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A Mother Artist? Karen Pearlman

BRAVERY is empathy, clarity and decisiveness in the heat of the moment

What To Name Your Baby - Karen Pearlman and Sam Allen, 300 dpi photo by Michael Simmons (c) 1994

‘What to Name Your Baby’ Karen and son Samual Photo: Michael Simmons (1994)

Am I a “mother artist”?

I have made a practice of asserting, through my work, that family is creative, that being ‘radical’, ‘disruptive’ or ‘challenging’ with art does not necessarily mean being alienated, bitter, ironic or angry at your family.  That we do not need to buy into the stereotypes and genre conventions of family as oppressive, alienating or irrelevant to make artwork that is challenging.  I assert that creative family narratives are challenging and deeply disruptive to right-wing politics and prescriptions and also, by virtue of their different and radical ideas about family, to the unspoken but iron-clad genre conventions of much ‘avant-garde’ art.

Here’s how it works:

The political right has acquisitioned and quarantined ‘family values’.  We see the condition of an entire planet, and a massive political economy, built on this co-opting of an idea and inscribing it with the monolithic premise that the stable middle class family is an ideal, sacrosanct, uniformly expressed value.  These ‘family values’, in right-wing speak, are what we come home from war for, and what we go to war for; they are what keeps the capitalist system functional and what capitalism, therefore, conserves.  This ideal brought us such all-time hits as the baby boom, the suburban home, petrol-guzzling cars, the ‘house wife’, and patronizing and prescriptive education systems.

Karen and daughter Jadzea Photo: Christophorus Verheyden

‘…the dancer from the dance’ Karen and daughter Jadzea Photo: Christophorus Verheyden (2007)

Looked at from that perspective, ‘family values’ have to be opposed.  We must find other ways to live – to create sustainability, diversity of minds and ethnicities, and rights for women and children.  This has been the job of the left – to oppose the soul crushing ‘values’ that justify war and exploitation.  Left-leaning artists do this with their work – they make work that is ‘challenging’, ‘disruptive’, ‘cutting edge’, and so on, in opposition to the stasis of a monolithic value system.

But the collateral damage here, intentionally, or unintentionally, is to family itself.  By lumping family into the ‘family values’ matrix and associating it with the right wing agenda, the right wing has perpetrated an outrageous act of thievery and deceit and the left-wing has let itself be robbed.  This is the premise of my work.

'The Dancer from the Dance', Karen with daughter Jadzea, son Sam and partner Richard James Allen

‘…the dancer from the dance’, Karen, daughter Jadzea, son Samual and partner Richard James Allen Photo: Ehran Edwards (2013)

IMAGINATION is your brain generating connections, ideas and the future

My political action is to liberate family from ‘family values’, to allow for the possibility that love is a cutting edge force, that human relations across generations are creative, that family is a radical left-wing space, or at least could be.  I aim to take the human right to a creatively energetic family life back from conservative politicians (and, by virtue of their having been robbed blind, some left wing artists) who equate family with staying home and buying laundry powder.

I have created work that is specifically, intentionally and politically work of a “mother artist” for 20 years, but never called myself that.  I am delighted to join the community of like-minded women who create art in the space of family.

GENEROSITY is the ability to let others be their best selves

Dr Karen Pearlman is co-creator, with Dr Richard James Allen and The Physical TV Company, of The Physical Family Series, an ongoing series of dancefilms made at intervals over the last 20 years.  These ‘stories told by the body’ are hybrids of fiction and auto-ethnographic documentary revealing the lives, dynamics and creativity of a family from the birth of the first child (What to Name Your Baby, 1994), his assimilation into a dance company (Sam in a Pram, 1996), the second child’s influence and identity (Down Time Jaz, 2004)  and the transition of the outspoken and articulate children into young adults (“…the dancer from the dance”, 2013).

 A Mother Artist? Family as Political Activism written for the Mother Artist Network by Karen Pearlman © 2014

on May 22, 2014
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Mother Artist – Kelli Mccluskey

 Imagination is what changes the world

Kelli and Ripley at March in March 2014

Kelli and Ripley at March in March 2014

If you could distil into a single thought about your experience as a mother artist what would it be? 
Like dancing naked in a riot – you feel ruthlessly exposed as a woman, but full of fear and excitement anyway
How has becoming a mother enhanced, limited, provoked and/or disrupted your creative practice?
Sleep deprivation nearly broke me, but forced me into some radical time management processes and a much needed mental and physical separation of ‘work’ and ‘home’ life.
Has mothering impacted your actual creative process and ways of making work? How?
Learning to play again, its so friggin liberating! its what one of our latest works ‘deviator’  is all about, transforming our cities into playgrounds as a means to rediscover a playful sense of subversion. I’m not sure this idea would have dawned on us if it weren’t for parenthood.
ripley rogue’s introduction to australian politics [age 6yrs]:
ripley: mummy whats a liberal?
me: [slightly lengthy explanation on my part in layman’s terms]
ripley: so if i see a liberal in the street can i please kick them in the pee pee?
Do you ever collaborate with your child, respond to each other, or work side by side to create work?
All the time! we’ve just started playing piano together, she’s much more focussed than me!
Having been through a major health challenge how has your relationship to working as a mother artist shifted?
Being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer is a major perspective changer for anyone. for me at least i think i learned the hard way that its not possible to go full pelt at parenthood and art career without there being some severe health consequences. i learnt to slow down and to enjoy life and motherhood from the perspective of a lower gear. i think i also learnt to appreciate where i was by enjoying being in the present instead of my thoughts constantly racing ahead, making me feel like i was constantly missing out on what was right in front of me. i learnt to say ‘no’ and as an artist this is a big one because you are often both financially and psychologically insecure and almost train yourself into believing that saying no is career damaging in some way. actually, i can testify that it isn’t! its how you say it that matters and people will respect  you for it.
Bravery is not just physical courage but moral courage too 
Kelli Mccluskey is the co-founder and core artist of PVI Collective –  a tactical media arts group who produce interdisciplinary artworks that are intent on the creative disruption of everyday life

Kelli and Ripley

on May 22, 2014
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Mother Artist Network series #4


Luca, Sacha and Nadia watch studio rehearsals with choreographer mum Jo

We are a bit thrilled to kick off the 4th blog series of the Mother Artist Network with a piece published by Mamamia. Grateful that Mia Freedman, herself a brilliant mother and realiser of unlikely grand dreams, has highlighted a conversation about motherhood and creativity in this current political climate.  Each day until the Mother Artist Forum at the MCA on Sunday we feature some brilliant artists who I know and admire personally. Stephanie Lake is a choreographer who had huge success with her work for Sydney Dance Company, Kelli Mccluskey is the founder of PVI collective and a political powerhouse who recently battled a project with cancer, and Dr Karen Pearlman is the director of Physical TV, lecturer at AFTRS and was my artistic director when I was a company dancer with Tasdance. They are all exceptional women each at different stages of careers and motherhood and we are thrilled they have  been so generous in sharing a glimpse of  their stories with us here. Enjoy!

As our long time readers know, BIG was born from the midnight imaginings of two mother artists and for this reason the conversation is particularly personal. We have had a few questions about it not being a ‘Parent Artist Forum’ and to this we say we are mothers and artists, and it is this particular viewpoint and combination of experiences that we are most curious about right now. We both have many great father artist friends and think is an equally interesting, both similar and also different, conversation. Maybe once we get a little more infrastructure we will think about taking on and managing a larger scale conversation! What say all of you about the Mother Artist Network – is it exclusive?

Lilly and I both continued to make work through each of our pregnancies and when I woke up the day after giving birth to my first child I was surprised to find that, though I was holding a seismic shift literally in my arms, my passion, creative drive and self was still entirely in tact. Amplified if anything. I think I imagined there would be a softening or transference of my creative drive into motherhood. What I learnt to be true over the next 11 years is that creativity and motherhood are deeply connected, and each fuel for the other.

We created the first issue of BIG entirely without speaking or seeing each other –with 4 young children between us we instinctively knew there were already too many voices in the mix! Every creative and business decision was made first via Facebook messaging and then email. Our girls were 10months and 22 months when we began. They are now 4 and 5…continue reading on Mamamia or look back to the early BIG years of 2010 and 2011 in our archives.

The Mother Artist Forum is on this Sunday and we have been told places are fast filling so register to secure your free ticket now and tell your friends – we can’t wait. Scroll down here and click on the rsvp! There are activities for kids (and a grown-up) at the Family Fun Day during the forum and then we would love EVERYONE to join us after the forum for the BIG launch!


on May 21, 2014
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Invitation to join us at the MCA!

Join us to launch Issue 6 of BIG Kids Magazine at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney SUNDAY MAY 25th 12-12.30pm in the Veolia Lecture Theatre

 rsvp [email protected]

Prior to the launch we will be hosting a Mother Artist Network forum at 10.30am with guests Emma Magenta and Emma Gale in a panel exploring the challenge and rich terrain of navigating motherhood and creative practice (stay tuned to the blog for our 4th MAN series this week). Reserve your free ticket HERE. If you have children with you and an accompanying grown up they can enjoy the Family Fun Day activities while you are at the forum and then join us at 12pm for a brief interactive launch of Issue 6. After the launch we will be signing BIG Kids Magazine and the final few copies of our limited edition artists book outside the MCA bookshop. We would LOVE to meet you so drop by for a chat.

Patterns and Pathways is now available for single sale – BUY NOW and tell your friends!


Cover artists: Emma Gale with Sophie, age 10.

on May 17, 2014
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Mother Artist resources

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‘In search of great mystery’ by Lilly Blue (8 months pregnant with Twyla, now age 5)

We are so excited to be hosting our first ever live Mother Artist Network Forum at 10.30am on May 25th at the Museum of Contemporary Art! Since inviting Rachel Power to launch MAN in 2011 we have been lucky enough to connect with some extraordinary artists who are mothering while maintaining a rigorous arts practice. As mothers ourselves, who have continued to work in our fields while also choosing to stay home with our little ones, we are endlessly curious about the ways motherhood both propels and disrupts practice. The curious way the demands of small people can open unexpected possibilities as well as shut down opportunities which can lead to a brilliant distilling of ideology and intention. We have loved connecting, and at times collaborating with, networks of women who have come together to develop projects, explore conversations about balancing worlds and to support each other in their creative endeavours. Look out for BIG Mother Artist Network blog festival #4 coming VERY soon! In the mean time we would love to share a few links to fantastic networks and resources for mother artists and those interested in joining the conversation:

Culture mamas (Melbourne) encourages mums to connect with the arts to stimulate their intellect and connect with a supportive network of like-minded souls. If you are in Melbourne check out Mama Circles at the NGV tomorrow for a conversation about Visual Arts and the Child. Dianne Hilyear  will share the experiences, observations and conclusions she has gained after many years working in the visual arts with children and families.

The Motherload (Dallas) is an ongoing collaborative project that addresses what it is to be an artist and mother. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Leslie Robertson and Natalie Macellaio of the Motherload Project on a workshop at the Dallas Museum of Art later this year and to have contributed to their beautiful project.

Creative Mamas’ Group (Sydney) is supportive, collaborative group for creative mums to share their passion, work and ideas with like-minded mamas. They meet the first Tuesday of the months at the Polo Lounge, Darlinghurst, from 7-9pm and you can book tickets here for their next event on July 6th.

 Studio Mothers – A creative online community primarily focused on the issues that creative mothers encounter.

The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood – Rachel Power navigates through the divided heart of mother artists to reveal the shocking, funny and moving truth of the overwhelming demands of motherhood and the undiminished passion for their work

Lost in Living – Filmed over seven years, Lost In Living, confronts the contradictions inherent in personal ambition and self-sacrifice, female friendship and mental isolation, big projects and dirty dishes. Behind the domestic curtain of motherhood, where the creative impulse can flourish or languish, are four women determined to make a go of it.

Who does she think she is? a documentary by Academy Award winning filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll featuring five fierce women who refuse to choose between being an artist and being a mother. 

on Apr 9, 2014
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ISSUE 6 to Launch at the MCA!

You may have already heard the fantastic news announced in our newsletter that Issue 6 will be LAUNCHED at the M– USEUM of CONTEMPORARY ART in SYDNEY!             

SAVE THE DATE – SUNDAY  MAY 25th             


Jacinta, age 8, responding to our Issue 6 theme – Patterns and Pathways at The Art House, Newcastle Australia

It is going to be a hugely exciting day for us as prior to the launch we will be co-chairing the Mother Artist Network in a panel conversation with special guests Emma Magenta and our COVER artist Emma Gale who will join us in exploring the challenge and rich terrain of navigating motherhood with an ongoing professional art practice. The Mother Artist Network (MAN) was launched in 2011 as a BIG platform to provoke dialogue about creative practice and motherhood.

Also on the day is the fabulous 2014 Zine Fair, as well as the Sunday Family Fun in which we are collaborating with the National Centre for Creative Learning and children and grown ups will be able to co-author their own mini zines.  The full days program details will be announced on the MCA website in the next couple of weeks and even though the launch and forum are both free events we will be sure to let you know as soon as tickets are released so you can reserve your spot.

The best way to support us to continue creating/curating the BIG pages is to SUBSCRIBE or purchase a single copy of SEED to SKY HERE! AND tell your friends :)
Remember to save the date, the morning of Sunday May 25th, and hope to see you at the MCA!
on Apr 6, 2014
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Issue 6 Cover – Emma Gale and Sophie

We are thrilled to announce that Sophie, age 10 (Sydney) will be responding to the gorgeous work of  artist Emma Gale (Bangalow, Northern NSW) to create the cover of Issue 6 – Patterns and Pathways. Here is a window to their work…and we look forward to revealing more about them as well as clues to the actual cover image in the coming weeks!

'Rocky' Emma Gale

‘Rocky’ Emma Gale


By Sophie, age 10, Sydney Australia

Emma Gale

Emma Gale

on Apr 3, 2014

Re:make: Printers tray tells new story


‘salvaged’ for Re:make by Lilly Blue

In the early days of BIG we met the fabulous Leigh Russell though Arts Rocket, where she blogs about discovering and exploring arts in Sydney and beyond with kids. Recently Leigh, together with Vanessa Berry, launched a project called Re:make where 12 artists were invited to re-imagine and create new work abandoned art rescued from the side of the road. Funds from the exhibition and sale of the works will be used to establish an art workshop program at East Sydney High, a school which provides education for young people who aren’t able to access mainstream schooling. The creative process to re-make the work evolved over many weeks and here we let the images tell the story/stories.

Exhibition opens Saturday 29th March 4-6pm, 75 William St Darlinghurst.  

Discarded printers tray

Discarded printers tray


To the emergence of ‘salvaged’ by Lilly Blue


Detail of ‘salvaged’ The Story of Stones (visioned by collaborator Jo Pollitt)





on Mar 27, 2014
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Issue 6 Call Out for Contributions

We are now seeking contributions from children and artists for 

ISSUE 6 – Patterns and Pathways

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.20.33 PM

‘Listen’ by Lilly Blue

Patterns and Pathways: abstracting the everyday – an open-ended and continuous quest to notice and see things differently.

 Patterns and Pathways is about looking at a silver web from an unexpected angle, collecting leaves in a row so that they become a strange kind of sentence, travelling on the cracks in the pavement and noticing the repeated triangles in a wire fence.

repetition, symbols, sequences, music, maths, mantras, poetry, codes, choreography, arteries, accumulation, and aerial views.

BIG Ideas: Paint a page of tiny lines / photograph patterns in nature / stitch little red pathways on found fabric / invent a code / draw thousands of tiny circles on a poster / compose a Haiku / create a matrix of secret tunnels / design wrapping paper by repeating your favourite object / record the rhythm of your walking feet /make marks with chalk for every second you have to wait for something / look through a microscope and draw what you see / make a maze with your eyes closed / choreograph a dance with only six moves / write instructions for how to get lost.
a combination of qualities, acts, tendencies, etc., forming a consistent or characteristic arrangement; the definition for pattern is a model or original used as an archetype.
Pathway: a route to or way of access to; way of reaching or achieving something.
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We would love your response to the theme Patterns and Pathways.

1. *CREATE and CONTRIBUTE your response to the theme Patterns and Pathways. You can write, film, paint, dance, draw, sew or sing your contributions which will be considered for publication on our blog, and/or in the pages of BIG Kids Magazine.

2. SEND high resolution images, sound bites, videos or word docs  of your work to [email protected] including the title of the work, your name, age (if you’re a child) and location by March 23rd 2014. 
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Thank you so much for helping to spread the BIG word – we have had an amazing response to SEED to SKY. You can still purchase Issues 3, 4 and 5 HERE!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
*All entries will be considered for publication in the print pages of the magazine or on the blog. Acceptance of submission does not guarantee publication.


on Mar 13, 2014
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Love, the app

 Screenshot 2014-02-13 16.42.47“About love, and understanding, and tolerating – not to withdraw from the different, because the different is us” Gian Berto Vanni

We received  a lovely email the other day from Pablo Curti telling us the romantic tale of a book brought differently to life 60 years after it was created. Love, the app is an adaptation of the beautifully visioned book LOVE, about tolerance and understanding, published in 1964 by Italian artist Gian Berto Vanni. Originally called The ugly little girl the concept was inspired by the dedication in a book by Paul Klee. When Pablo’s boutique storytelling studio NIÑO transformed the printed pages into an app Vanni felt they had translated into movement the kind of physicality  he had originally imagined.

50 years after the original book was published 86 year old Vanni has been in charge of curation of the Love, the app and says the colours are better realised than they were in the initial print run. The editing process of the app clearly brought to life the original work  which Vanni created in three days from cover to cover with unique (in its day) paper-cuts and peepholes. Vanni was considered one of the first illustrators to experiment with animated storytelling and it is incredible to see his vision realised for a new generation half a lifetime later. You can watch a sweet trailer of  love, the app here, and buy it here. Beautiful.

Happy Valentines Day xx

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on Feb 14, 2014

Cross-generational collaboration

We often receive emails from readers sharing stories of how the BIG pages land in their lounge rooms and where the inspirations, prompts and provocations take them. We recently heard from Raina who told us about the fabulous game Threefold her daughter Scarlet, age 4 and a  half, played with her visiting grandparents. Very similar to Exquisite Corpse which was invented by surrealists in the 1920’s and a version contributed by the fabulous Marcie. J. Bronstein to Issue 3 – Game On! Scarlet and her grown collaborators drew hundreds of characters together by each creating a third of the figure without being able to see what had been previously drawn. As you can see Scarlet LOVES to draw and is planning on sending us a contribution for  Issue 6. We will be posting a Call Out for CONTRIBUTIONS TO ISSUE 6 this week so if you are not on our mailing list sign up HERE!

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By Scarlet, age 4 and a half, and her grandparents


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on Feb 10, 2014
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Mother Artist Network: The Mother Load project

We were contacted by Lesli and Natalie last year and drawn instantly  to their inspired installation/conversation project The Mother Load. We said a huge yes to their invitation to take part in the work and  loved the process of pressing our fingerprints alongside our little ones into the copper plates to send back across the world. The resulting exhibition was a stunning visual exploration of the connections between being an artist and a mother.

Natalie Macellaio and Lesli Robertson on their collaborative studio practice:

So much our individual story of being an artist and mother is wrapped in our work together. In the summer of 2012, we began to work in the studio on a collaborative project called Trestle Designs. This collaboration came out of our direct need to get back into the studio after having our children. Lesli’s son, Liam, was 2 years old, and Natalie had twins, Milo and Fina, who were 6 months old at the time. We both felt the pull of all aspects of our lives – the demands of motherhood at times contradicted our need to be in our studios. Since we both were in this place, we found the support necessary to continue developing as artists, while finding new directions in our work through collaborating.  As we began to work on Trestle Designs, the conversation continued to turn to sorting out our new lives and how to learn to balance and adjust so that each element did not oppose one another, but motivated. We talked about other artists who became mothers – and from afar, looked at their lives. And through these conversations, The Mother Load emerged. The project is an ongoing installation which involves sending small copper plates to each artist, asking them to leave their fingerprint and that of their children. The copper plate will oxidize over time, gradually revealing this form of identity – one that changes the moment you become a mother.


In looking back, our studio practices have grown to places we did not know they could, employing techniques and creative processes that each of us brought to the table. Having children allowed us to find new ways of exploring our own disciplines that we simply would not have found otherwise. As we continue to develop The Mother Load, we have found even more motivation to work in collaboration, not only with each other, but with the artists who are contributing to this project. In sharing about The Mother Load, countless conversations have emerged that reflect the struggles and successes of being an artist and mother. What we value so much about this creative process is that in the end, we get to be artists and create a work of art that enables those involved to reflect on our lives. Through the fingerprints of each artist and their children who are a part of this project, this work will visually record a conversation of what our collaboration is about, what MAN is about, what BIG is about, and what countless other artists are exploring through their work.

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Our lives as artists are driven by curiosity and conversations. We found BIG and the Mother Artist Network (MAN) through talking about our project – one thing leading to another and another – eventually to Jo and Lilly. What is wonderful about this discovery was the immediate feeling of mutual understanding and camaraderie we felt. There seems to be this sense of understanding of when talking about why we work and how we work. It is refreshing.

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Bravery is…  being scared to death but moving forward despite it

Imagination is… finding a world you never knew existed

Generosity is…not thinking about yourself before you act


Bravery is… Pushing forward through the fog.

Imagination is… unimagined curiosity with limitless boundaries.

Generosity is… giving when you have nothing left to give

on Jan 18, 2014