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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Helen Knowles

Manchester,
UK

My dad was secretary to the Trades Council in Hackney, London, where I was born in 1975 and both my parents went about saving Walthamstow Marshes from the developers. My parents channelled Shoreditch hipster chic in 1979, twenty-five years before the hipsters even thought about side burns and lolling around in East End cafes. Their political activity (and agitation) included my being driven through small Cheshire villages shouting “Vote Labour” in high-pitched tones through loud speakers, (by then, my mum and dad had swapped the pre-boom financial capital for the north) which of course went down like a tonne of bricks.

Studying Painting at Glasgow School of Art in the 1990’s felt like apathy incorporated. It wasn’t until I had my first child by emergency cesarean that I realised that it was my autonomy as a woman that had been challenged. This propelled me to curate the Birth Rites exhibition in 2008 at the Glasgow Science Centre and Manchester Museum and set up the Birth Rites Collection later that year. It also gave me the impetus to begin a new body of work which explores contemporary mainstream cultural attitudes towards the female body and sexual identities.

Recent shows include: Private View: Public Birth, GV Art, London (2013), Goldsmiths Women’s Library (2013), Life Is Beautiful, Galerie Deadfly, Berlin (2012); Digital Romantics, Dean Clough Gallery (2012) and Walls are Talking, Whitworth Art Gallery (2010). My work is held in collections including; The Whitworth Art Gallery, Gallery Oldham, Tate Library and Archive, The National Art Library, Joan Flasch Artist Book Collection, Museum of Motherhood, NY, Birth Rites Collection and MMU Special Collection. Residencies include: Jodrell Bank Science Centre (1999-2001) and Gatley Primary School (2010). In 2013, I was artist-in-residence at the Santa Fe Arts Institute NM, where I worked on the project Birth Online: Birth Offline and spent time with Native women and midwives, in the Pueblos. A recipient of awards from Arts Council England and The Amateurs Trust, in 2012 I won the Neo Art Prize for two works form the YouTube Portraits series. I lecture widely around the UK and abroad.

Feminist Artist Statement

“If as European philosophical and psychoanalytical tradition has variously argued, maternal origin- the fact of our birth – is the obscene ‘open secret’ which we must psychologically disavow in order to emerge as distinct and bound (Beauvoir, Arendt, Kristeva) then the new graphic visibility within public culture is suggestive of a significant historical and psychosocial shift that bears closer examination.” (Imogen Tyler and Lisa Baraitser, “Private View, Public Birth: Making Feminist Sense of the New Visual Culture of Childbirth,” Studies in the Maternal, 5 (2) 2013.)

In a world spun together over the ether, how does this new “graphic visibility” affect our understanding of birth, our bodies and how we view each other?

Plundering birth videos from YouTube (part of a vast library of homebirth films posted online by the women whose birth experiences are recorded), excavating imagery from old and new books, leading artist workshops with groups of men and women to garner their experiences and perspectives on birth and curating a collection of contemporary art on childbirth, are just some of the means I employ to unpick the threads of cultural attitudes to women’s bodies, in particular birth, and to unravel the trouble that audiences have with certain kinds of images. In recent years, I have worked predominantly in the medium of print, producing artist books, wallpapers and more recently, a suite of seven large-scale screen prints.

<p>The Natural Way of Birth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH0sRTYd17I</p>

The Natural Way of Birth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH0sRTYd17I

YouTube Portraits

A suite of seven large-scale screen prints. Each work depicts a still image, taken from a vast library of home-birth videos posted internationally by women on the internet. The images are screen-grab close-ups of women’s faces exhaling and reclining at the moment the baby crowns, as well as wider views of this moment revealing the women’s euphoria in their domestic spaces. The works featured in YouTube Series appropriate and re-present these women’s filmed experiences and connect to a wider international concern with social media as a tool to democratise what can often be tightly controlled and censored experiences. I have created each print by using a pioneering method of exposing the screen with a digital projector. A technique I devised, which relies on an analogue understanding of the photographic process but results in a pixelated image which directly references the technological origin of the source material.

The Natural Way of Birth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH0sRTYd17I

YouTube Portraits

A suite of seven large-scale screen prints. Each work depicts a still image, taken from a vast library of home-birth videos posted internationally by women on the internet. The images are screen-grab close-ups of women’s faces exhaling and reclining at the moment the baby crowns, as well as wider views of this moment revealing the women’s euphoria in their domestic spaces. The works featured in YouTube Series appropriate and re-present these women’s filmed experiences and connect to a wider international concern with social media as a tool to democratise what can often be tightly controlled and censored experiences. I have created each print by using a pioneering method of exposing the screen with a digital projector. A technique I devised, which relies on an analogue understanding of the photographic process but results in a pixelated image which directly references the technological origin of the source material.

The Birthing of Azheyo Aeoro http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElXokPUX490

Youtube Portraits

A suite of seven large-scale screen prints. Each work depicts a still image, taken from a vast library of home-birth videos posted internationally by women on the internet. The images are screen-grab close-ups of women’s faces exhaling and reclining at the moment the baby crowns, as well as wider views of this moment revealing the women’s euphoria in their domestic spaces. The works featured in YouTube Series appropriate and re-present these women’s filmed experiences and connect to a wider international concern with social media as a tool to democratise what can often be tightly controlled and censored experiences. I have created each print by using a pioneering method of exposing the screen with a digital projector. A technique I devised, which relies on an analogue understanding of the photographic process but results in a pixelated image which directly references the technological origin of the source material.

Alleingeburt/Unassisted Childbirth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3ANtPxI3pE

YouTube Portraits

A suite of seven large-scale screen prints. Each work depicts a still image, taken from a vast library of home-birth videos posted internationally by women on the internet. The images are screen-grab close-ups of women’s faces exhaling and reclining at the moment the baby crowns, as well as wider views of this moment revealing the women’s euphoria in their domestic spaces. The works featured in YouTube Series appropriate and re-present these women’s filmed experiences and connect to a wider international concern with social media as a tool to democratise what can often be tightly controlled and censored experiences. I have created each print by using a pioneering method of exposing the screen with a digital projector. A technique I devised, which relies on an analogue understanding of the photographic process but results in a pixelated image which directly references the technological origin of the source material.

Birth with Orgasm II http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDyUbZW29ts

YouTube Portraits

of the source material.

Installation view of Alleingeburt/Unassisted Childbirth & Birth with Orgasm II Dean Clough Gallery

YouTube portraits

A suite of seven large-scale screen prints. Each work depicts a still image, taken from a vast library of home-birth videos posted internationally by women on the internet. The images are screen-grab close-ups of women’s faces exhaling and reclining at the moment the baby crowns, as well as wider views of this moment revealing the women’s euphoria in their domestic spaces. The works featured in YouTube Series appropriate and re-present these women’s filmed experiences and connect to a wider international concern with social media as a tool to democratise what can often be tightly controlled and censored experiences. I have created each print by using a pioneering method of exposing the screen with a digital projector. A technique I devised, which relies on an analogue understanding of the photographic process but results in a pixelated image which directly references the technological origin of the source material.

Conception

Installation view Conception & Birth wallpaper, ‘Walls Are Talking’, Whitworth Art Gallery

These wallpapers were made in collaboration with designer Francesca Granato. ‘Birth’ uses motifs of active-birth postures displayed as Georgian patterns to challenge the separation of women as mothers and women as sexual entities. ‘Conception’ uses the motif of the male and female reproductive organs.

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