63 Objects From My Son’s Mouth, is a project by artist Lenka Clayton, documenting the objects she found in and removed from her baby son’s mouth. The Museum is extremely grateful to object artist Kate Murdoch for the link to this beautiful presented yet challenging piece.
Artist Elena Thomas reacts.
My initial response to this list of objects was one of horror… How could a mother put her child somewhere where it was possible for him to play with these items so that she had to retrieve them from his mouth? How many had been ingested rather than retrieved?
I then remembered that I had once discovered my own child painting with the pigeon poo that had landed on the waterproof cover of his pushchair… Pushing it around in glorious circles…
Parenthood is chaotic. Childhood is exploratory. Any semblance of control is an illusion.
I then began to think about the relationship between artist and child. I recall a female artist telling me that I could not be an artist and a mother… Was this more evidence that gave weight to her argument? To be an artist puts your child at risk? To be a mother puts your art at risk?
I start to think about the collection of high risk items retrieved… Why would you save them? To quantify risk and measure subsequent guilt?
And to place them in the grid… Ordered, listed, catalogued…. controlled?
Looking at other work by this artist, there is control, measurement and order everywhere…
Life isn’t like that is it?
Life is always a fag butt heading for the baby’s mouth…
Artist Sonia Boué reacts.
The work is beautiful, and conceptually interesting. The photography is sumptuous. Yet as you start clicking on successive images surely doubt begins to creep in? In my case followed by waves of incredulity and concern. I’m not sure how to feel. If I believe that all these objects really were removed from a baby’s mouth I begin to picture a radical and potentially dangerous experiment in childcare.
I picture a baby put out to forage, or one encouraged to mouth all those objects, in a way contrary to the usual parental norms of censure and protection.
I also imagine a sensory seeking baby – one whose compulsion it is to mouth all manner of objects. This being a specific question during my recent diagnostic assessment for autism. I was able to tell the eminent Dr Gould that I had famously swallowed two coins and a burst ballon at 18 months (this becoming family legend). This was what my mother remembered/ knew about and anxiously awaited evidence of evacuation, but most probably there were many more. Dr Gould nodded and ticked, as this fitted all the other information she had gathered about me.
Tiny babies do put things indiscriminately into their mouths, and teething babies will chew whatever it takes, but parents watch them (as much as they can). This parent was, it seems, on it when it came to object retrieval, but what was happening on the gate-keeping front?
There is something about the forensic way this work is laid out, a detachment in the listing of objects such as “sharp metal pieces” which make me snap. I think of a tiny infant’s soft skin and vulnerability to harm. Toddlers are more robust and can seem bullet proof. All manner of things can occur in the blink of an eye.
As artists we push boundaries, but many questions here arise. Perhaps the unspoken and darker undercurrent on presenting this work is the question of privileging and protecting material through the medium of art. You have to ask how, for example, a client of Social Services would be perceived and treated if such evidence were viewed by a caseworker. What in this case would the outcome be?
In this digital era – this presentation is also the child’s legacy. I find it intriguing to think about how this will pan out as the child grows.
I’m keen to hear other reactions to the work and can insert further contributions at any time via email.