approaching Sacred Pregnancy (2007), the author Ira Westergard explains how late medieval female mystics experienced fantasy pregnancies, often more emotional and overwhelming than the actuality. In this respect, – spanning all history and all artistic disciplines – I am interested in imaginary visions of maternal experience as well as depictions of ‘real’ motherhood and day-to-day co-dependency.
For this paper, I will focus my interest on artists who are not mothers but repeatedly deal with ideas of maternity. It is particularly interesting that the principal ‘mother artists’ who now inspire generations of subsequent artists, were either not mothers, or, had tragic, strained and ambivalent relationships with this undertaking; Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois and Alice Neel are each good examples to discuss in these terms. Furthermore, as a ‘childless mother’ working today, artist Tracey Emin expands our notion of traditional maternal subjectivities, exploring issues including abortion, miscarriage, and fantasy pregnancy. In the same way as ‘mother artists’ before her, Emin shows that maternal feelings are created between fellow artists and between artist and artwork, in much the same way as between the ‘real’ mother and child. Important questions to be raised during the course of the paper will include: Do the realities of mothering suffocate the intense demands of being an artist? How can contemporary art critically shift common perceptions away from restricted ideal mother depictions? Is ‘maternity’ an emotion related to being a mother at all?
The subject is timely following the recent publication of The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art (2011) and the forthcoming release of Rosemary Betterton’s The Maternal Body. The topic lends itself to the cross referencing of other subjects, in particular to the studio practice of art itself, to sociology and psychology.
15:30-16:45: Anti-, Non-, Post-Reproduction (Nina Power, University of Roehampton)
This paper will explore some of the parallels and tensions between queer theory’s thinking of non- and anti-reproduction as “anti-futurity” and Marxist-feminism’s questioning of social reproduction in relation to a critique of labour. The Marxist-feminist arguments regarding the perpetuation not only of workers but of the conditions under which workers must perpetuate themselves to be able to be “workers” at all point to a devastating critique of social life as such, and to a political position that hints at a refusal of social reproduction as such. Queer theory’s refusals of politics as such (as in Edelman), as noted in Halbertstam’s writing on the ‘anti-social turn’, is perversely less radical – despite its rhetorical force – than feminism’s uncovering of the hidden labour at stake in the perpetuation of life as such. Thus non-reproduction begins to look like anti-reproduction as critique/(non)-action. This paper wonders what a post-reproductive, post-work world might look like – and asks if such a thing is even thinkable in the current conjuncture.