Skip to content

In Balance With by Courtney Kessel

Thursday, October 5, 2017

In Balance With by Courtney Kessel

  • October 5, 2017 | 7 PM
  • 116 Blue Star

Contemporary at Blue Star is pleased to present In Balance With, a performance by Courtney Kessel in collaboration with her daughter Chloé.

“With her iterative series In Balance With (2010-present), US-based artist Courtney Kessel similarly places herself and her child’s body into the gallery or museum space, offering maternal care-work, or maternal relations, like Lublin and Clayton, as the very material of the work. The project, which has been performed once a year since 2010 (Kessel’s daughter was six years old at the time of the first performance, and eleven during the most recent performance in 2016) was developed by Kessel while navigating life as a graduate student and single mother. Each iteration has consisted of the artist gathering together the objects of her and her daughter’s everyday life at that moment (that year and in that location) and placing these in a gallery or museum space in which she has built a raw wooden See-Saw (Teeter-Totter).

For each performance, Kessel’s daughter, Chloe Cash Clevenger, sits at one end of the See-Saw, occupying herself in whatever way she wishes: reading a favorite book, coloring, playing on an iPad. As Clevenger entertains herself, Kessel repeatedly tests her own weight at the opposite end of the See-Saw and proceeds to pack the objects littering the floor onto Clevenger’s side until the objects are able to balance Kessel’s weight with Clevenger’s, and mother and daughter are able to hang in perfect balance. They then stay seated on the See-Saw, Kessel looking at her daughter, Clevenger at play, until – and this is perhaps the most critical gesture of the piece – Clevenger declares the performance over. The action refers to Kessel’s experience of working in her studio and developing a practice of setting her daughter up in one corner with enough items of interest surrounding her for Kessel to get some work done (indeed, I, myself, am deploying this tactic as I write, here, with my six-year-old son in the next room). It also refers to the truism that to be a professional and a mother is to perform a balancing act.

It is precisely such an act of balance that has been seen as detrimental to the focus required for artistic (and scholarly and, indeed, most forms of professional) excellence. Instead of leaving the preparatory labor of child-distraction to the side of her practice as a precondition of the work, Kessel chose to turn that preparatory labor into the work itself, like Ukeles, rendering it a site of value in and of itself. In Balance With places symbolic maternal labor at the center of a public, action-based, performance that asks what is lost when the material is relegated to that which must be hidden in order for the professional body of the artist (and her work) to be valued; to be rendered “great.”

-Excerpt from: Loveless, Natalie S. “Maternal Mattering: The Performance and Politics of the Maternal in Contemporary Feminist Art” in Hilary Robinson and Maria Elena Buszek (eds.), The Companion to Feminist Art Practice and Theory, Wiley-Blackwell (forthcoming)

Image Gallery