Finding Equilibrium, Releasing Pressure: Exhibitions in Lubbock Address Women’s Labor and Care

by Natalie Hegert March 22, 2023
Installation view with two dimensional works hanging on a wall, and a seesaw in the middle of the space

“Care + Collaboration,” installation view, 2023, at LHUCA, Lubbock. Photo Courtesy LHUCA.

Beginning in 2010, Courtney Kessel — recently divorced, single mom, student, artist — devised a performance that embodied the balancing act that was her reality. Perching her then-five-year-old daughter Chloe on one end of a fourteen-foot seesaw with her possessions, she positioned herself on the other side of the seesaw until she could find equilibrium. 

At LHUCA, a reconstruction of Kessel’s seesaw, heaped with objects donated from the Lubbock community, stands in for the performance of In Balance With, while a video of the performance, from 2015, when her daughter was about ten years old, plays on a nearby video monitor. The work serves as the centerpiece to the exhibition Care + Collaboration, curated by Sarah Sudhoff, and encapsulates the central premise of the show: the balancing act of motherhood and (art)work. In the Studio Gallery at LHUCA, Sudhoff’s durational performance work is also on display in a solo exhibition, Performance Measures, featuring video, photographs, and material relics. 

Installation view of photos hanging horizontally on a white wall and colorful fabric banners in the rafters

“Sarah Sudhoff: Performance Measures,” installation view, 2023, at LHUCA, Lubbock. Photo Courtesy LHUCA.

“It’s important to me that mothers are visible as artists, no matter how we make, no matter what the content or the concept is,” Sudhoff, the Houston-based artist, mother, and curator tells me. “We are navigating all these challenges while figuring out how to make. We are influenced on a daily, hourly basis, by how much time we have. How does that inform the process; how does that inform the product?”

The artists included in the exhibition — from many parts of the U.S., as well as Canada and Germany — are all trying to make time, make art, and care for children, and make art about trying to make time to make art while caring for children. To that end, they involve their children as collaborators, in some inventive and surprising ways. “It’s interesting to see the different types of making — some are in collaboration with other mothers, some are in collaboration with their children, some are all over the map,” Sudhoff says.

A photo of a hand on the right and on the left a photo of a woman covering a child's eyes

Leah DeVun, (left) “Cookie Dough Hand,” (right) “Ordinary Realities,” installation view, 2023, at LHUCA, Lubbock, archival inkjet prints. Photo Courtesy LHUCA.

Acrylic works suspended from a wire hanging in front of a red wall

Victoria Smits, (left) “Labor Made Visible: Picking Up Around the House,” (right) “Labor Made Visible: Making My Son’s Bed,” installation view of etched acrylic works, 2023, at LHUCA, Lubbock. Photo Courtesy LHUCA.

The peculiarities of labor — specifically the labor of a mother — are evidenced in many works here: a book of fetal heartbeat and contraction monitor printouts produced from the artist’s labor in childbirth, “salvaged from the trashcan,”; a handknit sweater with thermal chromatic dye bearing the imprint of a nursing child; and even the patterns of domestic duties — the back and forth of picking up from kitchen to nursery — in keyhole markup language on panels of etched acrylic.

Installation view with works on pedestals, quilts on a wall and a video screening

“Care + Collaboration,” installation view, 2023, at LHUCA, Lubbock. Photo Courtesy LHUCA.

The themes of Care + Collaboration are immediately relevant to anyone trying to juggle a career and childcare, an issue thrust to the forefront during the pandemic as parents tried to homeschool and work at the same time. But artist-mothers had been doing this for a long time before that, and have been making and showing work about it. The Artist-Mother Podcast and An Artist and a Mother, a soon-to-be released book from Demeter Press, showcases art made in this vein and highlights the struggles of artist-mothers. Sudhoff has been featured in both, along with many of the artists included in Care + Collaboration. 

A woman and her daughter with all her possessions balancing on a seesaw

Courtney Kessel, “In Balance With,” 2015, digital video still.

Locally, in Lubbock, there have been a few exhibitions with similar approaches in recent memory. In October 2022, Boryana Rusenova-Ina showed works made in a kind of collaboration with her children, by replicating their learning-to-write scribbles with oil and acrylic on canvas. And in 2021, Kristy Kristinek curated an exhibition entitled Motherly, with works by Heather Warren-Crow, Hannah Dean, Kelly Reyna, and Courtney Tyler, all made in collaboration with the artists’ children. 

Right now, across the courtyard from LHUCA, another exhibition at the Texas Tech University (TTU) Satellite Gallery, Hide & Seek: Neighborhood Art Space, features collaborative, intergenerational art making, through the lens of intersectional feminism. The gallery space has been transformed into a cozy living room, with crafts and activities for kids and installations by local artists that invite participate from the community. Devised collaboratively by a group of artists, educators, and researchers — Courtney Tyler, Leslie Sotomayor, Katy Ballard, Sophia Villalobos, Rachel Avila, Shelby Poor, and Stephen Puente — the gallery is a welcoming space ensconced in quilts, afghans, and other textiles, denoting care and comfort, while pointing to traditions of women’s labor and skill. 

Sotomayor, who is a visiting professor of women’s and gender studies at TTU, is showing a series of whimsical, mixed-media canvases she worked on in collaboration with her daughter, a first-grader. “Oftentimes, I have noticed that because I am an interdisciplinary artist, scholar, and researcher, that goes against the mainstream norm because our worlds are so segregated,” she says. “How can we talk about this more inclusively? How do you juggle all of this? ‘9-5’ jobs, making art, being a mother or parent, caregiver of elderly. This is why I was so intentional about including the art I made with my daughter, Sophia,” she says.

IMage of the artist Sophia Villalobos in a cocoon space

Sophia Villalobos in her Cocoon Space. Photo: Natalie Hegert.

An installation by Tyler depicts the integration of her roles as artist, mother, and researcher by drawing parallels to the lifecycles of cicadas. A board with research notes and collage elements rests on a mound of dirt on the floor, into which visitors are invited to fold up little green papers as “cicadas” and bury them.

The textile art of Villalobos takes over a corner of the gallery, where the artist has created a knitting nook featuring recycled and repurposed fabrics, and mixed media sculptures incorporating precious items from family members. A mother, a grandmother, and the daughter of a seamstress and an upholsterer, Villalobos sees her practice as connecting (through sewing) the generations that came before her and the future generations to come. In the simplicity and accessibility of sewing, Villalobos finds “something maternal,” with “this nest [that she created] representing my home, my life, and my family.” 

Photo of a little girl drawing on the floor in a room surrounded by textiles

“Hide & Seek: Neighborhood Art Space,” installation view, 2023, at TTU Satellite Gallery, Lubbock. Photo: Emilio Garcia.

The exhibition at the Satellite Gallery is about much more than the works on the wall — it’s about the interactive component that can bring people together in making, thinking, and talking about art. “I loved seeing the different age ranges participating, from kids to senior citizens,” Sotomayor says of the exhibition’s recent opening night during Lubbock’s First Friday Art Trail. The power of art, she says, is about initiating different conversations about topics that can be hard to broach, whether done through making a T-shirt addressing sexual violence or writing affirmations on a mirror. “If someone gets hurt, how do we talk about this? How do we talk about kindness and love and empathy?” Sotomayor asks. The opportunities for interaction can happen on many levels, for people of all ages and all walks of life. 

The act of making art, of handling materials and finding the courage to put an idea out there, also constitutes an act of vulnerability — a moment where we can maybe take on a different perspective or recognize something new.

A woman standing in front of a wall of prints

“Hide & Seek: Neighborhood Art Space,” installation view, 2023, at TTU Satellite Gallery, Lubbock. Photo: Emilio Garcia.

While considering these displays of care and collaboration and nurturing, the relationship between material objects and emotional weight strikes me. Sudhoff’s devastating piece 60 Pounds of Pressure (2020) is displayed as a stack of bricks on a pedestal: sixty pounds being the combined weight of her two children. In a durational performance, Sudhoff layed on the floor with the bricks on her chest, trying to breathe — a response to the story of a young mother and nurse in Georgia who was found dead of Covid, her four-year-old daughter by her side. The performance, she writes, was a “gesture to equalize the internal pressure with an external force.”

Matrescence, the process of becoming a mother, is intrinsically bound with trauma, as one learns to cope with identity loss, isolation, the dissolution of physical boundaries, body changes, hormones, lactation, I could go on. Motherhood is a many-headed hydra of internal and external pressures, made especially injurious in a state that does not have a good track record of supporting mothers.

Installation view with textiles, fabrics, and rope lights filling the space

“Hide & Seek: Neighborhood Art Space,” installation view, 2023, at TTU Satellite Gallery, Lubbock. Photo: Emilio Garcia.

Gestures to equalize that pressure with an external force or expression — this may be a descriptor that applies to all of these works. Art acts as a valve for stress, pain, trauma, loss, and even joy and caring. Art opens us up — both as audience and creator — and makes visible the multitude of forces that define our experiences. We just need to have the conversations about how we can care for each other in that understanding.


Care + Collaboration and Sarah Sudhoff: Performance Measures are on view at LHUCA, Lubbock through April 1, 2023. Hide & Seek: Neighborhood Art Space is on view at the TTU Satellite Gallery, Lubbock through March 23, 2023.

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