Photo credit: Melissa Blackall
Kate Holcomb Hale
These artworks explore invisible labor specifically the invisible labor of families, the responsibility of which often falls upon women regardless of a pandemic. I have been calling this body of work shock absorbers after a New York Times article that stated “mothers are the shock absorbers of society.” These artworks/shock absorbers reflect a period of 4+ years in which I lost both my parents, cared for my father at the end of his life, emptied and sold my childhood home and tended to my children throughout the COVID pandemic. The kitchen table and fragments of home serve as vehicles through which to consider the burden and privilege of care, grief, the residue of families and the invisible labor that occurs within the domestic space, which is consistently undervalued, overlooked and underpaid.
The kitchen table is central to my home and the home I grew up in. It is the site of much of the invisible labor that occurs within the domestic sphere: feeding, paying of bills, fielding emails, making phone calls, hosting challenging discussions, the overseeing of homework and the mental load associated with caregiving in general. My children learned to speak, eat, develop and mature around the kitchen table. Its surface is scratched, encrusted, splattered, dented and worn from all the life that has taken place in relation to it. Its surface is embedded with the traces of care work. For this exhibition I’ve created slipcovers of my kitchen table as placeholders/structures for gesture and paint. Within their folds, marks and material meld together to evoke urgency and spontaneity and denote each interruption that naturally occurs throughout any given day.
Art made at the kitchen table has historically been looked down upon because it was typically made by women, by mothers and those without means or time for a traditional studio space. These works acknowledge that the space of creativity can exist within the home. The kitchen table can be a space of resistance (or of possibility) as to what constitutes a “proper” space for performing cultural work.
The paper clay works are impressions taken of objects and architecture within my home. They are an attempt to capture space and time. When I sold my childhood home in Buffalo, NY, COVID restrictions prevented me from sifting through and gathering belongings as I would have liked to. The few items I did collect felt incredibly meaningful as a result. There is something about the physicality of holding something your parents once held and used. In response I started making impressions of my home in an effort to recover what I had lost/left behind. Also inherent to this body of work is a consideration of the value we assign objects (monetary, sentimental, functional) and the labor that is required to look after and archive them. Here one discovers yet another layer of care and invisible labor that is performed in the absence of our loved ones.
All of these artworks contain the residue of caring for my family over the past four years. Memories, grief, exhaustion, doubt, worry, joy, comfort and relief are all embedded in these soft sculptures and fragments of home. They were created with the intention of making the invisible labor of families palpable and visible. While this work is personal, it simultaneously points to the unseen labor force of women, mothers and caregivers whose care work is essential yet remains to be acknowledged, compensated for and valued.