This is 5 Questions. Each week, we send five questions to an artist featured in Under the Radar, our weekly email highlighting the best art on the ArtSlant network. This week we seek answers from Aimee Gilmore.
What are you trying to communicate with your work?
Even now while reflecting back, it is almost impossible to comprehend growing a human life inside me. Carrying her. Nurturing her. Protecting her. My body acclimated; my skin stretched, my womb expanded, my bones strengthened, my mind prepared. What you can only know after is that you will never actually be prepared. Other mothers don’t tell you the truth about labor. How can they? It is practically indescribable. It is a visceral experience. It’s messy. It’s painful. It’s unpredictable. It’s long. It’s very long. I journeyed to an unfamiliar mental space. That was the scariest part, the unknown. Will it hurt? Will I be safe? Will I be able to do this? Will she be safe? Will it take hours? Will it take days? Will I be strong enough to get through it? This array of questioning I imposed on myself revealed the role I was thrust into: Mother. Questioning now performs on a foundational level for my work. I sketch in questions, seeking clarity through examination, yet the answers are immaterial. I allow space for the objects, surfaces, colors, and sounds from my everyday life to enter the work. These are the relics from those first few days, months, and now years of the most significant transformation in my life. Seemingly mundane, commonplace and deep-rooted in their conventional and often clichéd representation of motherhood, I take inspiration from objects like the breast pump and baby clothes as they operate as the visual cues of the lineage I am now and forever connected to.
As she grew within, our first ways of communicating were purely gestural. We moved as one. My body allotted for more space within as needed. As my body grew through connection, her body grew in preparation to separate. For nearly a year, one person exists as two people. Two bodies compressed into one. Two hearts synchronizing rhythms. Two lives sharing breaths. Two strangers cohabiting a sacred space. Intimate strangers. Two lives living solely in a state of waiting. Waiting to separate while growing apart, separating while waiting. The separation is subsequently violent. I was not prepared. For two days, my body strained to release her. I pushed, I ripped, I agonized, I cried, I slept, I moaned, I screamed, I gave up, I recovered, I prevailed. I reached between my legs until I felt her small, slippery body and cradled her in my hand while pulling her to my breast. Separations are never easy but this one was particularly demanding. What I know now after two years is that motherhood exists in a constant state of transitions, a perpetual letting go.
Milkscape, 2017, Breast milk and ink on mylar
After pumping in my studio one of the small containers of breast milk spilled onto my desk covering a page in my sketchbook, a library book, and a sheet of Mylar. The residue intrigued me. The milk dried tracing its own movement across the surface. The milk curdled and cracked all while building a collection of organic forms that retained the appearance of a purposeful mark. The slowness of each subsequent spill allowed me the time to question what exactly the breast milk was acting as in these works. My breast milk performed as the material trace of my transition into my new role as mother—beautiful but messy, quiet and calm yet chaotic and unpredictable, and profoundly abstract while similarly rooted in reality. Produced for her. Only for her. Only from me. Breast milk is the material created from an intimate exchange of body to body. Once again two bodies physically connected but this time my body inside of her body. Two bodies engaged in a continuous exchange. Breast milk acts as the invisible ink of a secret dialogue between mother and child, only revealing its materialness when separated from the body. I struggle to decode this exchange as its power fades through language. To try and connect my experience through language does not suffice. This is where the making becomes pivotal. I am not asking my breast milk to perform as anything other than what it is and what it can do: a liquid, a bodily fluid, a watery material. It dries, it curdles, it fractures, it thickens. It transforms from liquid to solid. It is an element of the earth, of nature, of my body. Milkscapes made from the essence of my body now performing as a mother. These Milkscapes, this collection of imagery reflects this process of archiving a routine through its most essential material and highlights the communication between mother and daughter through abstraction. Perhaps it is through this collection of Milkscapes that I can begin to viscerally suggest the abstract nature of motherhood as the unpredictable nature of breast milk as a material exposes and emphasizes the necessity of letting go.
Milkscape (Thawed), 2017, Breast milk and ink on mylar
What is an artist’s responsibility?
I think the most important responsibility of an artist is to speak their truth. From there, from this sharing, offers an invitation to know more. Know more about a way of thinking, a way of being, a way of understanding, that we may or may not be accustomed to. From this “artist’s truth” comes great responsibility and great opportunity. I think maybe now more than ever, being able to share objects, images, experiences, that hold and contain the multitude of intentions and perspectives from a specific way of thinking is a real privilege. In this way my work speaks not only for me but for anyone who identifies with it in any way. That power is not lost on me.
Tell us about a work you want to make but never will:
I find that my best works originate from a place of pure imagination and wonder. I try not to put the constraints of the word on any ideas. One of the most magical feelings as an artist is having an idea and delivering it into existence, even though the transition from thought to object is inevitably always a little different and unexpected.
I try to allow my ideas to start grand and then scale back as necessary so it’s difficult for me to imagine a circumstance where a work I want to make will never happen...but I could imagine one of my huge Milkscape banners waving from the flag pole high above the White House or Congress.
Show us the greatest thing you ever made (art or not)?
Who are three artists we should know but probably don’t?
—The ArtSlant Team
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(Image at top: Pushed (Chrome Series), 2017, Chrome plated baby bottle)