Megan Wynne is a new media artist. Megan attended Pratt Institute in New York and has a BFA in Sculpture.
Megan then attended San Francisco Art Institute for her MFA in New Genres. Her work has been exhibited in numerous venues such as The SHOW 2015, D’Art Center, and The New Waves Exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Her work was recently highlighted for the Birthlight Womb to World Conference. According to Diane Speier, her work deals with distorted representations, body images, and mothers’ real life experience. This is her FFA.
AltDaily: What is the idea of the perfect mother?
Megan Wynne: I think that people imagine the perfect mother as a happy but completely selfless martyr figure. This is one of the reasons I reference the Virgin Mary in my work. Yet particularly in contemporary society she must also somehow manage to look attractive (but not too attractive) and “have it all” in every other aspect of her life. It’s an absurd and impossible set of expectations placed on women. I often subtly reference religious iconography in general in my work because I think that people’s notions of martyrdom, perfection, and purity frequently come up in very close intimate relationships. I also want to speak about the profundity of intimacy.
Can you explain “Mom Art” and how your work defies this term?
It’s a pejorative term used to describe artwork that women make about their children. The assumption is that it is overly sentimental, too personal, too emotional, and worst of all unsophisticated. A friend of mine who is an artist was actually asked, “You’re not going to make Mommy Art are you?” by a male colleague after she had her first child. The term is grounded in narrow and sexist perspectives on what is valuable to represent in art and whose perspectives are deemed worthy. When I became a mother I wanted to make work about motherhood that challenged stereotypical ideas about what it means to be a mother. I wanted to make work that was very personal and emotional but that also was complex and challenging.
Home Birth, 2015
What are the stereotypes of motherhood do you confront in your artwork?
My work challenges the stereotypical oversimplification of the mother-child relationship. Depictions of motherhood historically have been primarily idealized, reductive, and even fetishized. One major reason for this is because most of the art made about motherhood (and art in general) throughout history was made my men.
In art they spoke about women in terms of what they symbolized to them, symbols of chastity, symbols of desire, etc. Children were used reductively and symbolically in art the same way. Although thankfully things have changed in terms of the feminine perspective in art, I think motherhood is still often viewed as a symbolic ideal rather than for what it is.
To understand what I am talking about just look at all the memes about motherhood you see on Facebook. It’s either this representation of perfect pure love and selflessness, or its the representations of what I call the “I need a glass of wine” mom. Its the overworked martyr mother who is taken for granted by her children but loves them selflessly in spite of this. She rolls her eyes, jokingly commiserates with other mothers, and continues on to serve another day. I can completely relate to both of these tropes of motherhood, but they don’t tell the whole story. In my own experience I was shocked at how unprepared I was for what pregnancy, giving birth, and raising a child would actually entail. Like many women I had never even seen a woman breastfeed before. I was also unprepared for the feelings I would have about all of it. It was the hardest, craziest, most amazing and beautiful thing ever.
The experience of becoming a mother also caused me to confront my history as a daughter who was given up for adoption, and my relationship with my own mother. I then began to understand the deep and mysterious implications of how a family history affects the present and will continue to be passed on in the future. These are the things I think about when I make my work; the intensity of that confrontation with the past, and the intensity of my connection to my children in the present.
Untitled (from the Bed series), 2015
Can you describe how you work with your children to make artwork?
It’s very collaborative. First of all, it has to be, because if my kids didn’t want to do what I wanted them to do all my pictures would be of them crying. Their ideas and behaviors are the inspirations for my work. Most, if not all of the images are of them doing things that they just naturally do. I sometimes recreate or elaborate on something they’ve thought of, but its always a fun, playful experiment for all of us. I admit, sometimes it can be nerve wracking for me as the artist because they sometimes don’t do what I expect them to do, but more often than not they surprise me by doing things that are more interesting than what I had in mind. I often set some parameter and then they elaborate on that. They just do what they want to do in the scene I’ve set up for us. Its nice for me because it takes some pressure of me to be in complete control and potentially close down the possibilities of my work. It relieves some of the burden of responsibility. It’s nice to have that variable when making art, that collaborative playfulness allows for more unexpected and inventive outcomes.
How has having children and the lack of privacy associated with everyday moments changed your life and work?
I think the privacy issue speaks to the incredible connection and profound intimacy of the mother-child relationship. When my children are sick, they often don’t think twice about wiping their snot on my body, and I don’t either. Right now I know I have snot on my sweater from yesterday when I was carrying my daughter on my back. That was the best place for it at the time. If you are a parent of a young child, you know that when you go to the bathroom, you will probably have an audience. And as proper audience behavior dictates, you may even be applauded for your performance. Some of these scenarios at first glance may seem strange, or even worse inappropriate, but in reality they are the most natural, innocent and beautiful expressions of a bond with a parent.
One of the first times I noticed the extent of the disconnect that people have with that aspect of parenthood, and how uncomfortable it made people, was when I was trying to breastfeed my babies in public. It really disturbs people because the only version of intimacy that the public is used to seeing that involves breasts (or the female body in general) is sexual. We live in a culture obsessed with sex that worships that brief stage of life after puberty and before reproduction. Though that lens a woman using her nipple to feed a child somehow seems obscene and off-putting. I think it’s incredibly important to push alternative contexts for understanding and normalizing female body. That burden of imposed shame is something that women and children shouldn’t have to carry.
Has your direction or medium in art changed over time?
Yes, though I was always interested in human relationships and speaking from a very personal place. I actually started out as a dancer. That love of performing translates well into performing with my body in my visual artwork. In college I studied painting and photography and sculpture. My BFA is in sculpture and my MFA is in new genres. I think it has been quite helpful for me as an artist to have a broad understanding of many different types of media because it frees up the possibilities of how I can say what I want to say in my work. I also like the ability to combine media in a single piece. I think I’m drawn to exploring different techniques and materials because I like being challenged and taken out of my comfort zone as a maker and a thinker. But I’ve always been focused on ideas and the best way to communicate those ideas rather than being married to the technical aspects of a particular medium. Photography is always something I’ve gone back to, however.
Untitled, (from the Made Up Mother series), 2013
Why did you decide to use photography as a method of expression?
As a parent-artist, photography is great because all it takes is a fraction of a second to capture an image. I have to care for my children, so I can’t sit around all day in a studio painting anyway. I love the immediacy of photography and how it plays with ideas of raw documentation and the concept of reality without mediation. It is often the medium of choice for parents when they want to record the lives of their children, and I want my work to reference that meaningful, yet everyday act. It also gives me the ability to use the physical body to tell a story, yet because it is a still image I am given a very precise and narrow way to frame it.
Your work is physical and depends on performance or action from the subjects. Has this been influenced by your previous methods of expression?
Yes, definitely. My past experience growing up as a dancer influences the performative nature of my work. I am actually continuing to study dance, though very informally. It gives me a greater control over my body and an awareness of it. My daughters also take dance at the studio that I grew up attending. They are performers like me. Studying dance and performance gave me an understanding of how to tell a story with a human body. Setting up a shot is a lot like choreography: focusing on body positioning and angles, expressing emotions, allowing for physical improvisation within constructed parameters, etc.
Who are the artists you look to that are changing perceptions of motherhood?
There are many, but Ana Casas Broda and Lenka Clayton make art about the experience of motherhood that I find particularly challenging and inspiring. Both use performance and photography in their work. Broda’s images are very personal and address the intimacy and fragility of the mother-child relationship. Clayton recently did a really great project called the “Artist Residency in Motherhood” in which she made work about motherhood at home while caring for her son, and it was formally set up as and funded as if it were a conventional artist residency. Her work considers the everyday duties, chores, and experiences of motherhood that often aren’t seriously examined, and it is funny. It reminds me of Mary Kelley’s groundbreaking work on motherhood from the 1970’s in which she examined the mundane aspects of motherhood through a detached psychoanalytical lens. Also, I’ve recently seen a lot of interesting contemporary art about motherhood though my participation in “The Procreate Project“, a London-based archive of the work of international mother-artists, created by Dyana Gravina.
What are you working on now? What direction is your work taking?
Practically speaking, the way I work and what I make work about is very much tied to the structure of my life in the present. My work changes as my kids grow and their relationship to me changes. For example, my youngest daughter is about to self-wean, so my ability to make work about the act of breastfeeding isn’t going to last much longer. I should probably get on that. Otherwise right now I’m just responding to everyday life with my kids and reflecting on the feelings and thoughts those interactions bring up for me. Recently I’ve actually been considering alternative means for collaboration with my children, but the process is probably going to be complicated and require a lot of trial and error, much like the terrific challenge of parenting itself.
For more of Megan Wynne’s work go here: meganwynne.net