Otis: some thoughts on being a separate human being, 2004

Self-portrait, Video

Jacqueline Tarry performed this work on the eve of the birth of her and Bradley McCallum’s son, Otis. This portrait combines the intimacy of an expectant mother’s caress with the recitation of familiar disciplinary phrases that people surveyed by the artists recalled their own mothers saying to them in childhood.

The 3-minute video and accompanying photograph examine the nature of the parent/child relationship, the conflicting emotions arising from the complexity of motherhood, and Jacqueline’s own sense of being judged by a competitive culture of childrearing. In the video, Jacqueline Tarry is anxiously "rehearsing her lines" for impending motherhood, ranging from “I’ll smack that smirk right off of your face” to “I brought you into this world, I can take you out,” all the while lovingly caressing her enlarged belly.

As Tarry performs, she tries to delineate the language and motions of motherhood, acts of anger, concern, and intimacy. She chooses to play through this drama while her son is as physically close to her as he will ever be, before he has begun the inevitable process of separation and rebellion.

When talking with people about their earliest memories of parental discipline, McCallum and Tarry were intrigued by the ability of people not to just remember and recite, but also to ‘channel’ the phrases, gestures and expressions of these intense early encounters. By reiterating these ‘lines,’ individuals often tapped into an entire body of memories. This performance examines the patterns through which violence reoccurs throughout generations. On the threshold of giving birth, Jacqueline Tarry faced her own role as a mother, the expectations and fears that go along with that responsibility and the conflict associated with the separation. Tarry asked herself “How do people end the cycle of violence to children?” as well as “What kind of mother will I be?”