Aimee Gilmore is an artist based in Philadelphia whose current work is intimately connected with her experiences as a mother. Working across a variety of media, from breast milk and baby clothes to neon and rubber, she oscillates between the miraculous moments and the banal aspects of motherhood. Turning over ideas of time and nostalgia, Gilmore’s work deals with the emotions and objects of motherhood by giving voice to an experience that is so often taken for granted. In this interview, Gilmore shares about the trajectory of her work, nostalgia, and the marginalization of motherhood.
I’d love to know a bit about your work before you became a mother and how the shift in subject played out in your practice. Was it sudden or a slow trickle? A surprising deviation or a logical continuation?
It was definitely a logical continuation to my work, a slow trickle for sure. The work was always focused around the idea of a personal narrative, and I’ve also always looked to my (female) body as a source of inspiration, as I admire and am mystified by its deep complexities. I see the inherent cyclical nature of my (female) body as relating very directly to the ways that I work in my studio; the ebbs and flows of an idea transitioning into reality, the highs and lows of successes and failures, etc. Even before becoming a mother I saw my (female) body as having potential to be a medium or tool for making.
Your work is so tied to your lived bodily experience. Do you see a separation between the two?
I see the two as being very harmoniously connected. My lived, bodily transition into motherhood radically transformed every aspect of my life. Maya was three months old when I started my MFA program. My body was still evolving through the ‘fourth trimester’ of pregnancy, so I was still in recovery mode both emotionally physically. The labor of motherhood lingered in a way I was not prepared for. After a woman gives birth, some of her baby’s cells remain inside of her. Forever. She now carries a piece of that child with her for the rest of her life. I can’t think of a more potent and beautiful metaphor describing the lived, bodily experience of motherhood.
Your current work seems to be primarily focused on body, objects, and lineage, particularly looking at the materials of mother/childhood that are often treated as vapid or overly nostalgic. How have you co-opted these predominately negative connotations and turned them to your use?
During our collective (and greatly overdue) societal shift towards reassessing national monuments–who they’re for, who they’re of, what they represent–I started connecting how I viewed the material trace of motherhood to monuments. I view the objects that I choose to work with as relics. Relics of smallness and vulnerability but ones that are often discarded or devalued because they are explicitly mundane and evocative of nostalgia. Instead by preserving, coating, encapsulating and highlighting these objects I strive to honor this time in motherhood when you can become so dependent on an object to soothe or comfort or get you through a rough night–monuments to motherhood.
In a similar line of thought, what is your relationship to the idea or process of an archive in terms of nostalgia? From previous conversations, it seems like some of your work almost acts as an archive of your daughter’s life, which can certainly bleed over into questions of sentimentality.
I think we collect and hold into things to allow ourselves the permission to feel reflectively sentimental. A personal consent to relive those memories that maybe we didn’t even realize were so precious while we were experiencing them. Seemingly mundane objects transform when they’re given time to be missed or forgotten. I’m really interested in the negative connotations that exist around objects of motherhood. They’re often referred to as overtly sentimental. But for whom is an object sentimental? And why are they viewed negatively? I find power and comfort in this collective nostalgia shared by mothers. Once you become a mother you will never look at a pair of teeny-tiny socks the same way.
Women and children have traditionally been marginalized and systematically removed of agency. Do you think that this compounds when it comes to motherhood and the societal place of the mother-child relationship?
Absolutely. As a society we still have a lot of work to do in regards to the value, or rather lack thereof, that we place on the labor of motherhood. Mothers and children aren’t granted the space they need to be protected. One example of this bias can be found surrounding breastfeeding. Instead of being acknowledged for what it truly is: a beautiful connection between mother and child, pressed body to body in an intimate exchange, breastfeeding is still treated as something that should be hidden. Designated breastfeeding spaces are often dark, dismal closet-sized rooms meant to hide, not highlight the beauty and raw power of a woman’s body nurturing her child.
I was drawn to this excerpt from your artist statement, “As my body grew through connection, her body grew in preparation to separate. For nearly a year, one person exists as two people.” The way that you write about your work, particularly in terms of your experience as a mother, brought many new layers of poetry and perspective about the constant necessity of building up and letting go involved. How does writing play into your process?
This was actually a huge shift in my studio practice, which started in grad school. I found myself being increasingly dissatisfied with my previous methods of brainstorming. I felt that sketching did not allow my ideas to arrive in their clearest form, so I transitioned into writing as my first step. Initially I saw it as a way of freeing my thoughts from my own judgment. Now the writing at times exists as the work itself. I’ve found that sometimes the words need to be their own thing, co-existing with a piece instead of transforming into one.