Making My Mother’s Bed: A Durational Performance
@ Rootwork Gallery
645 W 18th Street, Chicago, IL 60616
Opening Saturday, February 25th, from 6PM - 1:13AM
As a curatorial response to Rootwork Gallery’s Everyday Rituals exhibition, curator Tracie D. Hall creates an installation and durational performance that examines how a standard household task like making the bed transforms into a grief ritual as she revisits her mother’s illness and death twenty years later. Hall invites onlookers who wish to confront their own feelings of parental loss or estrangement to join her for short intervals during this 7 hour 13 minute ritual commemorating the month and day of her mother’s transition. Those wishing to witness or participate in the ritual may arrive at any time during the installation.
My mother died on July 13, 1996 after several months of suffering through a debilitating illness that would later be diagnosed as a rare form of cancer. She had been released from the hospital and was suffering through acute shortness of breath when we both realized we needed to call an ambulance. By the time I got off the phone and returned to my mother’s room she, despite her weakness, had not only dressed but had also carefully made her bed. It would be the last time she would ever sleep in it. After several weeks of hospitalization ending in her death, I returned to her room to find that neatly made bed and a file drawer of folders carefully labeled ” funeral arrangements”, “burial site information”… and realized that though she never disclosed it, she’d known her death was imminent.
Two other stories:
1) Growing up with my mother as sole bread earner sometimes meant that things new to us were old to someone before us. Thus I held stores that sold *new* things, like Sears, JC Penney and Montgomery Ward in high regard. I remember coveting a Holly Hobby bedspread that I’d seen in a Ward’s catalog. And to my utter disbelief and glee when my birthday came around, two Holly Hobby bedspreads arrived in the mail. Brand new, one for each of the twin beds in my room.
When Mother’s Day neared I decided to buy my mother her own new bedspread. I took the allowance I earned as a ten year old and pooled it with money that I borrowed (probably the lion’s share) from my grandfather. I can’t remember it enough to describe it exactly, except to admit that the thought of it now reminds me of ice cream. It was peach and lacy and if she didn’t truly love it, my mother put on a great show, making up her bed daily propping up the lacy shammed pillows like trophies.
2) When I was a little girl old enough to be relegated to my own small room across the hall from my brother’s, I would like children do, sneak into my mother’s big king bed in the middle of the night. I was always afraid of some imaginary ghost or shadow and needed to have her close. A recurring nightmare in my childhood also revolved around this fear of not having my mother near. In one recurring dream I would climb in my mother’s bed in search of safety only to find the distance between my mother and I growing wider and wider until the bed stretched on for miles; my mother’s still sleeping body moving increasingly out of reach. Even as a child I saw this as a warning.
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