All my Mothers’ Mothers

“All my Mothers’ Mothers” is a project that started with one simple bias-cut slip dress pattern, made in multiple fabrics including cotton, linen and silk, each dress screen-printed with the name of a female ancestor. 

My older brother had spent some time tracing our ancestry back as thoroughly as possible decades ago, and I felt like I needed a formal way to interact with the information, to sit with each name and set of dates contemplating the person it conjured and what her life must have been like. 

I was interested in the women in particular as their stories are so often shrunken and packaged in contemporary life. In other eras, almost absent entirely. As I thought about the way women’s lives have been circumscribed and contingent throughout history, this work began to converge with my other work about landscape and language. My personal relationship with my own mother shifted through this lens and I found myself thinking less about what she did and more about the trauma she carried in her body. I found myself thinking about what was carried in all these bodies (that the names represented) and the way trauma is inscribed across generations.

Situated as we are in Washington DC, a city cut with patriarchy and power through such architectural elements as the National monument and the 35 statues of men on horseback found throughout, I began to think about vulnerable bodies (such as women in bias-cut slip dresses) moving through a landscape like this, as well as moving at home-whatever “home” might be, shack or mansion or tent or apartment. I had already begun to use dance to animate the dresses and find a way to invite these women to meet me in a field of pure being- an idea I hold from my meditation practice, as I moved. (It turns out there are many ways I could approach these performances, many ways that I could meet these women when I don the dresses. Do I become the women when I wear her dress? Is the transformation immediate or slow? Those are thoughts for future performances. These recordings sit squarely in the field of pure being, as it were, and the play that that affords us).

Recording video in three settings: urban, “natural”, and domestic, it wasn’t long before I began to think about bringing the women out of my own domestic space and into DC. Wearing the dresses, I danced around General Sheridan on horseback in Sheridan Square, the National Monument on the mall, and the trails in Rock Creek Park.  Lauren Berlant’s “The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship “sat on my reading table as I did so, further illuminating my own ideas on what it means to move through these spaces as a female body.

Part one of a three-part video installation (the other three can be found by following the Vimeo link):