Both/and: Artist-Parents in Conversation

Jackie Wong interviewed me and Hiromi Goto, Meghna Haldar and Sandeep Johal about art, parenting and labour.
Here are my responses to two of her most pressing questions: 

JW: Can we talk about internalized capitalism and internalized misogyny? How has that showed up for you in your experiences as parents and artists?

DT: I am interested in thinking about how internalized capitalism shapes our sense of time. The experiential economy influences what as artists we might perceive as work, or more precisely, as work fulfilled. As Hito Steyerl notes, “In addition to delivering works, artists, or more generally content-providers, nowadays have to perform countless additional services, which slowly seem to become more important than any other form of work. The Q&A is more important than the screening, the live lecture more important than the text, the encounter with the artist more important than the one with the work. ... [The artist needs to be] not only present, but exclusively present, present for the first time, or in some hyperventilating capacity of newness.”* The presence necessitated by this condition does not apply solely to appearances, it requires a constant production of presence for oneself. For a studio artist, being in the studio becomes more than just precious time but a capital that is traded in presence-units. In conversations with my fellow artist-mothers I have noticed how often we say to each other “I feel awful that I couldn’t make it to the studio this last few days/weeks/months,” communicating guilt and in the process asking for a consolation that will legitimize our lack of presence in the studio, replacing with an equivalent “but you were spending so much time with x/y/z (your child)’’ rendering the whole thing an honest transaction. When presence itself becomes a commodity, the challenge then becomes finding ways to radically re-situate presence in a context other than productivity.

Right around the time that my child turned three, I realized that I was trying to cross a subconscious threshold, the deadline to become the woman who can do-it-all. I had made a silent negotiation with myself when I was expecting my child, covertly deciding that until the baby was two I would be pretty much bound up by my responsibilities as a mother, and have little time or other capital to focus on work. Things would start to normalize soon after though, and I would emerge, a successful mother, educator artist - not just the same as before, but better, because of my ability to do-it-all. Needless to say, things didn’t go as smoothly as I imagined. I drew satisfaction from the eclectic mix of duties that I was able to accomplish in unreasonably short periods of time, and often felt powerful because of that. However, as the bizarre combinations of tasks accumulated, I found myself going back to this issue of the do-it-all, and asking “Why does my labour have to encompass everything?” and more recently, “What kind of social conditions does the all in the do-it-all signify and structure?” The all creates a vacuum around it; it leaves nothing, for no one.

JW: What are some areas of the mainstream conversation about parenting and work that you would like to see change?

DT: I am not convinced that wellness can be a solid starting point from which we can take radical action for bettering labour conditions, unless it considers bodies (collective and anonymous) as well as the body (individual and specific). As discussed in several critiques, wellness is continually utilized as a signifier of care by employers, that corresponds, ultimately, to the employee’s state of well-being insofar as it relates to the continuation of production. There is a rapid rise of effort, attention, and creativity in this somewhat false economy of care (and it is an economy, with entire departments and their resources being dedicated to the surveillance and betterment of the wellness of employees). An institution which refuses to better the precarious labour conditions of its workers may not skimp on organizing lunch-time feel-good cupcake-making workshops.

If we are to pursue a serious link between the products of our labour and our bodily and mental well-being, satisfaction and happiness, then it is vital to do this within a framework of trust, rather than of accountability. The destruction of trust -an expectant, dependant, outward-oriented state of being- and its replacement by accountability -an individually possessed set of actions and predictable results, a closed loop- at an institutional level signifies a temporal and spatial shift in how we are instructed to perceive ourselves in the trajectory of life. I have tremendous belief in the power that we have, as artists and parents, to be able to rebuild our networks of trust; both the stability and growth of our labour depend on it.

*Hito Steyerl, Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War (London, New York: Verso, 2017), 22

For the full interview:


Dundas Oke, Emily. Introductory text about Divination Objects, Fall 2020 issue of the Capilano Review, 2020 (upcoming)
Feature of works on cover and in spread. Fall 2020 issue of the Capilano Review, 2020 (upcoming)
Wong, Jackie. Interview as part of Both/and: Artist-parents in conversation, The Future Forum, 2020.
Laurence, Robin. Old Concepts of the Studio Get a Reality Check at the Contemporary Art Gallery. Georgia Straight Online., 2020
Muchet, Mark. Vancouver collective Art Mamas. News article and video on the work of A.M. (Art Mamas). Exhibitionist, CBC. art-mamas-meet-the-vancouver-collective-that-creates-community-for-mothers-in-the-arts- 1.5129578, 2019
Waxer, Meichen. Contribution to zine publication: Review of work produced during the Arts Assembly Residency, Access Gallery, 2018.
Taşdelen, Erdem. Being-Together-Towards-Objects. Exhibition text for Happy, Helen and Morris Belkin Art Gallery, 2011.
Sönmez, Necmi. Exhibition text for Mind Models, Borusan Musichouse, 2010 
10th Year Compilation. Feature of work in catalogue, Kasa Gallery, 2010
Tirben, Elif Gül. Exhibition text for lllicit Practice, C.A.M Gallery, Istanbul, 2009 
Ay, Hasan Salih. Exhibition text for In Between, SU FASS Art Gallery, 2007