For my website please go to: http://www.jennybutcher.co.uk/
I am a part-time student entering the last 2 years of my Fine Art degree course at University Campus Suffolk.
I use a variety of media in my practice including sculpture, painting, print making and this semester I plan to include some lens based work.
At present I am exploring the theme of identity and in particular adoption and all its implications.
Having been adopted as a baby I grew up from a young age feeling that within the family setting things were different for me somehow, but the feelings were and still are difficult to define. One feeling that was always was that I didn’t quite ‘fit in’. This was not exclusive to my adopted family, I felt the same after I met members of my birth family.
Having read psychologists data and accounts of adoptees experiences over the past couple of decades I now believe that my sense of alienation is a result of a feeling of abandonment which adoptees experience throughout much of their lives. I recognise that for me, it has and still does impact on my relationship with family and sometimes friendships. It is not my intention to use my blog to vent my personal insecurities, but try to gain a greater understanding of the issues that arise from ‘the adoption triangle’; the birth mother, the adoptive parents and the adoptee.
Whilst searching for other artists who are also adopted I found an Australian Landscape Architecture lecturer Nicole Porter who held an exhibition in Melbourne in 2009, entitled New Arrivals. She writes about her experience as an adoptee and how her art has helped the revealing and healing process in her life. More on this later.
There have been two books which have been particularly helpful and encouraging to me both personally and informing my work. They show the diverse range of emotions that affect individuals in the adoption process and I have been encouraged by their stories and experiences. In the books there are words and phrases which are repeatedly used by both adoptees and birth mothers and I hope to focus on some of these.
As this is just the start of this project and one which is particularly close to my heart I have struggled to know where to start so, I have started by making a linocut of a childhood image of myself. The cutting process helped me to focus…
When reading about adoption there are certain words which are repeated by adoptees because they share similar emotions. This recent work includes just a few of these words. The work comprises of nine babygrows (representing nine months of pregnancy) and hung alongside each other, similar to the way in which coats would be hung up in school. The labels I have sewn inside the collar hang on the hooks and on them I have written ‘everyday’ Christian names, but the ‘surnames’ describe how they feel.
This work was also inspired by an installation by artist Emma Middleton which was on display at the Foundling Museum last year. Her work was in response to the Foundling Hospital school uniforms and the young people’s experiences of being labelled as a ‘child in care’ at school.
The shirt labels record sentences that teachers and parents said to them during their school life.
It is interesting reading the varied experiences adoptees encounter in the search for their origins…and the imagery it creates. One adoptee was quoted as saying,
‘There is nothing I could do about it; it’s over and done with, I would just be opening a can of worms.’
I am considering whether to add a label to the can…
When a child is born, the umbilical cord is cut, separating the baby from its mother.
When a child starts school, she is separated from her family.
When two parents’ divorce, a family becomes fragmented.
It was while walking along a beach early one morning last summer and reflecting on where my practice was heading in terms of my theme of adoption that I came across things lying on the sand. It appeared that the owners of the objects had been careless when packing up their belongings and leaving the beach at the end of a day at the seaside.
I began to photograph them and realised all the items I was recording weren’t broken, they were still functional. Some of the items looked nearly new or were part of a set and I began to ask myself questions. At what point did the owners miss the objects? Did they come back and search for the lost item? Why didn’t they check more thoroughly? Were the objects hidden in the sand, so they got forgotten…or were they deliberately left behind?
I was intrigued by these things and the questions they had raised in my mind so I kept returning to the beach at the same time for the remaining days I was there to see what else had been left behind recording each item on my camera.
I compared all the things I came across with the separation of a mother and baby at a point when the child is handed over for adoption and the idea that the questions I asked about the objects were similar to the ones adoptees ask when they become aware that they are adopted.
I have compiled most of the images into this small album.
“Ode à l’oubli” was Bourgeois’ first book of fabric collages. The pages were made of linen hand towels from the artist’s wedding trousseau and are embroidered with the monogram “LBG” for “Louise Bourgeois Goldwater” (Bourgeois married Robert Goldwater in 1938). To assemble the book, Bourgeois worked with a seamstress, Mercedes Katz and the fabric collages on each page are made from fragments of her old clothing and household items.
In my post of July 2016 I had just completed sewing token comfort blankets (made from an old found blanket) for a mother to represent the loss of her baby to adoption. Having put it aside for a while I have recently added to them with other words in Latin which convey sentiments from an adopted child’s perspective.
The Latin words are a direct reference to Mary Kelly’s ‘Post-Partum Document (1973-1979) The work was a six year exploration of the mother-child relationship. When it was first shown in 1976 it provoked tabloid outrage because it included stained nappy liners. Each of the six part series concentrates on a developmental moment in her son’s mastery of language and her own sense of loss, moving between the voices of the mother, child and an analytic observer.
I researched Latin words and English translations with the intention of conveying the frustration and hurt adoptees often attempt to understand and come to terms with during particular periods in their lives. In the work I used Muslin which is a versatile fabric and one that has been widely used over decades, particularly in baby care. One seller describes its uses: ‘Burping, Swaddling, Covering when Breastfeeding, Mopping Up Spills, Wiping Baby’s Face, Nappy Liner…’
The muslin squares sewn on the reverse of the mother’s blanket act as a backing and can be read as a ‘cover up’ or ‘backing up’ in the emotions felt on either on the part of the mother or child. The roughly written words are intended to express the immediacy of the emotions and the long-term consequences of unresolved issues and lack of transparency for both parties.
The blankets are bound together in ‘book form’ by a calico cover which has been left blank to signify that any adoptee or birth mother can identify with the sentiments contained within it. It is finished off with a red thread which links the whole book in an unusual way and increases the difficulty in turning the pages. It can have other meanings, eg. umbilical cord…I have made the book to be read in many different ways.