Recherche-création || Kimberley de Jong



Being a mother entails an enormous amount of repetitive tasks. I became a maintenance worker. I felt completely abandoned by my culture because it didn’t have a way to incorporate sustaining work” -Mierles Ukeles (Odell, Jenny. How to Do Nothing; Resisting the Attention Economy p.25) 

Mierles Laderman Ukeles wrote the “Manifesto for Maintenance Art” in 1969 after becoming a mother in the 60’s. Ukeles interest lies in maintenance as an art form and subject matter for her performances. In her “Touch Sanitation Performance” she spent 11 months shaking hands with and thanking New York City’s 8,500 sanitation men, in addition to interviewing and shadowing them, (Odell p.25)

Where we place our values is essentially how we choose to live our lives; similarly, what we choose to value in our art defines us as artists. I had already chosen to work on stories of people’s maternal experiences as the core for my project (M)other, when I stumbled upon Ukeles’ work. In (M)other, I interviewed a dozen people about their transition to becoming parents. Questions ranged from their experience of trauma, the myths of becoming a parent, and if parenthood had changed them? At the end I asked them if there was anything they could share with others about this transition, what would that be? With a simple question, a ripple effect was created. Stories were unveiled. Many people expressed how it felt good to talk about such an intense part of their lives and that they hadn’t encountered the space and time in their daily lives to talk about it very often.  There was too much information to capture within an hour-long exposition. Instead, I chose to focus on 6 particular stories of change for the purpose of this online exhibition “Reappropriation Acte:01”, presented through La Chaire Maternity and the Exposition Centre of the University of Montreal in November 2021.

The stories I chose to expose are all very different. Although my subjects are all parents, and all have a few years perspective on being a parent (ranging from 3 to 17), their experiences are all so unique. Depending on their circumstances, the environments where they chose to birth or adopt, their cultural heritage, their age and medical predisposition, stories recounting their maternal experience are never the same. Even for two women birthing in the same hospital, with the same doctor, from the same social class and racial profile, stories of maternal experience vary. For the purpose of this exhibit, I chose to work with dancers because it is my chosen form of expression. Besides that, their ages, their sexual identities, their cultural heritage and birth places all differ. It is perhaps crucial to mention that because they are all dancers, they all have a predisposition to be particularly attentive to their physical health. The decision to reveal their postpartum bodies through partial nudity was done through consent and conversation. The reason for partial nudity was based on the intention of normalizing the postpartum body. It is integral to my research. It took courage and acceptance for some of the participants to expose this vulnerability. 

Much of my work is related to meaningful life events. How we choose to live our lives is an art. I am fully aware that I make this coming from a place of total privilege. My experience is entirely dependent on the inherent privilege I was born into and the color of my skin, my social class and education. I am a white female living on Tiohtià:ka territory, otherwise known as Montreal. I cannot separate my own interest in the stories of becoming a parent without acknowledging my own background which led me to this work. 

Having had two children, I know from experience how varying circumstances influence birth on a grand scale; age, ability, location, race, gender, social class, sexual identity, relationship to partner, doula, midwife, OB/GYN, education, information…, are just a few of the factors that influence birth which can consequently change the course of one’s life in drastic ways. During my first pregnancy at 25 years old, feeling very alone and unsupported and despite trying to get a midwife at a birthing center in Quebec and having failed, I made a last-minute decision to fly home where my parents were living in Vancouver, at the time. There, unlike in Montreal, I had the choice of midwife care. There was no waiting list, and I was encouraged to birth at home because of the low risk I presented. I will never forget the midwives from the U.B.C. midwifery clinic who changed the course of my birth education. They told me to read a couple of iconic birth books, namely Ina May Gaskin’s “Guide to Childbirth” and Sheila Kitzenger’s “Rediscovering Birth”, which is an anthropological outlook on childbirth over time and around the world. These two books, along with the midwife’s education, were transformational in my approach to how I’d view birth and ultimately my empowerment as a woman. A pivotal moment during one of my prenatal meetings was when my midwife Saraswathi Vedam, asked my father how he was born. She was trying to convince my parents that a home birth was less risky than a hospital birth, in my case. He had forgotten that he too had been born at home in the Netherlands after the war. She went on to explain that getting into a car, while in labour, was the first of many interventions that ultimately slow down and lead to greater medical interventions such as cesarean-section. Birthing in my own bacteria (at home), my own space, music and light would all be ways to make me feel more relaxed, safe, and open. For me, it was the choice that made the most sense, and my parents were finally convinced too. It ended up being a 4 hour birth from beginning to end and my mother was the first family member to hold Gaïa after stumbling out of her own bed just one flight of stairs above us. She hadn’t heard a thing. Holding her first granddaughter in the suite that had been transformed into caring for her own father, in her own house, was special to say the least. There are many details worth mentioning about this birth, but one powerful moment which stands out was during the moment of transition when shit became really real, and my head was spinning. I believe in this moment of birth, we hit our most intuitive walls. They are the walls that usually prevent us from opening further the psychological barriers we need to break in order to move through and transition to the pushing phase. I remember thinking that my partner would probably not stick around, which over the course of time… proved true. I remember being scared and screaming in a high pitched voice. My midwife told me to use my gut voice down in my belly. At that moment I remember having a flash of women swarm through my visual mind. They were both women I knew and admired as well as women I did not know. They were ancestral and altogether we were united in our strength. They were there, maybe they were even spirits, telling me it was going to be ok. That I would be ok. That women had done this since the beginning of time and that this was our strength. From that image I found power and continued to birth, squatting and facing the midwives. I held them or they held me, not really sure who held who, but we held each other for strength. 

What was interesting about hearing other women and men recount their stories of becoming a parent were moments I felt complete solidarity with them. There were moments where I could relate entirely, like with Caroline Laurin-Beaucage’s story, when she recounts a similar moment during labour where she felt connected to the unity of women. How, in order to bring her baby into the world, she had to let go of her ego to make room for her sons. Or, other times, where I felt completely empathic for them. For example, in Brianna Lombardo’s story, where she recounts several losses before successfully bearing twins to term. Brianna’s story makes me weep almost every time. It is worth noting that I am pregnant with my third child during the time I work on this exhibit, (M)other. That while I edited, translated, and archived these stories, I am bearing my own son I have yet to meet… Listening to Brianna’s story, word for word, over and over again was challenging but also extremely inspiring. She is a true warrior: a brave and experienced fighter, to have gone through what she went through, and have the will to try again and again to bear children. She herself said, at the end of our interview, that had she not born twins she was not sure she would be able to share her story. And so is the untold story of many women and men who cannot bear children for so many reasons. 

This exhibit is dedicated to those people who, for whatever reason, could not have children or chose not to. Sometimes the pain of lived history is too great to imagine bringing life into the world. Sometimes it is just not possible. And so these dances, stories, and translations are also there for the people who are silently grieving.

Photo de Brianna Lombardo. Kimberley de Jong et Tawny Anderson.


An Autobiographical Account

After working with two artists who generously shared their accounts of becoming parents, which was followed by an archival sensorial improvisation, I decided that it was time to become my own subject. Although the saying “How do you know unless you’ve tried it?” can be applied to so many things (such as getting my children to eat their supper), it proved to be an act of necessity in the context of my research towards project, (M)other. I will attempt to make some personal juxtapositions between dance and birth, reflections that only came to me while I was dancing. In the position of facilitator it is important to first try what you are asking of others. 

In the dance world, as in other mediums of art, power structures: male versus female, choreographer versus dancer, director versus artist, professor versus student (the list continues), have always existed … I am aware that many papers have and are being written about power dynamics in the art world, namely in dance, but for the purpose of this blog, I will stick to a couple of reflections I had while I exposed myself and my journey into parenthood, in front of the lens of a camera. What is different about dance, and where I relate it to the act of birth, is our use of the body. Our bodies speak for themselves, are an expression and a language of their own. Sickness is a way our body indicates to us what we need to address. However, in birth, as in dance, we are focusing on the body as a means to bring life and express form; our words are not the first tool to come to our defence. Our words are being dominated by a concentration on what our bodies are doing. During the act of birth or dance, we use breath and sound and the power of what our bodies are doing overshadow that of our words.  

There is a difference between dancing fiction in front of the thousands of people and telling one’s own story through the body in front of a camera. I have worked for a number of Montreal choreographers and have had the opportunity to perform internationally in theatres with a capacity of sometimes two thousand people. (This number seems crazy now given the current situation we are living in.) What I find interesting, though, is my ability to transform and expose myself in front of this many people, in the context of a theatre, whereas intimately exposing my life in front of one or two people and a camera, is terrifying. The medium of film is not live art. The mistake you made on film will not be forgotten, you can watch it on repeat. Yes, you can delete, photoshop and edit but it remains a less interactive and more manicured form. Cameras can focus on every imperfection, and while our eyes decide where they want to go, they can get only so physically close to the performer. 

What I have chosen to research in (M)other are dancer’s accounts of their transitions into the role of parenthood. It became apparent to me that I wanted to work through the medium of movement, and therefore I chose to address dancers in my community who are also parents. There is nothing fictional about this subject. There are many myths and concepts we use to describe motherhood, like the “Cult of the Happy Mother” which I felt specifically compelled to d e c o n s t r u c t. My point is that talking about something so entirely personal, then expressing myself in relation to that truth, in front of a camera, and nude, is an act of extreme vulnerability (at least for me it was). I chose to reveal the body, nude, because it is important for me to show the postpartum body for all of its transformations and experience. I want to normalize the postpartum body. As a dancer who was told to stand in the back because my breastfeeding breasts did not fit the aesthetic of the company, I think dancers feel enormous pressure to “bounce” back to their pre pregnant selves. As if women did not already feel enough pressure to conform to whatever the “it” body is, as a dancer, our bodies determine our employability. If art is representative of humanity, in all its shapes and forms, then the postpartum body is one part of that humanity, which should be celebrated. 

Telling my story through my body was challenging, and yes, difficult. This was exactly why I needed to try it before I asked other artists to expose their own journey. The empty gallery setting with its bare walls, concrete floors, and bright shining lights was at times reminiscent of a hospital setting. Although I birthed my children at home, being a doula, I have accompanied women through their births in hospitals. There is a feeling of vulnerability, exposure, and an inherent power dynamic between health care professionals and the birther. Those who are in control and those who are doing their best within the context to keep their power and hold on to their self-determination. Here, in the gallery, I had no one telling me what to do. I was the choreographer of my own work. Nonetheless I exposed myself.  Having done so, I can be more empathetic, and, as doulas often say, “hold the space” for others. 


Éplucher la mémoire

J’ai récemment publié une enquête pour interroger la transition vers la parentalité. J’ai été honorée, touchée par l’intimité et le soin avec lesquels  les gens ont répondu. Revenir avec détail sur la manière dont votre enfant est entré dans le monde peut être tout autant valorisant que déstabilisant, quoique vous ayez envie de raconter ou d’oublier. Chacun.e a une histoire à raconter et c’est pour cette raison que j’ai envie de les mettre en lumière. Entendre les gens sur leurs expériences personnelles en tant que parents montre à quel point notre société a tendance à cloisonner cette expérience, à la mettre dans un placard. Parfois, il n’est pas facile d’y retourner et d’abandonner le passé. Une participante de 70 ans m’a même écrit pour me dire qu’elle était désolée mais qu’elle ne pouvait pas répondre parce qu’elle ne se souvenait pas de son accouchement. Ma propre mère a répond :  « J’ai eu quatre enfants et chaque expérience a été différente. Ces expériences se sont déroulées entre 1971 et 1987, de sorte que la maternité et les procédures d’accouchement ont évolué rapidement au cours de cette période. Je me suis sentie complètement « assomée » pendant l’accouchement puis directement totalement engagée. »

Au fur et à mesure de ce projet de recherche, j’en découvre la signification. La défintion de « mère » d’une participante m’a aidé à m’en rapprocher: « C’est difficile d’entrer dans ce rôle. C’est de souvent se juger par rapport aux autres mères. C’est d’hériter de plein de stéréotypes mais parfois de les aimer. C’est être fière d’avoir des enfants, sentir que j’ai accompli quelque chose d’extrêmement grand, mais qui n’est pas dans le monde visible des accomplissements de la société. » 

Sentir que l’on a accompli quelque chose qui change la vie mais qui n’est pas visible dans le monde visible des standards des accomplissements à succés de la société : c’est peut-être pour cela qu’il est si important pour moi de mettre ces histoires en lumière; prendre le temps et exposer les couches qui, petit à petit, nous constituent.

Pour partager votre expérience de transition vers la parentalité, et ainsi contribuer aux donnés de ma recherche, veuillez remplir le sondage en cliquant sur le lien ci-dessous:

Participer au sondage

Travail en cours avec l’interprète Geneviève Robitaille


En solidarité avec Diane di Prima

Mère. Doula. Danseuse. Elle. Ce sont tous les noms que j’emploie pour me décrire. Ayant vécu deux expériences maternelles avec mes filles, aujourd’hui âgées de 6 et 11 ans, je me suis sentie obligée d’aider d’autres femmes dans leur transition vers la parentalité. En tant que danseuse, beaucoup de gens croyaient que je ne danserais plus jamais après avoir eu des enfants. Quand j’ai annoncé ma grossesse, lorsque j’avais 25 ans, les gens autour de moi ont étaient sceptiques. Encore plus quand j’ai annoncé que j’aurais une deuxième. « Comment tu-vas faire de la tournée? », « Ton corps va changer pour le pire », et ainsi…. Je crois que c’est devenu une sorte de mission de démystifier l’idée que nous ne pouvons pas être mères et artistes, ou autre chose, et être bonnes à cela. Récemment, j’ai lu cette annecdote écrite par Ariel Gore sur la vie de la poétesse Diane di Prima qui m’a vraiment interpellée. J’ai eu envie de la partager ici.

« Dans Souvenirs de ma vie de femme, la poète Diane di Prima raconte une nuit chez Allen Ginsberg à New York. Elle avait demandé à une amie de garder sa jeune fille et s’était rendue à l’appartement de Ginsberg parce que Jack Kerouac et Philip Whalen étaient en ville pour « une de ces nuits où l’on parle beaucoup et intensément d’écriture dont on ne se souvient pas plus tard ».
Diane avait promis à sa baby-sitter qu’elle serait de retour à 23h30 ce soir-là, et comme 23h30 commence à tourner, Diane fait ses adieux. Kerouac s’est alors levé sur un coude sur le linoleum et a annoncé d’une voix de stentor : « DI PRIMA, A MOINS QUE VOUS OUBLIEZ VOTRE BÉBÉSITEUR, VOUS NE SEREZ JAMAIS UN ÉCRIVAIN ».
Qu’est-ce que vous en pensez ?
Kerouac se soutient d’un seul bras et nous gifle, ivre, avec la grande peur que nous partageons tous. Il incarne l’archétype de l’artiste masculin égoïste et autodestructeur, et il annonce que si nous aussi, nous ne sommes pas prêts à être irresponsables dans nos relations, nous ne serons jamais à la hauteur.
« J’y ai réfléchi attentivement, à l’époque et plus tard », écrit Di Prima, « et j’ai permis qu’au moins une partie de moi pense qu’il avait raison. Mais néanmoins, je me suis levée et je suis rentrée chez moi ».
Trois hourras pour Di Prima !
« J’avais donné ma parole à mon ami », explique-t-elle, « et je la tiendrai. Je n’allais peut-être jamais devenir écrivain, mais il fallait que je prenne le risque. C’était le risque qui était caché (comme un puzzle chinois) dans l’autre risque de : puis-je être une mère célibataire et être poète ? »
C’est une question sérieuse, celle-là. Sérieuse non seulement pour les mères, mais pour nous tous. Pouvons-nous être présentes dans nos relations et continuer à faire le travail que nous nous sentons appelées à faire ? Comme le dit mon amie Lynn : « Une femme doit faire un réel effort pour ne pas se dissoudre dans tout ce qui a besoin d’elle. » Nos relations ont besoin de nous, mais nous ne voulons pas nous dissoudre. Nous refusons de nous dissoudre, mais nous choisissons aussi d’être responsables de nos relations. Nous en avons assez que le type ivre sur le lino nous dise que nous ne pouvons pas faire les deux. Les femmes ont toujours fait les deux.
Avec le recul, di Prima reconnaît ce qui est vrai : si elle avait choisi de rester cette nuit-là, « il n’y aurait pas de poèmes ». Autrement dit, la personne qui aurait laissé une amie qui lui avait rendu service ne se serait pas non plus lancée dans la poésie. C’est la même discipline partout ».
La même discipline.
Et la discipline, comme la maternité, est bonne pour l’âme. La poésie est bonne pour l’âme. La responsabilité de toutes nos relations dysfonctionnelles est bonne pour l’âme. L’archétype de l’artiste masculin égoïste nous dit que nous ne pouvons pas gérer toutes ces choses en même temps, que nous ne pouvons pas être simultanément responsables envers les enfants, les baby-sitters, nous-mêmes et l’art, que nous devons sacrifier, abandonner – mais nous savons que c’est un mensonge.
Au moment où j’écris ces lignes, Kerouac est dans sa tombe depuis près de quarante ans. Diane di Prima est à San Francisco, mère de cinq enfants, auteur de trente-cinq livres de poésie et de plusieurs mémoires, grande puissance et radicale du XXIe siècle.
Nous n’avons pas besoin d’enfants pour être heureux, mais la maternité m’a appris ceci : pour éprouver de la joie, nous devons être capables d’éprouver honnêtement les ténèbres aussi. Dans la responsabilité de la relation, nous construisons des corps de mémoire et d’expérience de vie dont nous pouvons être fiers. La maternité m’a appris que le contraire du bonheur n’est pas une lutte. Ce n’est même pas la dépression. Le contraire du bonheur, c’est la peur et l’obéissance.
Dans les Lettres révolutionnaires, di Prima écrit : « Soyez forts. Nous avons le droit de créer l’univers dont nous rêvons. Il ne faut pas craindre que la « science » s’excuse à genoux pour les choses telles qu’elles sont, TOUT POUVOIR DE JOIE, qui va refaire le monde ».
« Trois acclamations pour di Prima, pour la maternité, pour le courage de faire l’univers dont nous rêvons ».

-Ariel Gore, Bluebird : Les femmes et la nouvelle psychologie du bonheur

Interprètes: Brianna Lombardo et Kimberley de Jong dans l’oeuvre « Unravelling »